TRUMAN CAPOTE’S ICONIC & BITCHY BLACK AND WHITE BALL OF 1966

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When Capote threw a party at the Plaza for the release of his epic “In Cold Blood”, the biggest stars came calling.  But little did they know that it would be Capote’s coup de grace, as he masked the world’s most important faces, in a calculated move that controlled the elites of politics, power and prestige.  It was the night Capote made 500 friends, and 15,000 enemies.

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Arguably, one can say that “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” catapulted Truman Capote’s stardom to a level that very few writers ever reach.  It was a work so special, with a style of prose so signature, it would stir literary heavyweight Norman Mailer to openly praise Capote as “the most perfect writer of my generation.” Capote himself would later say that Breakfast at Tiffany’s was the turning point in his career. Still Capote knew he could go further, professing– “But I’m nowhere near reaching what I want to do, where I want to go. Presumably this new book is as close as I’m going to get, at least strategically.”

This “new book” Capote was referring to was “In Cold Blood”, and it would do more than enough to get him where he wanted to go.  Upon its release in 1965, “In Cold Blood” created a wave of acclaim and controversy that would carry Capote for years to come, and make him one of America’s most talked about writers ever.  And a work of art this important deserved a grand celebration that was equally epic.

So in 1966, Capote decided to host a party that would be his “great, big, all-time spectacular present” to himself.  Some might even say that the 1966 Masked Black and White Ball was truly one of his greatest works ever.

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Truman Capote arrives at the Plaza Hotel holding hands with Mrs. Katherine Graham, the guest of honor.  Mrs. Graham was the president of the Washington Post and Newsweek Magazine.  — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

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No stranger to celebrity, Capote was already a fixture in New York City’s elite social circles, and knew very well how to play the game.  A masterful manipulator of self-promotion, he knew that this was much more than just a celebration—it had the potential to be a major publicity opportunity for “In Cold Blood”, and the ultimate act of self-aggrandizement.

The task before Capote now was no easy one.  How could he devise the perfect, titillating, gimmick for the party he planned to hold for himself?  One that would create a spectacle like none ever seen before, that would hold both the media and fans breathless?  Well, the answer was pure genius.

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Candice Bergen holding her white bunny mask at Truman Capote’s epic 1966 Black and White Ball. — Image by © Elliott Erwitt

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THE BIRD, THE FINGER, THE LEGEND.

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With roots that can be traced all the way back to the days of ancient Greece– flipping the bird, as I like to call it, (or giving someone the finger) is the world’s favorite naughty gesture.  But there’s definitely an art to it.  The subtle nuances of the physical fingering, facial expression, and context of the act itself, can make it anything from phallic and vulgar, to friendly and fun-lovin’–sometimes even deeply profound.

Love it or hate it– this bird you cannot change.  Oh yes I did.

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Circa 1989, New York, NY — Marlon Brando distinguishing the middle finger of both his hands on the set of the picture The Freshman.  The “nonchalant double-fisted fuggetaboutit” flip.

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Circa 1954, USA — Director Elia Kazan on the set of his 1954 film East of Eden with Marlon Brando and James Dean. — Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Sygma/Corbis.  The “I’m not smilin’ for no camera, and you need to get yer own schtick, kid… oops, did you catch me flippin” you off” flip.

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Aug 22nd, 1957, Washington, DC — James R. Hoffa, heir-apparent to the Presidency of the giant Teamsters Union, as he appeared before Senate Rackets probers. Investigators reported that they have been told that former heavyweight champion Joe Louis “was paid $2,500 to sit in the courtroom for two hours” during Hoffa’s recent bribery-conspiracy trial. Hoffa, who was acquitted, told the committee: “If he was paid $2,500, he was not paid by Hoffa. I know nothing about it.” — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS.  The satisfying subversive “Something’s in my eye, your Honor…” flip.

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Sept 16th, 1976, Binghamton, NY — Vice President Nelson Rockefeller gives a crowd of young hecklers an upraised middle finger gesture at the Broome County Airport during a brief stop here while on a campaign trip with Vice Presidential candidate Bob Dole (L, Background, out of focus).  Rockefeller said he was “responding in kind” to the demonstrators. Love it. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS.  The “I could buy and sell you, you little smarmy toad” flip.

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