The piece ran in the November 9, 1957, issue of The New Yorker. Capote was on Brando’s permanent blacklist. “It was the only substantive interview ever suffered by Marlon,” Kashfi noted, “and he regretted it.”
Brando did visit his lawyer and publicist to discuss a lawsuit, but they dissuaded him after establishing that the facts in the story were accurate. “I didn’t think of him as the press,” Brando fumed to his publicist, Walter Seltzer. “I thought of him as a friend.” For his part, Capote was unapologetic—then and later. “Marlon knows what I’m doing. Later he claims that he really didn’t,” Capote told Andy Warhol. “Well, of course he knew. He didn’t in a sense—he knew I was doing an interview, but on the other hand, it was done by my own special method, which doesn’t seem as though I’m doing anything at all. You know?” Capote added, “That thing was a total prediction of his entire life and what happened to him to this very moment. And all done in 40 pages.”
Though Capote joked later that the piece wasn’t really a “hatchet job,” his comments in the years after it appeared tend to reinforce Josh Logan’s view that the writer had it in for Brando. In Capote’s interview with Andy Warhol, he observed that “To be an actor, you have to have absolutely no pride. . . . You have to be a thing. An object. And the less intelligence you have, the better actor you can be. . . . To be an actor at all requires a total immaturity, and takes a total lack of self-respect.” And about Brando, in a later interview, he said, “Oh, God knows, Brando thinks he’s intelligent. Marlon looks at you with oh-poor-you eyes, as if he knows something you don’t know. But the truth is, you know something he doesn’t know: He’s not very intelligent.”
Less obvious, perhaps, was how Capote’s encounter with Brando foreshadowed his own unmaking. After the piece appeared—William Shawn called it a “masterpiece,” and it generated more comment than any New Yorker article since John Hersey’s “Hiroshima”—Capote returned briefly to fiction in his popular novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, before undertaking the project he said he had long contemplated when he moved into journalism, the nonfiction novel. Reading about the murder of a family on an isolated Kansas farm, Capote convinced The New Yorker to let him investigate the case. Six years later, his book about the killings, In Cold Blood, was published, to universal acclaim. It remains a touchstone in American letters. But writing the book, dwelling in the imaginations and characters of other people, especially ruthless killers, broke something in Capote.
His drinking and drug use increased until he became better known as an eccentric fixture at Studio 54 and on late-night talk shows than as a writer or journalist. For the last 15 years of his life, he claimed to be working on his great American novel, Answered Prayers, but only a few chapters ever appeared in print, and the resulting firestorm over the thinly disguised characters and scandalous stories taken from Capote’s Upper East Side tableaux caused his banishment from the glamorous world he had strived so long to cultivate. Capote died in exile in California in 1984. He was 59. Brando outlived him by 20 years, but they were not happy ones, overall. His son was embroiled in a high-profile murder, and his body of work consisted largely of smaller supporting roles. By his late seventies, he had packed more than 350 pounds on to his 5’9” frame, a victim of excess just as surely as Capote.
After Capote’s profile appeared, Brando rarely spoke with reporters again, and he made only one public comment that I could find about their encounter in Kyoto (it is omitted entirely from his autobiography). In 1978, Lawrence Grobel traveled to Brando’s private island in Tahiti for an extensive talk over 10 days. The topics were wide-ranging, from Brando’s obsession with Native American rights to the OPEC oil embargo. At one point the talk turned to personal matters, which Brando placed off-limits. “I just don’t believe in washing my dirty underwear for all to see, and I’m not interested in the confessions of movie stars.” Most celebrities, Brando noted, just end up hanging themselves with their own words. “Did you feel that way with Capote?” Grobel asked. Brando demurred. “No, he’s too good a writer just to write sensational claptrap,” Brando said. “But he would bend or arrange. . . . Everybody editorializes. It’s inevitable. . . .
“There is something obscene about confessing your feelings and your sentiments for all people to view,” he added. “And who the hell is interested, anyway?”