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.”

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.