Jackie Kennedy’s Sister Lee Radziwill Told Friend Truman Capote of Bitter Jealousy She Publicly Denied – PEOPLE


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Truman Capote was fascinated by the most glamorous women at the apex of American society in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.  

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The latter's jealousy of the former could be debilitating, Leamer tells PEOPLE in an interview ahead of his book's Oct. 12 release. 

"Lee just couldn't let go," Leamer says. "It was a sickness. It really destroyed her life." 

Leamer says Capote's enchantment with the "swans" stemmed from his own humble start in the South — "a small-town boy from Alabama," Leamer says — far from the elite circles of royals, presidents and movie stars. 

"Lee Radziwill was rich and deserving of being considered a swan. She was a beautiful woman," Leamer said of the socialite who graced best-dress lists and had a brief acting career and designed interiors but never found her lasting métier. "She was married to Prince Radziwill, a fallen Polish prince; and she lived a totally glamorous life and Truman just loved her." 


"Capote's Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song For an Era" by Laurence Leamer

| Credit: Penguin Random House

By 1962, Leamer writes of Capote, the "author had carved out a unique spot in New York society: a scathingly sharp, always entertaining guest whose charm opened the doors to the most exclusive circles ... and whose eyes and ears were always open and observing what he saw there."

Capote as depicted in Leamer's book "liked nothing better than boring into a person's life and exploring their most private secrets." 

And Leamer says befriending Radizwill gave Capote precisely what he wanted when she revealed to him her self-doubt and the intense envy she felt regarding her sister's status.

"Lee was so jealous of Jackie she could hardly speak," Leamer tells PEOPLE. "If your older sister is the first lady of the United States, maybe you might be a little bit jealous. … But she was just consumed with jealousy."

Jacqueline Kennedy And Lee Radziwill

Jackie Kennedy And Lee Radziwill

| Credit: Bettmann/Getty

Radziwill denied the rivalry. "It's just the most ludicrous talk in the world," she told PEOPLE in 1976. "We're exceptionally close and always have been."

Indeed, the sisters, not quite four years apart in age, had an enduring if fraught bond over the decades — dating back to a shared childhood. And while they later went long periods with minimal contact, they reconnected before Jackie's death in 1994.

As Kennedy biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli previously told PEOPLE: "It was never sort of black and white. There were always shades of grey, and when you try to paint that relationship with a wide brushstroke it never works because there were times when they were very close."

Capote himself felt a connection with Radziwill (who died at 85 in 2019) because, Leamer explains, they were similarly situated just below the tiptop of society. "As a gay man, Truman's insecurities were that he was invited into the homes of these incredibly wealthy people, but he felt that they might turn on him and throw him out at any moment," Leamer says. "And so they had that bond between them." 

The writer's proximity to the Radziwills, the Kennedys and their jet-setting social circle inspired Capote an opportunity to write a new novel following the success of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood. "He ingratiated himself with the richest and most elegant women in the world," Leamer says. "He decided he was going to write a book about them. He was going to learn everything he could about them for a number of years, and then write a masterpiece."  

The book, Answered Prayers, was never finished. But along the way, Capote had a front row seat to the rich and complicated sisterhood between a first lady and a princess. 

Radziwill spent a great deal of time in White House during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, whose wife "relied on Lee," Clint Hill, the first lady's Secret Service agent, previously told PEOPLE. "Anytime there was some kind of an event that was crucial, Lee usually was present." 

Lee Radziwill (left) and Jackie Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy (right) and Lee Radziwill

| Credit: Apic/Getty

And Radziwill was a support to her sister after the tragedy of the Kennedy assassination. "She comforted her. She was there," Leamer says now. "At that moment she was good, but that didn't mean the jealousy was gone. In fact, it was even more because Jackie then is the most beloved person in America." 

Any envy was one-sided, according to Leamer. "Jackie wasn't jealous. Why would Jackie be jealous? ... But Lee was just consumed with jealousy," Leamer says. "I can't tell you how extraordinary it was. She couldn't even stand to look at her and think about her. Anything Jackie did made her angry." 

Still, the sisters were practiced at keeping up appearances while privately navigating their emotions, according to Leamer. "These public figures live lives where they're constantly being scrutinized. They have servants around and they have people around them, so they're always, always performing," he says. "And so were they. So when they were together, they could pretend they had this amiable, loving relationship. But apart they didn't have it." 


Jacqueline Kennedy (left) and Lee Radziwill

| Credit: Harry Morrison/Penske Media/REX/Shutterstock

After the death in 1963 of Jackie's infant son, Patrick, who lived for just 39 hours, Radziwill invited her sister to join her on the yacht of a man of whom she had been enamored for years — Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle "Ari" Onassis. 

"They get in the yacht and the moment Onassis sees Jackie, it's all over for Lee," Leamer says. "When they leave, he has this gift for the two sisters: For Jackie, this magnificent diamond necklace. For Lee, a pathetic little dinky bracelet." 

Radziwill wasn't happy, according to Leamer, who writes in his book that she said of the bracelet, "Not even Caroline would wear the thing," referring to the Kennedys' daughter, who was not quite 6 years old at the time.  

When Jackie became engaged to and eventually married Onassis, it was Capote to whom Radziwill turned, Leamer says: "Lee cried about how terrible it was that Jackie had married Onassis." (For her part, Radziwill told reporters at the time, "I am very happy to have been at the origin of this marriage.")

Though Capote had plenty of material for Answered Prayers, what he saw as his next great work never materialized and his access to the dazzling women who charmed and enthralled him was eventually rescinded.    


Jacqueline Kennedy (right) and Lee Radziwill

| Credit: Ron Galella/WireImage

"People kind of laughed, 'Where is [the book], Truman, after all these years?' So he decided to publish a couple chapters in Esquire magazine," Leamer says. "One of them was just full of the most scurrilous gossip and nastiness about these women who were his friends. He then became a social outcast. It was after that he began drinking heavily and taking drugs and dissipated and really never wrote what he could have written. The book never existed. He pretended he was writing it, but he didn't write it." 

Capote did open up about Radziwill in a 1976 PEOPLE cover story, though, touching on the sisterly rivalry while gushing over his close friend: "She's a remarkable girl. She's all the things people give Jackie credit for. All the looks, style, taste — Jackie never had them at all, and yet it was Lee who lived in the shadow of this super-something person." 

Jackie died in 1994 after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. In her will, she granted Radziwill's children, Anthony and Tina, each $500,000.

But she explicitly left nothing for her sister "for whom I have great affection," she wrote of her decision, "because I have already done so during my lifetime."

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