In cold type

When Truman Capote set out to profile Marlon Brando for The New Yorker in 1957, he knew just how to set his traps

One morning in January, 1957, Josh Logan, the veteran Broadway producer and Hollywood director, came down from his room into the lobby of the Miyako Hotel in Kyoto, Japan, and spied just about the last person in the world he wanted to see. There, at the front desk, perched on his tippy-toes to sign in, was the diminutive writer and enfant terrible, Truman Capote.

Logan was not entirely shocked to see him. Weeks earlier, he had been informed of Capote’s intention to write a story for The New Yorker about the making of Sayonara, the film the director was shooting in Japan for Warner Bros., starring Marlon Brando. Logan had moved aggressively to head off the story. The previous year, Capote had written his inaugural feature for the magazine, about a touring company of the musical Porgy and Bess as it made a landmark journey through the Soviet Union. Capote spent weeks on the road with the players, and the resulting two-part story, “The Muses Are Heard,” was an unsparing and often hilarious vivisection of the troupe and its well-to-do sponsors.

Logan had no intention of subjecting his own cast and crew to the same withering scrutiny. In particular, he was concerned about what might happen if Capote gained access to his mercurial leading man. Though Brando was notoriously press-shy, and Logan doubted Capote’s ability to crack the star’s enigmatic exterior, he wasn’t taking any chances. He and William Goetz, Sayonara’s producer, had both written to The New Yorker stating that they would not cooperate for the piece and, furthermore, that if Capote did journey to Japan he would be barred from the set. Nevertheless, Capote had come.

As Logan later recounted, his reaction to Capote’s sudden appearance was visceral. He came up behind Capote, and without saying a word, picked the writer up and transported him across the lobby, depositing him outside the front door of the hotel. “Now come on, Josh!” Capote cried. “I’m not going to write anything bad.”

Logan went immediately upstairs to Brando’s room to deliver a warning: “Don’t let yourself be left alone with Truman. He’s after you.” His warning would go unheeded. Recalling his reaction to Capote, Logan later wrote, “I had a sickening feeling that what little Truman wanted, little Truman would get.”

His fears proved well-founded. Two nights after arriving in Japan, Capote showed up at Brando’s door wearing a tan cardigan and carrying a bottle of vodka for what in Brando’s estimation was to be a quick dinner and an early night (indeed, Brando instructed his assistant to call in an hour so he’d have an excuse to get rid of Capote). Instead, when Capote left Brando’s room six hours later, he was convinced that he had the raw material for a groundbreaking profile of the reclusive star.

What transpired between Brando and Capote over the course of their hours alone together in that hotel room has long been a subject of historical curiosity. Just how did Capote get the taciturn Brando to talk? Was Brando (as he later claimed) tricked by the devious Capote? Or was the star a willing participant in the unmaking of his own image? Was there (as Capote dubiously claimed) some sort of sexual history between the two? What is clear is that more than a half-century after it appeared, “The Duke in His Domain” remains the yardstick by which celebrity profiles are measured—an early harbinger of the New Journalism that would come into full flower in the 1960s. With its profusion of intimate details, confessional tone, and novelistic observation of Brando’s character, the story marked a clear evolution of celebrity journalism and heralded the arrival of the invasive, full-immersion pop culture of today.

In part, the curiosity about the intersection of these two 20th-century cultural icons is due to the great differences between them. By 1957 Brando, through his portrayals of characters like Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront, and Johnny Strabler in The Wild One, was a living archetype of postwar American machismo, a monosyllabic tough guy and acting genius with the sculpted build of a prizefighter. In contrast, Capote—with his babykins voice, theatrical swish, and elfin stature (around 5´3”)—occupied the opposite end of the male spectrum, looking, as one writer put it, about “as dangerous as a chipmunk.”

But for all their apparent dissimilarities, aspects of their lives were remarkably similar. Both were the lone sons of alcoholic mothers and distant, troubled fathers. Both had been shipped off to military schools in their teens, which they had despised, and neither went to college. Both were known by friends and acquaintances for their skill in manipulating the lives of those around them.

And both were transformative figures in their respective artistic fields. “I’ve interviewed thousands of people,” Lawrence Grobel, a writer who spent many hours talking with both Brando and Capote, told me. “And just a few give off a real sense of power in person. Both of these guys were like that.” Still, if anyone was placing a bet on who would come out on top in a conflict between these two, all the money would have gone on Brando (with Brando probably placing the biggest bet of all).

