Who Were Truman Capote's Swans? Meet the Socialites Who Inspired 'Feud'

Here's the tea on the ladies who lunch.

Courtesy of FX Demi Moore in Feud

Courtesy of FX

If you’re a fan of Desperate Housewives, Bravo’s Real Housewives, or really, any show about rich people behaving badly (Succession, anyone?), Ryan Murphy’s latest production, Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans should be your next binge-watch. Prepare to be scandalized because the creator behind AHS: Coven and Scream Queens is back with a delicious new season of his Feud project, and it’s set to be even better than the last.

A little background for the Feud newbies: Each season retells the story of a famous fight in pop culture history. The first follows Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (played by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, respectively) as they duke it out on the set of the cult classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s the culmination of a decades-long Hollywood rivalry, and, without giving away too many spoilers, includes Susan Sarandon wearing a full face of vaudeville makeup and countless jokes about face tape.

The new installment, which premiered February 1, 2023, sets its sights on New York high society and the falling out between Truman Capote and the top socialites of the ‘50s, whom he nicknamed "The Swans." Murphy’s track record for churning out camp classics aside, Season 2’s headline-making source material and stacked cast—which includes Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Chloë Sevigny, Demi Moore, Calista Flockhart, and Molly Ringwald—should be enough to hook any fan of petty gossip and catty one-liners.

Still unconvinced? Maybe this will pique your interest. Ahead, meet the cast of Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans and the real-life women (and their juicy backstories) who inspired them. Read on for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Truman Capote’s Swans.

01 of 07

Truman Capote (Tom Hollander)

Truman Capote and Tom Hollander

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Feud takes place shortly after Truman Capote released the literary megahit In Cold Blood in 1966, which catapulted him into the highest echelons of the literary world and basically invented the "true crime" drama. In the ensuing years, however, the author spent more time drinking and cavorting with high society than writing his much-anticipated literary follow-up.

Capote's "Party of the Century" black-and-white ball (don't worry, Feud wouldn't dream of skipping this event), which celebrated the book's success, brought together socialites and artists. It was a true melding of worlds and was famously the only place in NYC where you'd find uptown girls like Babe Paley and downtown artists like Andy Warhol in the same room. According to legend, this party is the high point of Truman's life, surrounded by friends and admirers, before his eventual descent into alcoholism and betrayal of the women who supported him.

In 1975, Capote published La Côte Basque 1965 in Esquire to drum up interest in his (rumored to be unfinished) forthcoming novel, Answered Prayers, and all hell broke loose. As it turns out, Capote had been doing more than gossiping with the ladies who lunch; he'd been studying them. The short story was nothing more than a thinly veiled and elegantly written airing of dirty laundry, spilling all the most pearl-clutching secrets of Manhattan's elite. Naturally, the Swans don't take kindly to being read for filth, and thus began their epic Feud.

Feud's Truman Capote is expertly played by British character actor Tom Hollander, who anglophiles will recognize from his iconic turn as Mr. "exemplary boiled potatoes" Collins in Pride and Prejudice.

02 of 07

Barbara “Babe” Paley (Naomi Watts)

Barbara Babe Paley and Naomi Watts

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Arguably Capote's closest friend of the bunch, Babe Paley was also the Swan most hurt by his indiscretions. A former debutante and Vogue editor, she was the prominent wife of the powerful CBS founder William Paley and, therefore, rich, connected, and WASPy. But what her permanent place on the International Best Dressed list and closet full of Givenchy hid was a much less glamorous reality: Her life as a lonely woman whose philandering husband ignored her.

After Capote made that dark secret public in La Côte Basque, she famously never spoke to the author and dear personal friend again. Played by a pitch-perfect Naomi Watts, Feud shows how the frosty and fearless hostess finally gets her revenge.

03 of 07

Nancy “Slim” Keith (Diane Lane)

Nancy Gross and Diane Lane

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Nancy "Slim" Keith's cool nickname, which was rumored to have been given to her by a famous actor impressed with her sleek diving skills, reveals an even cooler backstory as a woman-about-town in Hollywood. After leaving behind a string of famous husbands and flings on the West Coast (allegedly including Clark Gable and Ernest Hemingway), Keith married British aristocrat Kenneth Keith, Baron Keith of Castleacre, and became Lady Keith of Castleacre.

