When Truman Capote ate Denise Hale's cake as Gloria Vanderbilt laughed | SFLUXE 1
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When Truman Capote ate Denise Hale’s cake as Gloria Vanderbilt laughed

Truman Capote and Denise Hale, September 1971
Photo: Ellen Graham, “Talking Pictures” (Pointed Leaf Press, 2011)

The first two weeks of September are always the start of the social season in San Francisco, but in 1971 it wasn’t just the start of the social season, it was also the start of a beautiful marriage, that of Denise and Prentis Cobb Hale.

Recently browsing through “Talking Pictures,” the new book of Ellen Graham’s best photographs over the decades, I was surprised to see this wonderful photo of Truman Capote with Denise Hale, taken the week of the Hale wedding 40 years ago.

Capote was one of 90 guests at the ceremony, which took place September 9, 1971 at 6 Presidio Terrace, then the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Orrick. The New York Times covered it, noting that Denise’s “floor-length dress of golden yellow chiffon was designed by Oscar de la Renta” (jewelry was from Bulgari and Cartier.) Other celebrity guests reportedly included John Wayne, Ann and Kirk Douglas, Angie Dickinson, Betsy and Alfred Bloomingdale, Adolfo, and Gloria Vanderbilt and husband Wyatt Cooper (parents of Anderson Cooper.)

Although the Times reported that there was no wedding cake, quoting Denise as saying “We had a white cake at the first dinner party given by friends after my divorce. That was enough,” Ellen Graham said “Truman ate almost all the wedding cake and left little to none for the other guests.” She even took a photo of Truman devouring the cake as Gloria Vanderbilt and husband Wyatt laughed.

Truman Capote, Gloria Vanderbilt (in Fortuny) and Wyatt Cooper, September 1971
Photo: Ellen Graham, “Talking Pictures” (Pointed Leaf Press, 2011)

Gloria Vanderbilt had been the guest of honor the previous evening at a party Denise and Prentis hosted at L’Etoile to celebrate the first West Coast exhibit of Gloria’s art, which had just opened at the Hoover Gallery on Sansome Street (the gallery is now closed.)

One can only imagine what a scene it was that night, with Denise’s Hollywood friends living it up atop Nob Hill, then in its heyday. L’Etoile closed in 1990 (now the site of the Nob Hill Spa at the Huntington Hotel), but in 1971 it was one of the best restaurants in San Francisco, gaily decorated with zebra skins, pink tablecloths and chandeliers, with piano music provided by Peter Minton. And the Vanderbilt dinner party was the center of a weeklong social whirl that ended with a spectacular opening of the San Francisco Opera on Friday night (Beverly Sills had the role of Manon Lescaut.)

The busy week was even a bit overwhelming for Alfred Wilsey, who told the LA Times he was looking forward to the weekend. “That’s when we all collapse,” he said. But for Denise Hale, it was just the beginning.

Ellen Graham’s “Talking Pictures” is now available at Amazon.com