Capote put the vodka on the table and Brando asked the maid to bring a bucket of ice. Then, Fiore recalled, Capote launched into an elaborate story about the conductor Leonard Bernstein: One day, he and Bernstein had spent a long afternoon at the conductor’s apartment during which Capote, at Bernstein’s urging, had dished lavishly on their mutual acquaintances. Unknown to Capote, Bernstein had hidden a secret microphone in his apartment to record the entire conversation. Not long after, Bernstein hosted a party attended by many of the same people the two had been discussing. At the height of the evening, Bernstein asked for everyone’s attention and produced a tape recorder that played back all of Capote’s comments about the attendees, in the writer’s unmistakable voice. The worst part, Capote told them, was that Bernstein’s side of the conversation had been edited out so that it appeared as if only Capote had been talking. Fiore wasn’t sure what to make of the story, but as he excused himself from Brando’s room he had a strong sense of foreboding.
Capote wasn’t interested in adopting the traditional tools of his new trade. To achieve the intimacy necessary for his work, he eschewed the use of tape recorders or even note-taking. Instead, he would turn himself into a “human tape recorder.” Capote claimed to have the auditory version of a photographic memory that, with practice, he was able to hone to a high degree of accuracy. “This is of the greatest importance in the kind of reportage I do, because it is absolutely fatal to ever take a note or use a tape recorder when you interview somebody.” This technique, in Capote’s estimation, allowed him to “live inside the situation, to become part of the scene I was recording and not cut myself off from them in any way.” (It also, Capote’s critics would later claim, allowed him to fictionalize key facts in his work.)
As previously agreed, Fiore rang Brando’s room an hour later, only to find him “high as a proverbial kite” and in no mood to cut his interview short. Fiore asked if he’d been drinking. “I had a couple of nips, that’s all,” Brando responded. Fiore advised him to be cool and not say anything he might regret later. “Truman’s already gotten his interview. We’re just chatting now, entre nous,” Brando responded. “Call me in an hour.” Fiore, like Logan, knew that properly stimulated, Brando’s reticence could drop away. “He rarely drank,” Fiore recalled, “and sometimes after only a drink or two, his natural distrust of strangers would evaporate, and he would be sentimental, maudlin, and ready to unfold the story of his life, freely trotting out all the skeletons in his closet.”
That Brando did. While (the supposedly dieting) Brando feasted on a dinner of soup, steak, French fries, three kinds of vegetables, spaghetti, rolls, cheese, crackers, and apple pie with ice cream on top, he confessed that stardom had made his life a complete mess. He was in analysis, he told Capote, and he felt like he was “just sitting on a pile of candy gathering thick layers of—of crust.” He announced plans to fire his secretary and move to a smaller house, without a cook or a maid or his telephone, which he thought was tapped. He expounded on his “seven-minute” attention span, on his inability to love anyone, and his theories on friendship: “Do you know how I make a friend? I circle around and around. I circle. Then, gradually, I come nearer. Then I reach out and touch them—oh so gently. Then I draw back. Wait awhile. Make them wonder. At just the right moment, I move in again. Touch them. Circle. They don’t know what’s happening. Before they realize it, they’re all entangled, involved. I have them.”
Until that night, nothing had been deeper in Brando’s closet than his relationship with his troubled mother. Dodie Brando, an amateur actress and frustrated housewife, had encouraged Brando’s childhood creative interests while his remote father, in Brando’s words, was a “card-carrying prick . . . a frightening, silent, brooding, angry, hard-drinking, rude man, a bully who loved to give orders and issue ultimatums.” Both of his parents struggled with alcoholism. Capote’s mother, Nina, was also a serious alcoholic, and her abandonment of Capote at a young age, leaving him to live with relatives while she pursued a life alone in New York, left lifelong scars. Her birth name of Lillie Mae was a beat away from Lula Mae, the given name of Capote’s heroine, Holly Golightly, who also escaped to New York to reinvent her life. Brando and Capote’s mothers died a few months apart in 1954.