Babe Paley beside the pool at Round Hill, a villa she and husband, William S. Paley owned in Jamaica, 1959. Lady Coolbirth grouses about having got stuck at a dinner next to Princess Margaret, who bored her into semi-unconsciousness. As for Gloria Vanderbilt, Capote presents her as empty-headed and vain, especially when she fails to recognize her first husband, who stops by her table to say hello. (“ ‘Oh, darling. Let’s not brood,’ says Carol consolingly. ‘After all, you haven’t seen him in over twenty years.’ ”) When Vanderbilt read the story, she supposedly said, “The next time I see Truman Capote, I’m going to spit in his face.”
But the tale that spread like a prairie fire up Park Avenue was a thinly disguised account of a humiliating one-night stand endured by “Sidney Dillon,” a stand-in for William “Bill” Paley, the head of the CBS television-and-radio network and one of the most powerful men in New York at that time. Bill and Truman were friends, but Truman worshipped his wife, Barbara “Babe” Paley—the tall, slim, elegant society doyenne widely considered to have been the most beautiful and chic woman in New York. Of Truman’s haut monde swans, Babe Paley was the most glamorous. Truman once noted in his journals, “Mrs. P had only one fault: she was perfect; otherwise, she was perfect.” The Paleys practically adopted Truman; photographs of the three of them at the Paleys’ house in Jamaica show the tall, handsome couple with tiny Truman standing beside them, wearing swimming trunks and a cat-that-ate-the-canary smile, as if he were their pampered son.
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