New York Times bestselling author Laurence Leamer (Nepal 1965-67) reveals the complex web of relationships and scandalous true stories behind Truman Capote’s never-published final novel, Answered Prayers–the dark secrets, tragic glamour, and Capote’s ultimate betrayal of the group of female friends he called his “swans.”
“There are certain women,” Truman Capote wrote, “who, though perhaps not born rich, are born to be rich.” Barbara “Babe” Paley, Gloria Guinness, Marella Agnelli, Slim Hayward, Pamela Churchill, C. Z. Guest, Lee Radziwill (Jackie Kennedy’s sister)—they were the toast of midcentury New York, each beautiful and distinguished in her own way. Capote befriended them, received their deepest confidences, and ingratiated himself into their lives. Then, in one fell swoop, he betrayed them in the most surprising and startling way possible.
Bestselling biographer Laurence Leamer delves into the years following the acclaimed publication of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958 and In Cold Blood in 1966, when Capote struggled with a crippling case of writer’s block. While enjoying all the fruits of his success, he was struck with an idea for what he was sure would be his most celebrated novel…one based on the remarkable, racy lives of his very, very rich friends.
For years, Capote attempted to write Answered Prayers, what he believed would have been his magnum opus. But when he eventually published a few chapters in Esquire, the thinly fictionalized lives (and scandals) of his closest female confidantes were laid bare for all to see, and he was banished from their high-society world forever. Laurence Leamer re-creates the lives of these fascinating swans, their friendships with Capote and one another, and the doomed quest to write what could have been one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.
Early on in my life I decided that I wanted to experience as many kinds of lives as I could. I went to Antioch College, which had a work-study plan. I worked in several places including the What Cheer, Iowa Patriot-Chronicle, a factory in France, and educational television in Boston. After graduating, I joined the Peace Corps and was one of the earliest volunteers to Nepal where I had a remote placement two days walk from a road.
After two years in the mountain kingdom, I was awarded a Ford Fellow in International Development that I used at the University of Oregon. I started writing magazine articles with enough success that it led me to an International Fellowship at the Columbia University School of Journalism. Upon graduation, I spent an immeasurably unhappy year as an associate editor at Newsweek. That convinced me that I didn’t want a boss, and bosses didn’t want me. That period was the end of the golden age of literary journalism and I began writing magazine articles for many publications including Harper’s, The New York Times Magazine, New York, Playboy and the Washingtonian. I worked incognito in a West Virginia coal mine where I broke my finger and wrote a piece that my agent sold to Harper’s. That led to an assignment covering the war in Bangladesh for Harper’s. That article won a citation from the Overseas Press Club for “Best Magazine Reporting.”
I have many talented friends who can barely make livings writing books. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had a number of bestsellers starting with my book on the Reagans, Make-Believe: The Life of Nancy and Ronald Reagan. My bestseller, King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, is generally considered the definitive portrait of the late star and has been reissued in mass paperback. I suppose I’m best known for my trilogy on the Kennedys, The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men and Sons of Camelot. My biography of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fantastic, led me to living in LA for a while. My book on Palm Beach, Madness Under the Royal Palms, was another New York Times bestseller and a highly controversial book.
My book, The Price of Justice, was published to some of the best reviews of my career in 2013. It is the story of two lawyers’ struggle against Don Blankenship, the most powerful coal baron in American history. Blankenship was indicted and sent to prison. People in West Virginia will tell you it would not have happened without The Price of Justice.
The Lynching: The Epic Coutroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan, was on People and Orpah’s list for the best reads of the summer. Tavis Smiley named it one of five must reads for the summer.
The President’s Butler, was a satirical novel about the improbable rise of a New York businessman to the White House told through the eyes of his butler. I know both Trump and his butler, but the book is decidedly a work of fiction.
Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace–is written with all I know about Palm Beach after living there for a quarter-century and all I know about politics and human personality after a lifetime as a writer.
I chanced upon an incredible story in my newest book, Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal and a Swan Song for an Era. It all came together in a magical way, and I’m excited to see if there are readers out there for this unique tale.
I am blessed in having such a great wife, Vesna Obradovic Leamer, who takes care of everything else in our complicated lives. I’m fortunate as well in having a terrific daughter, Daniela Mantilla, a great son-in-law, Antonio, and two dynamite grandkids, Alejandro and Emilia. If one has good health, a close family and loyal friends one has everything.