In the 1950s, Confidential was an outlying magazine whose "exposes" of celebrities make today’s supermarket tabloids and trashy websites like TMZ as tame as "Winnie the Pooh." It especially delighted in outing, and it cast a wide net.
In its 670 pages of nonstop salacious gossip, "Pink Triangle" out-Confidentials Confidential. The premise of the book is the intertwined lives of the writers Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams, but its real purpose is to prove that every show-business personality, politician and artist in the decades after World War II was either gay, had a few same-sex flings or at least was sex obsessed.
For the first few hundred pages or so, "Pink Triangle" can be fun, like eating junk food. But it doesn’t take too long to feel bloated by all of those empty intellectual calories. It doesn’t help that nearly every page contains factual inaccuracies inexcusable in the age of Google.
Plenty of these anecdotes have entered the public domain, which only means that they’ve become well known enough to be accepted as "factoids." That is to say, they were presented as fact somewhere, usually without any supporting evidence.
What initially interested me in "Pink Triangle" was a brief flurry of publicity surrounding two anecdotes about Rudolph Nureyev having bedded both Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Bobby Kennedy. As it turns out, those are among the book’s least-sensational accusations. For starters, Jack Kennedy’s brother-in-law, actor Peter Lawford, had a "years-long affair with Van Johnson, and sexual dalliances with men as diverse as Clifton Webb and Noel Coward." (That quote can also stand as an example of the unintentionally hilarious writing style: Webb and Coward, reedy, effete semi-out and mamma’s boys, are as diverse as a GOP donors retreat.)
At least in my galley copy, there is no appendix that attributes these stories, so the reader has to take it on faith. Since almost no one mentioned in the book is still alive, it’s impossible to separate factoid from fiction. A lot of the "evidence" appears to have come from one of the writers having been a longtime resident of Key West, where Williams lived off and on for several years. A lot more is cut and pasted from other sources of varying degrees of viability.
Much of, however, was collected from the memoirs, letters and reported conversations of the book’s three subjects. Considering that all three were famous for spinning tall tales about their sexual conquests, it’s probably best to approach "Pink Triangle" as a "what-if" recreation of the gilded worlds of Hollywood, Broadway, Washington and the Italian Riviera in the post-war years.
If the never-ending parade of everyone from Burt Lancaster to Paul Newman "experimenting" becomes tiresome after a while, the endless feuding between Vidal and Gore is interminable. Williams comes out as the winner, if only because he didn’t approach the writing life as a blood sport and, unlike the other two, didn’t feel the need to compete.
He’s also the only one of the three who will probably still be read, performed and studied. Vidal had a hard-driving Protestant work ethic but was an inveterate snob. Capote possessed a genuine native talent but squandered it in random acts of bitchery.
I’ve always loved trivia about the rich and famous, but "Pink Triangle" has made me so sick of stories about long-deceased celebrities that I may never open the pages of Vanity Fair again.