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.”

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.

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.