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Who was Slim Keith? Meet Truman Capote’s co-conspirator

“She wasn’t going to be defined by his pen and she was in good company,” actor Diane Lane says of her character in Season Two of “Feud.” 

The second season of FX’s “Feud” is out now, and viewers are getting to know author Truman Capote’s swans, including Babe Paley, Lee Radziwill and Slim Keith, portrayed by Diane Lane. The show’s second season dives deep into Truman Capote’s relationship with these powerful, wealthy women he nicknamed his “swans.”

“Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” is based on Laurence Leamer’s book on the subject, “Capote’s Women.”

“Nancy ‘Slim’ Keith was a stunning California girl with a far more casual style than Babe. Droll and supercharged, she could match Truman bon mot for bon mot,” Laurence Leamer writes of slim Keith. 

Capote was very particular about the women he gifted the “swan” title to. So who was Slim Keith, and what earned her the honor of being betrayed by close friend and author Truman Capote?

What made Slim Keith a ‘swan,’ according to Capote?

Capote’s swans each had their own intriguing self-creation stories in which they made a name for themselves in high society. Slim Keith was no exception to this rule. 

Slim Keith, formerly known as Nancy Gross, grew up in a troubled household, with parents who didn’t get along. Her father, Edward Gross, was a successful businessman who owned several canneries. Her mother was Raye Nell Boyer Gross, who Keith loved dearly. She had two siblings, an older sister named Theodora and a younger brother named Buddy. 

When Keith was just 11 years old, her 8-year-old brother Buddy had a tragic accident. Standing near the fireplace one night, his nightshirt caught fire. Keith, Theodora and their mother tried to put out the flames, but he died shortly after. 

Keith's father, not present at the time of the accident, tried to place blame on her mother, even pulling her out of class to bribe her into taking his side. 

“For Slim, this decision would define her. ‘I love my mother,’ she said. ‘I’m staying with her.’ Her father turned and walked away. She did not see him again until he was close to his deathbed,” Leamer writes in the book. 

Slim Keith went on to create her own life and social success, one Capote admired and could relate to. The two became friends through one of Capote’s other swans, Babe Paley

Who was Slim Keith married to?

Like Capote’s other swans, Keith married powerful men. Her first husband was Hollywood director and producer Howard Hawks, whom she married in 1941. 

“In the first months of their marriage, both Slim and Hawks got what they wanted and more from the relationship. Hawks finally possessed the woman who had so bewitched him ... And Slim got the life of luxury she’d been chasing,” Leamer writes. 

The pair divorced in 1949, and the swan remarried the same year, this time to Hollywood and Broadway agent Leland Hayward who divorced his wife around the same time. The two married on an estate in Long Island owned by Keith’s friends, Bill and Barbara Paley. It was during this marriage that Capote would befriend Keith. 

However, in 1960, Hayward divorced Keith and married Pam Churchill, a woman all of the swans came to loathe for attempting to steal multiple of their husbands throughout the years.

Two years later, Keith would marry Kenneth Keith, a British businessman and banker.

What was Slim Keith’s relationship with Truman like?

Slim Keith and Truman bonded over their shared childhood struggles. She experienced tragedy at a young age after her brother died in front of her eyes and her father left her. 

Capote had an unstable childhood as well, a mother who was also fascinated by high society, leaving him in search of it and ultimately taking her own life after her husband was arraigned on fraud charges.

Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, author of “Swan Song” — a novel about Capote and his swans — has spent years doing research on the author.

“I think Truman on one hand resented the upper class as a society for rejecting his mother and taking her away from him for good,” she told

Capote could relate to Keith's upbringing and the challenges she faced growing up. The two became close, gossiping with one another about the other swans. Like he did with all the others, Capote developed such a close relationship with Slim that she didn’t see his betrayal coming — she told him everything without holding back. 

How did Capote betray Slim Keith? 

Because Slim Keith was always so open with the “In Cold Blood” author, Capote had a lot of material for his planned magnum opus, “Answered Prayers.” Capote wanted to write a tell-all on high society, a novel that would expose his closest friends’ darkest secrets. He used his real life relationships with his swans to inspire his work, barely disguising them as fictional characters. 

In one of the book's published excerpts, “La Côte Basque 1965,” Capote fictionalizes Slim Keith, naming her Lady Ina Coolbirth. He uses Lady Ina Coolbirth to expose the secrets of her fellow swans, dishing the latest gossip and harmful rumors to her lunch date Jonesy, representing Capote himself. 

“I think with someone like Slim Keith, they were very much co-conspirators and it’s no accident that he makes her in the form of Lady Ina Coolbirth, his fictional counterpoint or partner in crime, if you will,” Greenberg-Jephcott says. 

The stories that Lady Ina Coolbirth so casually recalls are also based on real events, the most hurtful to the swans being Bill Paley’s affair with a politician’s wife. 

What happened to their friendship? 

“She wasn’t going to be defined by his pen and she was in good company,” Diane Lane tells of her character.

Like many of the other swans, Capote’s betrayal would prove too hurtful to forgive. Keith trusted Capote and never considered that the story of Bill Paley’s affair would be shared. She felt guilty for having gossiped about it in the first place. 

“In a sense, Slim was so terribly hurt because on some level she knew she was guilty of dishing the dirt with the best of them at lunch,” Greenberg-Jephcott tells

She ultimately never forgave Capote for using her as the voice to spread that story to the world.

She died in 1990 at 73.