In the pilot episode of Feud: Capote vs. The Swans, we hear about Ann Woodward before we meet her. Truman Capote tells an animated and gossipy story at a dinner party: “There’s a murderer walking free,” he begins, “and you all know her. And I’m going to tell her story.”
He goes on to paint a portrait of a low-level socialite who killed her wealthy husband when she believed he might divorce her. The guests immediately recognise who he’s talking about and say they had believed that Billy Woodward’s death was an accident. No, Truman explains. It was a murder, he insists, and it was only due to a coverup by her mother-in-law that Ann avoided jail.
Later in the episode, Truman is having lunch with Babe Paley, C.Z. Guest, and Slim Keith when Ann Woodward, played by Demi Moore, approaches and accuses him of slandering her with his stories about her husband’s death.
When the November 1975 issue of Esquire comes out, we see each of the characters reacting to Truman’s new story. With “La Côte Basque, 1965,” he has skewered all of them, with thinly disguised tales of bad behaviour. By the end of the pilot, we learn that Ann died by suicide by after seeing an early copy of the magazine. Truman had accused her of murder in print. Though he called her Ann Hopkins in the story, it was clear to nearly all whom he was speaking about.
Here’s what you need to know about the real-life Ann Woodward.
Ann was a native of Kansas
Woodward was born in Kansas in 1915. She studied for one year at Kansas City Junior College before moving to New York City, where she worked as a model and a radio actress. According to the New York Times, she was called “the most beautiful girl in radio.”
She met her husband through his father
She also worked as a dancer at the nightclub Fefe's Monte Carlo, writer Roseanne Montillo says in her book Deliberate Cruelty: Truman Capote, the Millionaire’s Wife, and the Murder of the Century. At work, she met William Woodward Sr., whom she was initially involved with. He was a banker from a wealthy dynasty who owned and bred racehorses.
Woodward Sr., who was married and much older than Ann, introduced her to his son Billy, believing him to be a better match, Montillo wrote. Billy was also a banker and shared his father’s love of horses. According to the New York Times, they married in 1943 and had two children.
Her husband’s death was mysterious
The couple had returned to their Long Island home late from a nearby party, which had been attended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Because there were reports of a prowler in the neighbourhood, both Woodwards were said to have gone to sleep separately each with weapons, New York Magazine later recounted. Late at night Ann heard someone and fired two shots. Both hit her husband. She insisted that she believed she was shooting at an intruder, though the rumour mill went into overdrive with claims she killed Billy for his fortune.
She was acquitted
Ann testified before a Nassau County Grand Jury. After 30 minutes of deliberating, they dismissed the case against her for murder. The police later arrested a suspect for attempting to rob the Woodwards, the New York Times reported. The case still fascinates people and has been the subject of many books, including Dominick Dunne’s The Two Mrs. Grevilles, a novel based on the case.
She died in 1975
As on the show, Ann died shortly before the Esquire story was published.
Feud is now streaming via FX on Hulu.
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