Were James Baldwin and Truman Capote Actually Friends?

tom hollander as truman capote, chris chalk as james baldwin cr fx
Were James Baldwin and Truman Capote Friends?FX

In the fifth episode of Feud: Capote vs. the Swans, "The Secret Inner Lives of Swans," James Baldwin (Chris Chalk) spends a day with Truman Capote (Tom Hollander).

But did it take place in real life? "That's a little Robbie Bates play," Jon Robin Baitz, the show's writer and executive producer, tells Town & Country. "That didn't happen."

Chris Chalk, who plays Baldwin, tells T&C he didn't worry about whether or not the day actually happened. "I didn't concern myself and I never would; it'd be a train wreck to try," he says. "It would be too intimidating for me as an artist to go in and try to find the conversation and mimic it. So, whether it happened or not, my job was to make it feel fresh."

chris chalk as james baldwin cr fx
Chris Chalk as James Baldin in Feud.FX

In real life, Baldwin had left New York City for Paris years prior to the timeline of Feud, and was mainly living in Saint-Paul de Vence. "I left America because I doubted my ability to survive the fury of the color problem here. (Sometimes I still do.)," Baldwin wrote in his 1959 essay, "The Discovery of What It Means to Be an American." He continues, "I wanted to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro; or, even, merely a Negro writer…Still, the breakthrough is important, and the point is that an American writer, in order to achieve it, very often has to leave this country."

So why does Feud show him in New York City in the 70s, visiting Capote?Baitz explains, "Ryan [Murphy] and I, when I was writing, we knew that there had to be a moment where an outsider interjects. Because I was reading all of Baldwin at the same time and I so love him and the way he did it—the way he did life, balancing the public and the private beautifully being a strong gay man of color. "

american writer james baldwin
Baldwin in Paris, 1972.Sophie Bassouls - Getty Images

He adds, "I found him to be monumental and a rebel who truly had a cause. I love that I was able to imagine all of the wisdom that Jimmy Baldwin had, and the way in which if he had been in Truman's life, because they only an acquaintanceship more than a friendship, and Truman was quite cruel in that and it hurt Baldwin."

Ultimately, episode five works because he is used to be the "voice of a true artist, who's also managed to live a life," Baitz explains. "He may have had to go into exile to do it, but he gives Truman sage advice: Not to apologize for the thing he did, because ultimately it's true."

Feud: Capote vs. the Swans is now streaming on Hulu.

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