But in the months following their encounter, it was Brando who grew increasingly desperate to stop publication of Capote’s story. By turns furious, distraught, threatening, and pleading, he tried in vain to get the story killed. “My soul is a private place,” Brando liked to say. But Capote would lay it bare. Gone was the dangerous mystique that fueled the early years of Brando’s stardom; in its place, a portrait of a deluded and confused man-child, overcome by his fame and haunted by the ghost of his alcoholic mother. “I’ll kill him!” Brando told Logan when The New Yorker profile came out. “It’s too late,” Logan shot back. “You should have killed him before you invited him to dinner.”

The encounter between brando and Capote came at a key juncture in both men’s careers. Born six months apart in 1924, they were both 32 when they met in Japan, each already burnished by a decade of fame. Both had made their names while still in their early twenties in the pulsing firmament of postwar Manhattan. In their youth, both were notorious for their physical beauty, incandescent talent, and odd mannerisms.

Brando arrived in New York in 1943, after being expelled from his military academy in Minnesota that spring (his list of transgressions was long). His sister was already living in Greenwich Village, studying painting with Hans Hofmann, the noted abstract expressionist. While living with her in the Village, Brando gravitated toward the dramatic workshop run by Erwin Piscator and Stella Adler, who had imported the acting techniques of Russia’s Konstantin Stanislavsky. “The Method,” in which actors draw on their own memories and experiences to create their character, would transform American acting and, in Brando, it had found its most potent initiate. Adler soon was predicting great things for the brooding Midwestern teenager, telling one of her young protégés, “Wait ’til you meet this kid. . . . This is a genius.” Though Brando’s previous experience in the theater was limited to a few school productions, within a year he was appearing on Broadway. By 23, he had landed the role that would make him a star. Though initially deemed too young and pretty to be convincing as the brutish Kowalski in Streetcar, Brando was championed by director Elia Kazan, who sent him to Tennessee Williams’s beach house in Cape Cod to audition in person. Brando later recounted he only had read for about 30 seconds when Williams told him he had the part. “Then he loaned me bus fare to get back to New York.”

Around the same time that Brando’s star was rising on Broadway, Capote’s own emergence had begun, a little farther uptown. His family moved from suburban Connecticut, where his mother had married her second husband, Joe Capote, to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Truman, barely 18, quickly became a regular at the city’s exclusive nightspots, like the Stork Club and El Morocco. Holding down a part-time job as a copyboy at The New Yorker, Capote was certain that his rise to literary greatness was just on the horizon. His colleagues had no such premonitions. An editor at the magazine recalled that when The New Yorker’s founder, Harold Ross, first encountered Capote in the hallway, it brought him to a dead stop. “What’s that?” he inquired, as Capote passed by looking for all the world, the editor recalled, “like a little ballerina.” Brendan Gill, a longtime writer at the magazine, remembered Capote as “an absolutely gorgeous apparition,” who fluttered and flitted down the musty corridors with a mane of golden hair and, not infrequently, an opera cape.

Capote was ultimately fired from The New Yorker, allegedly for offending the poet Robert Frost, who became enraged when Capote walked out in the middle of a reading. But his literary ambitions were undeterred. By 1946, he’d been accepted at the writer’s colony at Yaddo in upstate New York where, working alongside fellow southerners like Carson McCullers and Katherine Anne Porter, he began his debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. The following year, Life magazine featured Capote prominently in a piece about young postwar writers (the piece also noted Gore Vidal, Capote’s soon-to-be lifetime antagonist). When the novel appeared in 1948, it shot onto the best-seller list, driven at least in part by the photo on the back cover, which featured Capote reclining suggestively on a sofa, staring at the viewer with bedroom eyes. Commenting on the young Capote’s talent in an interview, Somerset Maugham called him “the hope of modern literature.”

Though initially ambivalent about working in Hollywood, Brando eventually succumbed and moved west in 1949 for what he viewed as a brief sabbatical from the stage (in fact, he would never appear on Broadway again). The next five years cemented his status not only as Hollywood’s hottest leading man, but as a revolutionary figure in American film. The spread of “Brandolatory” infected a generation of up-and-coming actors, as The Method made traditional screen acting seem wooden and inauthentic. “The whole thing up until then, everything was proper,” actor Anthony Quinn said of Brando’s portrayal of Stanley Kowalski. “Along comes Brando. . . . [That performance] turns the whole world around. . . . Everyone started behaving like Brando.” Elia Kazan would call Brando’s work in Waterfront “the finest thing ever done by an American film actor.” The performance garnered Brando his first Oscar as best actor (he’d been nominated earlier for Streetcar, but lost to sentimental favorite Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen).

