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.”

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?”

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.