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.