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Was Truman Capote story based on cruise with Katharine Graham?

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By Amy Argetsinger, The Washington Post
Published:
  • Former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

    Former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

Katharine Graham was lucky: She's one of only a few of Truman Capote's friends who wasn't humiliated in print by the late author.
The two were close enough that Capote threw his legendary 1966 "Black and White Ball" in her honor. Unlike his other society swans, Capote didn't reference her in his infamous short story "La Cote Basque 1965," which exposed embarrassing secrets of his rich and influential friends.
But now it appears he may, in fact, have written a piece about the late Washington Post publisher. The new issue of Vanity Fair features a previously unpublished very short story — recently discovered in Capote's papers at the New York Public Library — with a character that the magazine says is "probably" Graham.
In "Yachts and Things," the narrator (presumably Capote) and "a distinguished and rather intellectual woman, whom I shall call Mrs. Williams" embark on a three-week cruise on the Turkish coast. It's just the two of them and the crew, he explains, because their host has suffered a death in the family and another friend who was supposed to travel with them had suddenly died. This friend has a real name, though: Adlai Stevenson.
"Mrs. Williams" spends her days touring historic sites; the narrator stays on the boat and reads. One night, they invite a party of Turks on board, and both smoke hashish for the first time.
"I don't think I've ever had a better time," Mrs. Williams says the next morning. "And I don't have any hangover at all. I'm only sorry Adlai missed it."
Truth? Fiction?
Sam Kashner, who helped find the Capote manuscript and wrote the article that accompanies it, said he consulted a Capote biographer and other experts to identify the adventurous and well-read "Mrs. Williams." He eliminated other New York socialites and zeroed in on Graham because of her close relationship with Stevenson, the former Democratic presidential candidate and U.N. envoy — but he admits he didn't have any proof. "I wanted it to be her," he told us.
Well, we can help you out with that, Sam!
Kashner told us it didn't occur to him to check Graham's Pulitzer-winning autobiography, "Personal History," but we did. On Page 377, Graham writes about taking a cruise with Capote in the Greek islands. On the way, they stopped in London where, as she coyly writes, Stevenson "stayed in my room" and left behind his tie and glasses — then he dropped dead of a heart attack the next day.
She and Capote decided to proceed with the trip anyway. Hosts Gianni and Marella Agnelli were delayed because of a family death, so Graham and Capote spent the week on the yacht alone discussing his upcoming bestseller "In Cold Blood."
Sooo, yeah, we think it's her, too.
But the hashish? Graham never mentioned that in her book — nor to her son, Don Graham. "N-O," he told us.
Kashner thinks it's true: "Truman obviously had his detractors, but he was a journalist and didn't miss a trick. I think that's why people were so upset with him."
Story tags » BooksMediaTravel

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