Why Did Truman Capote Choose Katharine Graham as His Guest of Honor at the Black and White Ball?

truman capote and katherine graham at black and white ball
Who Was Katharine Graham?Bettmann - Getty Images
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The latest episode of Feud: Capote vs. the Swans flashes back to Truman Capote's famed Black and White Ball at the Plaza, where his swans are wondering if they'll be named the guest of honor. Instead, Capote picks Katharine "Kay" Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post.

"Capote was the true guest of honor for this event, but he could hardly name himself when he was paying for the ball. Thus, he decided to honor Kay Graham," Laurence Leamer writes in Capote's Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era. "When Truman called Kay to tell her she would be the guest of honor at 'the nicest party, darling, you ever went to,' she did not know quite what to make of it." As T&C's Caroline Hallemann wrote in a story looking back on the 50th anniversary on the Ball, naming Graham was a "strategic choice" as "the shy Graham didn't threaten the flock of women Capote surrounded himself with...and gave them no reason to cry favoritism."

Graham didn't know exactly why she was picked. "Truman called me up in the summer and said he wanted to give a party for me, to, quote, cheer me up," Graham told Esquire in 1991. "I told him I didn't need cheering up. At first I didn't think he was serious. He had the idea of the party first—I think he had always wanted to give a party at the Plaza. Then afterwards he was looking for a reason, and I guess I was it.… I suppose he chose me because I didn't conflict with all the glamorous women he knew."

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A few years later, Graham would write in her memoir, Personal History, "Why was I the guest of honor? Who knows? Truman and I were good friends, but we were on a less intimate basis than he was with Babe [Paley] or Marella [Agnelli], probably the two most famous beauties in the world." She added, "In the end, however, when he had fallen out with so many of his friends, he never turned on me as he did on most of them. I think he felt protective of me."

Graham was born in 1917, the fourth child of Agnes and Eugene Meyer. In 1933, her father purchased The Washington Post, and in 1946, he handed over the role of publisher to Katharine's husband, Philip Graham. She didn't feel slighted, writing in her memoir, "Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me. In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper."

Yet, in 1963, her husband died by suicide, and Katharine took over the Post, as publisher from 1963 to 1979, and chairwoman of the board from 1973 to 1991. Under her tenure, the paper published the Watergate story and the Pentagon Papers, cementing her status in American history. Graham died in 2001 at the age of 84.

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