One element of Brando’s sudden rise to fame, of course, was relentless media attention, and from the start he despised it. He rarely gave interviews and when he did, he revealed little or nothing. At one point he became so enraged by what he considered inappropriate attention to his private life that he hired his own investigators to dig up dirt on Time Inc. He was so reluctant to promote the movies he appeared in that one producer was reduced to bribing him with a new Thunderbird convertible to get him out on the publicity circuit. At the 1955 premiere in Times Square of his eighth movie, the musical Guys and Dolls, the frenzied crowd overran barricades and broke the windows of the limo Brando was riding in. A platoon of police officers had to be sent in to extract the rattled star. That year saw Brando eclipse Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, and John Wayne as Hollywood’s top moneymaker.

The mid-’50s were a productive period for Capote as well. His second novel, The Grass Harp, had been well received, and he’d made an initial foray into film when director John Huston hired him to punch up the script for his movie Beat The Devil. While working on location for the film in Italy, Capote got into an amusing (and revealing) dust-up with the movie’s star, Humphrey Bogart, who was killing time arm wrestling with the crew. Spotting “Caposy” (as Bogie called him) lingering around, Bogart challenged him to a match and Capote beat him flat, twice, winning $50 in the process. When Bogart grabbed Capote to express his outrage, the writer promptly wrestled the star to the ground until he cried uncle. Huston, who noted Capote was “the only male I’d ever seen attired in a velvet suit,” was impressed. “Truman was a little bulldog of a man . . . . His effeminacy didn’t in any way affect his strength or courage.”

Back in New York, Capote had become a fixture in Manhattan high society, particularly among the beautiful “swans,” such as Babe Paley, Gloria Guinness, and Slim Keith, who adopted Capote as a kind of literary adornment, court jester, and father confessor (several would later claim to be the inspiration for Capote’s free-spirited It Girl, Holly Golightly). They took Capote along on exotic vacations, into their luxurious homes, and into their confidence—an intimacy many of them would later regret. One of his female confidants, Marella Agnelli, would later recall how Capote observed people, probing for their soft spots. “I found myself telling him things I never dreamed of telling him.” Eventually, Agnelli grew wary of the writer’s gift for gaining easy confidences. “I thought that only somebody very strange or mad could have a very intimate, kind, warm relationship and at the same time stab,” she remembered, recalling that Capote once told her, “Some people kill with their swords and some with words.”

By 1955, Capote was interested in expanding his work into a new area: journalism. “I had to get outside my own imagination and learn to exist in the imagination and lives of other people,” Capote told an interviewer. “I had become too obsessed with my particular internal images. That was the main reason I turned to journalism.” But Capote wasn’t interested in simply exploring the genre; he wanted to change it. “What I wanted to do was bring to journalism the technique of fiction, which moves both horizontally and vertically at the same time: horizontally on the narrative side and vertically by entering inside its characters.”

After whetting his appetite with his initial feature on the company of Porgy and Bess in 1956, Capote went looking for other journalistic subjects. As he later recalled in an interview with Andy Warhol, Capote discussed possibilities with New Yorker editor William Shawn. “I said, ‘You know, I think where people are making a big mistake is that journalism can be one of the highest art forms there is in a certain new genre.’ And he says, ‘Well, give me an example.’ All right. Let’s take the very lowest form of journalism that could possibly be: an interview with a movie star. I mean, what could be lower than that?”

It was only a few days into filming in Japan when Josh Logan began to get a bad feeling about his big-budget spectacular. His leading lady, a novice who had never appeared in a feature film, was showing her inexperience, and a local Kabuki theater troupe that the director had counted on performing in the film was balking at the last minute. Worse, his leading man was acting skittish. Brando had vacillated for a long time about whether to take his role in Sayonara, and agreed to sign on only after extensive rewrites on the script, including a new ending. His weight, which had begun to fluctuate as he entered his thirties, was up, and he was supposed to be on a strict diet. More to the point, Carlo Fiore, his friend and assistant, later recalled that he had already lost trust in Logan and was bored with the movie. “From the start,” Fiore noted, Brando “believed Sayonara was a wide-screen Technicolor travelogue, pumped up with an improbable love story.”

