Truman Capote Maysles Documentary: Unveiling the Iconic Black and White Ball


The Truman Capote Maysles Documentary sheds light on one of the most iconic events of the 20th century: Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.

This glittering affair, immortalized in history as “the party of the century,” took place at the Plaza Hotel on November 28, 1966, marking a pivotal moment in Capote’s ascent to fame following the success of his groundbreaking work, “In Cold Blood.”

Unfortunately, there isn’t a full-length Truman Capote documentary by the Maysles brothers. While the FX series “Feud: Capote Vs. The Swans” depicts the fictional creation of such a project, the reality is slightly different. Here’s a breakdown:

The Myth:

  • In “Feud,” Truman Capote hires the Maysles brothers to document his infamous Black and White Ball in 1966.
  • The show presents a dramatized version of the planning process, interviews with “Swans” (socialites), and glimpses of the event itself.

The Reality:

  • While Albert Maysles was a friend of Capote and attended the ball, no full-length documentary was commissioned.
  • However, the Maysles did create two shorter films related to Capote:
    • “A Visit with Truman Capote” (1966): An intimate interview with Capote at his beachfront home, offering insights into his personality and work.
    • “With Love from Truman” (1966): A brief 30-minute film focusing on Capote’s reflections on the impact of “In Cold Blood” on the nonfiction novel genre.

In the third episode of “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans,” The Maysles brothers, recognized documentary filmmakers, present a compelling rendition of the Black and White Ball.

Through imagined black and white footage reminiscent of their real-life documentary “With Love from Truman,” the episode offers viewers an intimate look into the elegant soirée and the emotional dynamics leading up to it.

The Black and White Ball epitomized the cultural shifts of the 1960s, boasting a guest list of 540 individuals ranging from European aristocrats to Hollywood stars, politicians, and artists.

Capote meticulously curated the guest list, reflecting his desire to bridge high and low society, which is evident in the juxtaposition of extravagant settings with simple offerings like chicken hash and spaghetti.

The documentary captures the essence of the ball’s ambiance, portraying guests like Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall, and Henry Fonda mingling with socialites such as Babe Paley and C.Z. Guest.

Notably, Capote extended invitations to individuals outside traditional high society, including his former schoolteacher and the widow of a judge in the “In Cold Blood” trial.

Despite the extravagant setting, the ball maintained an air of exclusivity, with only four journalists granted access to cover the event.

However, the ball’s allure transcended its physical confines, with media coverage and public fascination cementing its status as a cultural phenomenon.

The Feud episode also delves into Capote’s selection of Katherine “Kay” Graham, publisher of the Washington Post, as the guest of honour.

While some speculate Capote’s motives, Graham’s presence served as a poignant symbol of resilience following her husband’s tragic death.

Zac Posen’s involvement in designing the episode’s costumes adds an extra layer of authenticity, capturing the essence of the era’s fashion and the individuality of Capote’s esteemed guests.

While the Maysles brothers never documented the Black and White Ball, their imagined portrayal in “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans” offers a compelling narrative that encapsulates the essence of this iconic event. Through their lens, viewers are transported back to experience the glamour, intrigue, and cultural significance of Truman Capote’s legendary soirée.

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