A close, personal friend of Babe Paley, who had originally brought the writer into their social circle, Slim, played by Diane Lane in Feud, ostracizes Capote as punishment for revealing Babe's dirty secrets and using her likeness in his story.

04 of 07

Lucy Douglas “C.Z.” Guest (Chloë Sevigny)

Ana Luisa Herrera and Chloe Sevigny

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You may not know C.Z. Guest by name, but you've probably seen her likeness. The socialite and sportswoman is the subject of some of Slim Aarons's most famous photos (like this campy shot featuring her casually holding a tiny pooch in front of a Grecian-style villa) that you've probably seen hanging on the walls of an overpriced boutique or while scrolling Instagram.

Played by Chloë Sevigny, the socialite, arts patron, and master gardener was one of the few Swans who never deserted Capote amidst the scandal. C.Z. and Chloë might not seem to have anything in common at first glance besides their honey-blonde hair. After all, Sevigny did just tell Rolling Stone, "I’m sorry, dog lovers. There are too many of you," a deliciously disgruntled quote that no doubt had the famously pup-obsessed socialite rolling in her grave.

But, upon closer inspection, both women are muses, fashion icons, and one-of-a-kind personalities who buck trends and live without apology. Casting a downtown cool-girl and indie muse as a snobbish (but loyal!) uptown fashion plate is a classic example of Ryan Murphy's off-kilter genius.

05 of 07

Ann Woodward (Demi Moore)

Ann Woodward and Demi Moore

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While never a part of Capote's in-crowd, Ann Woodward was the black swan of New York society, thanks to the rumors that swirled around the accidental death of her husband, whom she killed after mistaking him for an intruder.

Played by Demi Moore in Feud, the real-life Woodward, who was on the outs for her humble upbringing and the gossip surrounding her wealthy husband's death, stands accused of nothing short of cold-blooded murder when Capote's story is made public.

Shortly before the Esquire story hit newsstands, Woodward committed suicide via cyanide. Legend has it that the socialite had an advanced copy of Capote's excerpt and chose to take her own life rather than be smeared as a gold-digging killer.

06 of 07

Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart)

Lee Bouvier and Calista Flockhart

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While probably best known as the younger sister of Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radizwill was a fashion icon and cultural figure in her own right. She had an aristocratic title, thanks to her second marriage to Polish aristocrat Prince Stanisław Albrecht "Stash" Radziwiłł, a full social calendar, and a perch at the very top of high society. The socialite's personal style remains legendary to this day — she's even got a Tory Burch bag named after her.

The only Swan mentioned by name in Capote's infamous story, in which he dubbed her more beautiful than her famous sister, Radziwill stuck by the author until his death. And for the Real Housewife fans, she's also one-half of the only real Feud/RHONY crossover: Her daughter-in-law is cast member Carol Radiziwill. Calista Flockhart plays the infamous socialite with such force and wit, we might just be on the brink of a Flockhart-aissance. Watch this space.

07 of 07

Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald)

Joanne Carson and Molly RIngwald

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Last but not least, Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, was the glue that held Capote's Swans together. After her very public divorce, Carson, played by Molly Ringwald in Feud, publicly admitted that the author remained a steadfast friend while many of her other acquaintances abandoned her when she was no longer married to the king of late-night comedy.

Despite Capote opening up her personal life to scrutiny — he recounts a story about her husband's philandering in La Côte Basque 1965 — Carson stood by the author through his scandal and banishment from New York society. She even kept a writing room in her Bel Air home for when the Breakfast at Tiffany's author would visit.

Well-dressed socialites, juicy gossip, and potential murder? The story of Truman Capote and his swans truly has it all. And between a genius cast that ranges from Brat Pack icons and rom-com fixtures to character actors and It girls, breath-taking costumes (including a ball full of custom Zac Posen), and Ryan Murphy's signature wit, Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans is set to be this winter's deliciously unhinged hit.

After the two-episode premiere on Jan. 31, you can watch new episodes of Feud every Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on FX. Or, you can stream them on Hulu the following day. If you don’t have cable, consider signing up for Hulu’s 7-day Live TV free trial; YouTube TV offers a 30-day free trial, too.

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