Perhaps it was boredom that led Brando, despite Logan’s warning, to meet with Capote. Brando would later claim that he had no idea Capote was doing a story about him, a charge Capote dismissed as absurd. Logan speculated that his efforts to prevent the meeting may have backfired. “Since Marlon automatically sides with any underdog, and I mean any, Truman made himself the most put-upon of the underprivileged,” Logan recalled. Even though Brando hated the press, Logan thought he invited Capote to dinner to thwart the “big, evil boss figures” who were forbidding the meeting. For his part, Brando indicated that he was willing to get together with Capote because he had traveled to Japan with the photographer Cecil Beaton, a mutual friend.

Fiore, who was in the room when Capote arrived about 7 p.m., claimed in his memoir that Brando had actually forgotten about the meeting. The star had spent the afternoon working on a script for A Burst of Vermilion, a western he wanted his production company to make. (The draft would come in at 312 pages. The picture was never made.) Brando instructed Fiore to call his room every hour, so he’d have an excuse to cut the meeting short. Fiore recorded his lasting impression of meeting Capote: “He moved into the room with that odd graceful gait of his, cradling a bottle of vodka in the crook of his arm. I had heard Capote was small, but I was surprised to see how really small he was. He was slim and trim as a boy, and his feet and hands were as tiny as a child’s. Although he was 30 years old or more, he had the frank gaze and smooth features of a 12-year-old innocent. I had never heard him speak, and the high-pitched nasality of his voice softly slurring the words gave me the feeling that an amateur ventriloquist was speaking through this smaller-than-life-size but perfectly proportioned doll.”

Capote put the vodka on the table and Brando asked the maid to bring a bucket of ice. Then, Fiore recalled, Capote launched into an elaborate story about the conductor Leonard Bernstein: One day, he and Bernstein had spent a long afternoon at the conductor’s apartment during which Capote, at Bernstein’s urging, had dished lavishly on their mutual acquaintances. Unknown to Capote, Bernstein had hidden a secret microphone in his apartment to record the entire conversation. Not long after, Bernstein hosted a party attended by many of the same people the two had been discussing. At the height of the evening, Bernstein asked for everyone’s attention and produced a tape recorder that played back all of Capote’s comments about the attendees, in the writer’s unmistakable voice. The worst part, Capote told them, was that Bernstein’s side of the conversation had been edited out so that it appeared as if only Capote had been talking. Fiore wasn’t sure what to make of the story, but as he excused himself from Brando’s room he had a strong sense of foreboding.

Capote wasn’t interested in adopting the traditional tools of his new trade. To achieve the intimacy necessary for his work, he eschewed the use of tape recorders or even note-taking. Instead, he would turn himself into a “human tape recorder.” Capote claimed to have the auditory version of a photographic memory that, with practice, he was able to hone to a high degree of accuracy. “This is of the greatest importance in the kind of reportage I do, because it is absolutely fatal to ever take a note or use a tape recorder when you interview somebody.” This technique, in Capote’s estimation, allowed him to “live inside the situation, to become part of the scene I was recording and not cut myself off from them in any way.” (It also, Capote’s critics would later claim, allowed him to fictionalize key facts in his work.)

As previously agreed, Fiore rang Brando’s room an hour later, only to find him “high as a proverbial kite” and in no mood to cut his interview short. Fiore asked if he’d been drinking. “I had a couple of nips, that’s all,” Brando responded. Fiore advised him to be cool and not say anything he might regret later. “Truman’s already gotten his interview. We’re just chatting now, entre nous,” Brando responded. “Call me in an hour.” Fiore, like Logan, knew that properly stimulated, Brando’s reticence could drop away. “He rarely drank,” Fiore recalled, “and sometimes after only a drink or two, his natural distrust of strangers would evaporate, and he would be sentimental, maudlin, and ready to unfold the story of his life, freely trotting out all the skeletons in his closet.”

That Brando did. While (the supposedly dieting) Brando feasted on a dinner of soup, steak, French fries, three kinds of vegetables, spaghetti, rolls, cheese, crackers, and apple pie with ice cream on top, he confessed that stardom had made his life a complete mess. He was in analysis, he told Capote, and he felt like he was “just sitting on a pile of candy gathering thick layers of—of crust.” He announced plans to fire his secretary and move to a smaller house, without a cook or a maid or his telephone, which he thought was tapped. He expounded on his “seven-minute” attention span, on his inability to love anyone, and his theories on friendship: “Do you know how I make a friend? I circle around and around. I circle. Then, gradually, I come nearer. Then I reach out and touch them—oh so gently. Then I draw back. Wait awhile. Make them wonder. At just the right moment, I move in again. Touch them. Circle. They don’t know what’s happening. Before they realize it, they’re all entangled, involved. I have them.”

