Cover Photo: Public Domain

Today’s post is more of a Stuckey’s celebrity story than it is a Stuckey’s celebrity sighting. Still, it is an interesting story that involves Truman Capote, socialite C.Z. Guest, Swans, road trips, bulldogs and chili dogs and how they all came together at a Stuckey’s. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did hearing it and retelling it.

Truman’s Socialite Cygnets

Though he was openly gay, Truman Capote still loved nothing more than to surround himself with a bevy of clever as a whip, absolutely gorgeous, and fabulously rich socialite women he called his “Swans”.

The group included the always best dressed American socialite Barbara “Babe” Paley, the beautiful and effervescent Gloria Guinness, California socialite Nancy “Slim” Keith and Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, who also once traveled alongside Capote with The Rolling Stones during their 1972 North America tour.

Capote with one of his “swans”, Katherine Graham, at a party that he hosted.
Photo by: Mel Finkelstein/Library of Congress/Public Domain

Still another swan, however, was Lucy Douglas “C. Z.” Guest who, along with Capote, is the subject of today’s Stuckey’s celebrity sighting.

The Guest of the Swans

C. Z. Guest was born Lucy Douglas Cochrane in Boston, Massachusetts on February 19, 1920, As a girl, her younger brother used to call her “Sissy” – his nickname for “sister”. Later it somehow got modified into “C. Z.” and she would use the nickname throughout her life. C. Z. grew up to become a stage actress, and in 1944 at the tender age of 24, she began appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies.

Three years later, at 27, she married the cousin of Sir Winston Churchill (and a member of the Guest family industrial dynasty) Winston Frederick Churchill Guest. Writer Ernest Hemingway served as their best man.

Along with being a stage actress, she also worked as an author, columnist, fashion designer, and avid equestrian. However, after a horse riding accident in 1976, Guest turned her focus to gardening, writing a column about it in the New York Post, and even publishing a book on the subject.

Truman and Guest Go to the Dogs

It was in that book, First Garden: An Illustrated Garden Primer, that Truman Capote (who was asked by Guest to write the forward) wrote about the first time he saw her at the opening of “My Fair Lady” in New York March 15, 1956:

“As Raymond Chandler remarked of his femme fatale in ‘The Long Goodbye’: ‘There are blondes, and then there are blondes.’ Mrs. Guest, shimmering in the blue smoky light, was one of the latter. Her hair, parted in the middle and paler than Dom Perignon, was but a shade darker than the dress she was wearing, a Mainbocher column of white crepe de chine. No jewelry, not much makeup; just blanc de blanc perfection.”

The two would become fast friends, and Capote would add another witty and gorgeous “swan” to his collection of cygnets.

There are many stories about the friendship between Truman and Guest, but perhaps our most favorite is one we recently read on the Instagram of Cornelia Guest’s (C.Z.’s daughter) where she presents an anecdote told by Laurence Leamer in his New York Times best seller Capote’s Women.

Besides his swans, Capote also had a love of bulldogs, and apparently brought two of them along on a cross-country road trip that he and C.Z. Guest were taking. However, many restaurants refused to let Capote and Guest dine-in because of the dogs.  As a result, a lot of their meals became roadside picnics where “Stuckey’s chili dogs paired with Guest’s supply of Château Lafite Rothschild became their luxurious habit”.  Cornelia adds “One could undoubtedly do worse.”

Capote’s Swan Song

In 1975, Truman began working on a new novel called Answered Prayers – a sordid book that drew upon Truman’s experiences with his high-society friends and especially his socialite swans. However, by 1975, Capote was known more for his increasingly shocking public behavior than he was for his work as an author – a reputation that no doubt came about as a result of his increasing drug and alcohol abuse along with his imprudent sexual escapades. 

To show everybody he was still a relevant and prolific writer, and spurred on by writer and literary editor Gordon Lish, Truman decided to sell the first four finished chapters of the book to Esquire magazine in 1975 and 1976.

When the “Swans” had learned how their adored pet and confidant had betrayed their trust by revealing their deepest, darkest secrets under the thinnest of fictional guises, they bonded together and dropped Capote like a hot potato.

Capote’s drug and alcohol habit would not only be what finally did him in with his “Swans”, but also what killed him in the end. He would die in Bel Air, California, at the home of Joanne Carson, ex-wife of late-night TV host Johnny Carson of “liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication”. Gore Vidal, who often feuded with Truman for years in spats of professional jealousy, said Capote’s death was “a wise career move”.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again