Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer and public intellectual known for his epigrammatic wit, patrician manner, and polished style of writing. Vidal was openly bisexual and his novels often dealt with LGBT characters, which was unusual at the time. Beyond literature, Vidal was heavily involved in politics. He twice sought office—unsuccessfully—as a Democratic Party candidate, first in 1960 to the United States House of Representatives, and later in 1982 to the U.S. Senate.
Vidal was born into an upper class political family. As a political commentator and essayist, Vidal's primary focus was the history and society of the United States, especially how a militaristic foreign policy reduced the country to a decadent empire. His political and cultural essays were published in The Nation, the New Statesman, the New York Review of Books, and Esquire magazines. As a public intellectual, Gore Vidal's topical debates on sex, politics, and religion with other intellectuals and writers occasionally turned into quarrels with the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer. Vidal believed that all men and women are potentially bisexual.
As a novelist, Vidal explored the nature of corruption in public and private life. His polished and erudite style of narration readily evoked the time and place of his stories, and perceptively delineated the psychology of his characters. His third novel, The City and the Pillar, offended the literary, political, and moral sensibilities of conservative book reviewers, the plot being about a dispassionately presented male homosexual relationship. In the historical novel genre, Vidal recreated the imperial world of Julian the Apostate in Julian. Julian was the Roman emperor who used religious tolerance to re-establish pagan polytheism to counter the political subversion of Christian monotheism. In social satire, Myra Breckinridge explores the mutability of gender roles and sexual orientation as being social constructs established by social mores. In Burr and Lincoln, each protagonist is presented as "A Man of the People" and as "A Man" in a narrative exploration of how the public and private facets of personality affect the national politics of the United States.
Early lifeEugene Louis Vidal was born in the cadet hospital of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, the only child of Eugene Luther Vidal and Nina S. Gore. Vidal was born there because his first lieutenant father was the first aeronautics instructor of the military academy. The middle name, Louis, was a mistake on the part of his father, "who could not remember, for certain, whether his own name was Eugene Louis or Eugene Luther". In the memoir Palimpsest, Vidal said, "My birth certificate says 'Eugene Louis Vidal': this was changed to Eugene Luther Vidal Jr.; then Gore was added at my christening ; then, at fourteen, I got rid of the first two names."
Eugene Louis Vidal was not baptized until January 1939, when he was 13 years old, by the headmaster of St. Albans school, where Vidal attended preparatory school. The baptismal ceremony was effected so he "could be confirmed " at the Washington Cathedral, in February 1939, as "Eugene Luther Gore Vidal". He later said that, although the surname "Gore" was added to his names at the time of the baptism, "I wasn't named for him , although he had a great influence on my life." In 1941, Vidal dropped his two first names, because he "wanted a sharp, distinctive name, appropriate for an aspiring author, or a national political leader... I wasn't going to write as 'Gene' since there was already one. I didn't want to use the 'Jr.
Eugene Luther Vidal Sr. was director of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce during the Roosevelt Administration, and was also the great love of the aviator Amelia Earhart. At the U.S. Military Academy, the exceptionally athletic Vidal Sr. had been a quarterback, coach, and captain of the football team; and an all-American basketball player. Subsequently, he competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics and in the 1924 Summer Olympics. In the 1920s and the 1930s, Vidal Sr. co-founded three airline companies and a railroad line; the Ludington Line ; Transcontinental Air Transport ; Northeast Airlines; and the Boston and Maine Railroad. Gore's great-grandfather Eugen Fidel Vidal was born in Feldkirch, Austria, of Romansh background, and had come to the U.S. with Gore's Swiss great-grandmother, Emma Hartmann.
Vidal's mother, Nina Gore, was a socialite who made her Broadway theatre debut as an extra actress in Sign of the Leopard, in 1928. In 1922, Nina married Eugene Luther Vidal, Sr., and thirteen years later, in 1935, divorced him. Nina Gore Vidal then was married two more times; to Hugh D. Auchincloss and to Robert Olds. She also had "a long off-and-on affair" with the actor Clark Gable. As Nina Gore Auchincloss, Vidal's mother was an alternate delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.
The subsequent marriages of his mother and father yielded four half-siblings for Gore Vidal – Vance Vidal, Valerie Vidal, Thomas Gore Auchincloss, and Nina Gore Auchincloss – and four step-brothers from his mother's third marriage to Robert Olds, a major general in the United States Army Air Forces, who died in 1943, 10 months after marrying Nina. The nephews of Gore Vidal include Burr Steers, a writer and film director, and Hugh Auchincloss Steers, a figurative painter.
Raised in Washington, D.C., Vidal attended the Sidwell Friends School and the St. Albans School. Given the blindness of his maternal grandfather, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, of Oklahoma, Vidal read aloud to him, and was his Senate page, and his seeing-eye guide. In 1939, during his summer holiday, Vidal went with some colleagues and professor from St. Albans School on his first European trip, to visit Italy and France. He visited for the first time Rome, the city which came to be "at the center of Gore's literary imagination", and Paris. When the Second World War began in early September, the group was forced to an early return home; on his way back, he and his colleagues stopped in Great Britain, and they met the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain, Joe Kennedy. In 1940 he attended the Los Alamos Ranch School and later transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy, in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he contributed to the Exonian, the school newspaper.