Until that night, nothing had been deeper in Brando’s closet than his relationship with his troubled mother. Dodie Brando, an amateur actress and frustrated housewife, had encouraged Brando’s childhood creative interests while his remote father, in Brando’s words, was a “card-carrying prick . . . a frightening, silent, brooding, angry, hard-drinking, rude man, a bully who loved to give orders and issue ultimatums.” Both of his parents struggled with alcoholism. Capote’s mother, Nina, was also a serious alcoholic, and her abandonment of Capote at a young age, leaving him to live with relatives while she pursued a life alone in New York, left lifelong scars. Her birth name of Lillie Mae was a beat away from Lula Mae, the given name of Capote’s heroine, Holly Golightly, who also escaped to New York to reinvent her life. Brando and Capote’s mothers died a few months apart in 1954.

It was the subject of Brando’s mother that apparently came out as the interview stretched past 1 a.m. As Capote wrote in his piece, “I poured some vodka; Brando declined to join me. However, he subsequently reached for my glass, sipped from it, set it down between us, and suddenly said in an offhand way that nonetheless conveyed feeling, ‘My mother. She broke apart like a piece of porcelain. . . . My father was indifferent to me. Nothing I could do interested him, or pleased him. I’ve accepted that now. We’re friends now. We get along.’ ” Brando then went on to describe how growing up he’d come home to an empty house and an empty icebox. “The telephone would ring. Somebody calling from the bar. And they’d say, ‘We’ve got a lady down here. You better come get her.’” Later, when Brando was on Broadway, his mother came to live with him in New York. “I thought if she loved me enough, trusted me enough, I thought then we can be together, in New York; we’ll live together and I’ll take care of her. . . . I tried so hard. But my love wasn’t enough. . . . And one day, I didn’t care anymore. She was there. In a room. Holding onto me. And I let her fall. Because I couldn’t take it any more—watch her breaking apart, in front of me, like a piece of porcelain. I stepped right over her. I walked right out. I was indifferent.”

It is hard, perhaps, for the modern reader to get a sense of just how stunning Brando’s personal revelations would appear to an audience of the time. Today we are used to—and have even grown cynical about—tawdry stories of the rich and famous. But in 1957, the Hollywood studio system that for so long had carefully controlled the images of its stars was just coming to an end. Intimate details of an actor’s personal life had been confined to disreputable scandal rags. Never before had the inner psyche of a star of Brando’s magnitude been served up for public consumption, much less by a writer of Capote’s stature. This was something new.

The morning after the interview, Brando had little sense of the peril in which he had put himself. Logan, having caught wind of the session, quizzed Brando’s makeup man about it, learning that Brando had “enjoyed the evening immensely.” Later, over cocktails with Logan, Capote couldn’t help but crow. “Oh, you were so wrong about Marlon not being gossipy,” Capote told Logan, noting that Brando had talked about his mother’s drinking and other personal subjects. “I don’t believe it, Truman,” Logan responded. “You must be leaving something out. He just doesn’t reveal personal things.” Capote must have tricked him somehow, he said.

“I didn’t trick him,” Capote countered. “We simply swapped stories. I made up stories about what lushes my family were, and believe me, I made them lurid, until he began to feel sorry for me and told me his to make me feel better.” Capote would expand upon this technique to his biographer, Gerald Clarke. “The secret to the art of interviewing—and it is an art—is to let the other person think he’s interviewing you. . . . You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. That’s how I trapped Marlon.” In an interview with Rolling Stone more than 15 years after the fact, Capote observed, “You remember I told you how startled Marlon Brando was? I hadn’t taken a note. I hadn’t done a thing. I hadn’t even seemed to be interested.”

