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Lost in the Stacks: Deliberate Cruelty


If ever there was a Miss “Nobody from Nowhere” it was Ann Eden Woodward. The daughter of a twice divorced schoolteacher from Pittsburg, Kansas, the former Angeline Crowell was short on money and connections but big on dreams. Longing to be a Hollywood star like her idol Joan Crawford or a member of New York high society. Angie changed her name, applied the peroxide and made a beeline for New York City. Oozing sex appeal, she landed the rich and respectable Billy Woodward, only to find herself, like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, the subject of sneers and gossip for her humble Midwest roots and lack of class. After years of volatile marriage and transgressions on both sides, Ann accidentally shot and killed Billy, thinking he was an intruder.

Enter Truman Capote. The famous writer, raconteur and everyone’s favorite guest, Truman had been fascinated by the Woodward tragedy for years. Although he snidely referred to Ann as “Mrs. Bang Bang” and had little sympathy for her self-made success, he found in her story the seeds of his next (in his own mind) masterpiece. In the “La Côte Basque, 1965” chapter of his unfinished novel Answered Prayers, a barely disguised Ann Woodward became “Ann Hopkins,” a “white-trash slut” gold digger who deliberately murders her husband. The publication of “La Côte Basque, 1965” in Esquire in 1975 was Ann’s undoing and Truman’s. 

Deliberate Cruelty is Roseanne Montillo’s compelling dual biography of Ann Woodward and Truman Capote and the accidental killing (or “accidental” - depending on who you believe!) that intertwined their lives. I initially picked this up for the Capote angle. Who can resist reading about the snarky little man and his vicious swans? But I found that Ann’s hardscrabble Kansas childhood and claw into society was what kept me turning the pages.

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