Before there were influencers or the “Real Housewives,” there were the swans.
Demi Moore, Calista Flockhart, Naomi Watts, Diane Lane, Chloe Sevigny and Molly Ringwald play the swans, a group of women in the upper echelons of New York society in the Ryan Murphy-created FX series “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans.”
Based on Lawrence Leamer’s book, “Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era,” the show follows the swans as they’re befriended by famed writer Truman Capote (Tom Hollander).
But things came crumbling down after Capote published “La Côte Basque, 1965,” an excerpt from his novel, “Answered Prayers,” which exposed their darkest and most scandalous secrets.
In a preview from FX for the show, Moore summed up the series, saying, “It’s about betrayal and relationship and friendship and integrity.”
Read on for more about the real-life swans.
Ann Woodward (Demi Moore)
Demi Moore plays Ann Woodward, a model and actress who married William Woodward Jr., a veteran and heir to a bank fortune.
Woodward was later suspected of her husband’s murder after she shot him to death, claiming she mistook him for a burglar. She was exonerated of the charges, but the stigma stayed with her until her death by suicide in 1975, just weeks before the publication of “La Côte Basque,” in which Capote mocked her in a thinly veiled gold digger character who murders her husband.
Per Women’s Wear Daily, Woodward and Capote met in 1956 and, after a brief conversation, she referred to him with a slur, and he called her “Mrs. Bang Bang.”
In a preview clip from FX, Moore said, “I think of all the women in his circle, Ann was the most like [Capote’s] mother and perhaps maybe that’s his venom to go after her.”
Moore admitted in an interview with Extra, “I didn’t know who the character was, but I knew the incredible talent that was already signed up to be part of it.
“I’d been wanting to do something with Ryan [Murphy] for years and years, and whatever this was, I told him, I would do it.”
Lee Radziwill (Calista Flockhart)
Calista Flockhart plays Lee Radziwill, born Caroline Lee Bouvier, the youngest sister of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Radziwill pursued a variety of careers in her life, including interior design and PR executive for Giorgio Armani.
Dubbed the “original influencer” by Women’s Wear Daily for her sophisticated taste, she was voted one of the world’s best dressed women and was inducted into the Best Dressed List’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
Radziwill was married three times, first to publishing executive Michael Canfield; then to Polish Prince Stanislas Radziwill, with whom she had two children; and, finally, to film director Herb Ross.
“She was a pretty amazing woman,” Flockhart said of Radziwill during a recent appearance on “Good Morning America.”
“She was a New York socialite. She was at the top of her game. She was a fashion icon. She was rich. She was a princess. She was bred to marry well and marry the right man. Marry a rich man. I think she lived in the shadow of her sister.
“And so she was a woman who was in search of her own identity for a lot of her life, which she found in various ways,” the “Ally McBeal” alum added. “So, she was intelligent.”
According to The Cut, Radziwill’s friendship with Capote became strained not from the infamous essay, but after he urged her to pursue acting and it went poorly. Later, she refused to testify in a libel suit that Capote lost against writer and rival Gore Vidal.
Babe Paley (Naomi Watts)
Babe Paley, born Barbara Cushing, is played by Naomi Watts. Before she married CBS founder William S. Paley (played by the late Treat Williams), she worked as a fashion editor for Vogue.
“She had this level of perfection with her presentation. She never had her hair out of place. She had such grace and elegance, and everything about her was so well groomed,” Watts told Vanity Fair. “But underneath it all, she had cracks. There was a lot of pressure to look that pristine all the time.
“I looked closely at how she placed her hands, her posture and the way she did her hair. The rest was up for interpretation.”
Paley was one of Capote’s closest friends, as Watts noted in a preview interview with FX.
“She didn’t give her whole self to anyone, except for Truman, who was able to see beyond the veneers and therein lies the great feud, and the great betrayal and devastation,” she said.
According to Women’s Wear Daily, Capote exposed her and her husband’s troubled marriage in “La Côte Basque.” When Paley died in 1978 from lung cancer, Capote was not invited to the funeral.
Slim Keith (Diane Lane)
Born Mary Raye Gross, Nancy “Slim” Keith is played by Diane Lane in the series. Keith was considered one of the early Hollywood jetsetters, per The Cut, and was friends with Ernest Hemingway and Lauren Bacall, who she claimed to have discovered.
Keith was married three times, first to director Howard Hawks, then Broadway producer Leland Hayward and, finally, Kenneth Keith, a British baron.
Lane told Vanity Fair she became immersed in Keith’s memoir and “became a fan of her spirit, her energy and the way she tells a story. It’s very classy in her choice to omit certain things.
“So, it’s an important responsibility to be judicious and be gracious about what you say for the next generation,” she added.
Keith allegedly never spoke to Capote again after the essay, in which she was depicted as a gossip and a drunk, under the guise of the character name Lady Ina Coolbirth, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
C.Z. Guest (Chloë Sevigny)
C.Z. Guest, born Lucy Douglas Cochrane, played by Chloë Sevigny, was not only a wealthy fashion icon, but, according to The Cut, a passionate gardener who wrote several books on the subject.
“My character … comes from old money, so she kind of has that innate confidence built into her,” Sevigny said of her role in a preview clip from FX.
Sevigny described the costumes to Vanity Fair as “constricting but fun,” adding, “I’ve never played such a glamorous character, so it was a real treat.”
Guest was known for her trendsetting style, and, according to Women’s Wear Daily, served as a muse for designers like Bill Blass and Ralph Lauren and also posed for artists like Salvador Dali and Diego Rivera.
Per the outlet, Guest was one of the few who didn’t shun Capote following the “La Côte Basque,” publication.
Joanne Carson (Molly Ringwald)
Joanne Carson, played by Molly Ringwald, was the second wife of “The Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson. Prior to their marriage, she was raised in a convent and had been a model and Pan American World Airways stewardess.
After her divorce in 1972, she was a talk-show host in the Los Angeles area and became close friends with Capote.
Carson stayed by Capote’s side through the “La Côte Basque” fallout, and, according to the Cut, he spent months out of every year at her home in LA, including his final days in a writing room she had dedicated to him. Capote died in her home in 1984 from liver cancer at age 59.
In an interview with Extra, Ringwald said, “All I knew was that they were friends, and she inherited a lot of his belongings and his ashes. I think she gave half of his ashes to his family, and she kept the other half.
“Once Joanne divorced Johnny Carson, she kind of no longer was part of the Hollywood elite. And then, of course, after Truman did what he did, he was ousted, so they were kind of like outcasts together.”
Carson died in 2015, and in a 2006 interview with The Los Angeles Times, she described Capote as a “wounded child.”
“Truman loved celebrity,” she added. “He crashed and burned because of the bitchiness of New York.”