Sayonara ended up doing well at the box office and garnered Brando his fifth Oscar nomination. Near the end of production, Logan obtained the galleys of “The Duke in His Domain,” and it was as bad as he had feared. In addition to the revelations about his mother, it included Brando’s negative critique of Logan, his self-centered theories on relationships, and his low estimation of many of his fellow actors. Brando was shaken, and immediately wrote Capote a long letter. In it he conceded that “unutterable foolishness” had led him to believe they were exchanging private confidences, and now his innards were to be “guy-wired and festooned with harlequin streamers for public musing. . . .” He compared Capote to Judas, Benedict Arnold, and Attila the Hun. Capote later called it “the longest, most confused letter I ever received,” but he never responded. Brando’s tone in private was even more enraged. To his future wife, Anna Kashfi, he claimed that Capote had “got me stoned out of my gourd, straight vodka ’til two in the morning,” but conceded that the “little bastard’s got total recall. Every goddam word, he remembered.”

The piece ran in the November 9, 1957, issue of The New Yorker. Capote was on Brando’s permanent blacklist. “It was the only substantive interview ever suffered by Marlon,” Kashfi noted, “and he regretted it.”

Brando did visit his lawyer and publicist to discuss a lawsuit, but they dissuaded him after establishing that the facts in the story were accurate. “I didn’t think of him as the press,” Brando fumed to his publicist, Walter Seltzer. “I thought of him as a friend.” For his part, Capote was unapologetic—then and later. “Marlon knows what I’m doing. Later he claims that he really didn’t,” Capote told Andy Warhol. “Well, of course he knew. He didn’t in a sense—he knew I was doing an interview, but on the other hand, it was done by my own special method, which doesn’t seem as though I’m doing anything at all. You know?” Capote added, “That thing was a total prediction of his entire life and what happened to him to this very moment. And all done in 40 pages.”

Though Capote joked later that the piece wasn’t really a “hatchet job,” his comments in the years after it appeared tend to reinforce Josh Logan’s view that the writer had it in for Brando. In Capote’s interview with Andy Warhol, he observed that “To be an actor, you have to have absolutely no pride. . . . You have to be a thing. An object. And the less intelligence you have, the better actor you can be. . . . To be an actor at all requires a total immaturity, and takes a total lack of self-respect.” And about Brando, in a later interview, he said, “Oh, God knows, Brando thinks he’s intelligent. Marlon looks at you with oh-poor-you eyes, as if he knows something you don’t know. But the truth is, you know something he doesn’t know: He’s not very intelligent.”

Less obvious, perhaps, was how Capote’s encounter with Brando foreshadowed his own unmaking. After the piece appeared—William Shawn called it a “masterpiece,” and it generated more comment than any New Yorker article since John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”—Capote returned briefly to fiction in his popular novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, before undertaking the project he said he had long contemplated when he moved into journalism, the nonfiction novel. Reading about the murder of a family on an isolated Kansas farm, Capote convinced The New Yorker to let him investigate the case. Six years later, his book about the killings, In Cold Blood, was published, to universal acclaim. It remains a touchstone in American letters. But writing the book, dwelling in the imaginations and characters of other people, especially ruthless killers, broke something in Capote.

His drinking and drug use increased until he became better known as an eccentric fixture at Studio 54 and on late-night talk shows than as a writer or journalist. For the last 15 years of his life, he claimed to be working on his great American novel, Answered Prayers, but only a few chapters ever appeared in print, and the resulting firestorm over the thinly disguised characters and scandalous stories taken from Capote’s Upper East Side tableaux caused his banishment from the glamorous world he had strived so long to cultivate. Capote died in exile in California in 1984. He was 59. Brando outlived him by 20 years, but they were not happy ones, overall. His son was embroiled in a high-profile murder, and his body of work consisted largely of smaller supporting roles. By his late seventies, he had packed more than 350 pounds on to his 5’9” frame, a victim of excess just as surely as Capote.

After Capote’s profile appeared, Brando rarely spoke with reporters again, and he made only one public comment that I could find about their encounter in Kyoto (it is omitted entirely from his autobiography). In 1978, Lawrence Grobel traveled to Brando’s private island in Tahiti for an extensive talk over 10 days. The topics were wide-ranging, from Brando’s obsession with Native American rights to the OPEC oil embargo. At one point the talk turned to personal matters, which Brando placed off-limits. “I just don’t believe in washing my dirty underwear for all to see, and I’m not interested in the confessions of movie stars.” Most celebrities, Brando noted, just end up hanging themselves with their own words. “Did you feel that way with Capote?” Grobel asked. Brando demurred. “No, he’s too good a writer just to write sensational claptrap,” Brando said. “But he would bend or arrange. . . . Everybody editorializes. It’s inevitable. . . .

“There is something obscene about confessing your feelings and your sentiments for all people to view,” he added. “And who the hell is interested, anyway?”

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Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.