It was the subject of Brando’s mother that apparently came out as the interview stretched past 1 a.m. As Capote wrote in his piece, “I poured some vodka; Brando declined to join me. However, he subsequently reached for my glass, sipped from it, set it down between us, and suddenly said in an offhand way that nonetheless conveyed feeling, ‘My mother. She broke apart like a piece of porcelain. . . . My father was indifferent to me. Nothing I could do interested him, or pleased him. I’ve accepted that now. We’re friends now. We get along.’ ” Brando then went on to describe how growing up he’d come home to an empty house and an empty icebox. “The telephone would ring. Somebody calling from the bar. And they’d say, ‘We’ve got a lady down here. You better come get her.’” Later, when Brando was on Broadway, his mother came to live with him in New York. “I thought if she loved me enough, trusted me enough, I thought then we can be together, in New York; we’ll live together and I’ll take care of her. . . . I tried so hard. But my love wasn’t enough. . . . And one day, I didn’t care anymore. She was there. In a room. Holding onto me. And I let her fall. Because I couldn’t take it any more—watch her breaking apart, in front of me, like a piece of porcelain. I stepped right over her. I walked right out. I was indifferent.”

It is hard, perhaps, for the modern reader to get a sense of just how stunning Brando’s personal revelations would appear to an audience of the time. Today we are used to—and have even grown cynical about—tawdry stories of the rich and famous. But in 1957, the Hollywood studio system that for so long had carefully controlled the images of its stars was just coming to an end. Intimate details of an actor’s personal life had been confined to disreputable scandal rags. Never before had the inner psyche of a star of Brando’s magnitude been served up for public consumption, much less by a writer of Capote’s stature. This was something new.

The morning after the interview, Brando had little sense of the peril in which he had put himself. Logan, having caught wind of the session, quizzed Brando’s makeup man about it, learning that Brando had “enjoyed the evening immensely.” Later, over cocktails with Logan, Capote couldn’t help but crow. “Oh, you were so wrong about Marlon not being gossipy,” Capote told Logan, noting that Brando had talked about his mother’s drinking and other personal subjects. “I don’t believe it, Truman,” Logan responded. “You must be leaving something out. He just doesn’t reveal personal things.” Capote must have tricked him somehow, he said.

“I didn’t trick him,” Capote countered. “We simply swapped stories. I made up stories about what lushes my family were, and believe me, I made them lurid, until he began to feel sorry for me and told me his to make me feel better.” Capote would expand upon this technique to his biographer, Gerald Clarke. “The secret to the art of interviewing—and it is an art—is to let the other person think he’s interviewing you. . . . You tell him about yourself, and slowly you spin your web so that he tells you everything. That’s how I trapped Marlon.” In an interview with Rolling Stone more than 15 years after the fact, Capote observed, “You remember I told you how startled Marlon Brando was? I hadn’t taken a note. I hadn’t done a thing. I hadn’t even seemed to be interested.”

Douglas McCollam is a contributing editor to CJR.