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.

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.