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.”

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.