Rather than attend university, Vidal enlisted in the U.S. Army and worked as an office clerk within the USAAF. Later, Vidal passed the examinations necessary to become a maritime warrant officer in the Transportation Corps, and subsequently served as first mate of the F.S. 35th, berthed at Dutch Harbor. After three years in service, Warrant Officer Gene Vidal suffered hypothermia, developed rheumatoid arthritis and, consequently, was reassigned to duty as a mess officer.
Literary careerThe literary works of Gore Vidal were influenced by numerous other writers, poets and playwrights, novelists and essayists. These include, from antiquity, Petronius, Juvenal, and Apuleius ; and from the post-Renaissance, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Love Peacock, and George Meredith. More recent literary influences included Marcel Proust, Henry James, and Evelyn Waugh. The cultural critic Harold Bloom has written that Gore Vidal believed that his sexuality had denied him full recognition from the literary community in the United States. Bloom himself contends that such limited recognition more resulted from Vidal's "best fictions" being "distinguished historical novels," a subgenre "no longer available for canonization."
FictionThe literary career of Gore Vidal began with the success of the military novel Williwaw, a men-at-war story derived from his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty during the Second World War. His third novel, The City and the Pillar caused a moralistic furor over his dispassionate presentation of a young protagonist coming to terms with his homosexuality. The novel was dedicated to "J. T."; decades later, Vidal confirmed that the initials were those of James Trimble III, killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945 and that Trimble was the only person he ever loved. Critics railed against Vidal's presentation of homosexuality the novel as natural, a life viewed generally at the time as unnatural and immoral. Vidal claimed that New York Times critic Orville Prescott was so offended by it that he refused to review or to permit other critics to review any book by Vidal. Vidal said that upon publication of the book, an editor at E. P. Dutton told him "You will never be forgiven for this book. Twenty years from now, you will still be attacked for it". Today, Vidal is often seen as an early champion of sexual liberation.
Vidal took the pseudonym "Edgar Box" and wrote the mystery novels Death in the Fifth Position, Death before Bedtime and Death Likes it Hot featuring Peter Cutler Sargeant II, a publicist-turned-private-eye. The Edgar Box genre novels sold well and earned black-listed Vidal a secret living. That mystery-novel success led Vidal to write in other genres and he produced the stage play The Best Man: A Play about Politics and the television play Visit to a Small Planet. Two early teleplays were A Sense of Justice and Honor. He also wrote the pulp novel Thieves Fall Out under the pseudonym "Cameron Kay" but refused to have it reprinted under his real name during his life.
In the 1960s, Vidal published Julian, about the Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate, who sought to reinstate polytheistic paganism when Christianity threatened the cultural integrity of the Roman Empire, Washington, D.C., about political life during the presidential era of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Myra Breckinridge, a satire of the American movie business, by way of a school of dramatic arts owned by a transsexual woman, the eponymous anti-heroine.
After publishing the plays Weekend and An Evening With Richard Nixon and the novel Two Sisters: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir, Vidal concentrated upon the essay and developed two types of fiction. The first type is about American history, novels specifically about the nature of national politics. The New York Times, quoting critic Harold Bloom about those historical novels, said that Vidal's imagination of American politics "is so powerful as to compel awe." The historical novels formed the seven-book series, Narratives of Empire: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington, D.C. and The Golden Age. Besides U.S. history, Vidal also explored and analyzed the history of the ancient world, specifically the Axial Age, with the novel Creation. The novel was published without four chapters that were part of the manuscript he submitted to the publisher; years later, Vidal restored the chapters to the text and re-published the novel Creation in 2002.
The second type of fiction is the topical satire, such as Myron the sequel to Myra Breckinridge; Kalki, about the end of the world and the consequent ennui; Duluth, an alternate universe story; , about the adventures of Timothy, Bishop of Macedonia, in the early days of Christianity; and The Smithsonian Institution, a time-travel story.
Non-fictionIn the United States, Gore Vidal is often considered an essayist rather than a novelist. Even the occasionally hostile literary critic, such as Martin Amis, admitted that "Essays are what he is good at... is learned, funny, and exceptionally clear-sighted. Even his blind spots are illuminating."
For six decades, Vidal applied himself to socio-political, sexual, historical and literary subjects. In the essay anthology Armageddon he explored the intricacies of power in the contemporary United States. His criticism of the incumbent U.S. President, Ronald Reagan, as a "triumph of the embalmer's art" communicated that Reagan's provincial worldview, and that of his administration's, was out of date and inadequate to the geopolitical realities of the world in the late twentieth century. In 1993, Vidal won the National Book Award for Nonfiction for the anthology United States: Essays 1952–92.
In 2000, Vidal published the collection of essays, The Last Empire, then such self-described "pamphlets" as Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta and Imperial America, critiques of American expansionism, the military-industrial complex, the national security state and the George W. Bush administration. Vidal also wrote a historical essay about the U.S. founding fathers, Inventing a Nation. In 1995, he published a memoir Palimpsest and in 2006 its follow-up volume, Point to Point Navigation. Earlier that year, Vidal had published .
In 2009, he won the annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, which called him a "prominent social critic on politics, history, literature and culture".
In the same year, the Man of Letters Gore Vidal was named honorary president of the American Humanist Association.
HollywoodIn 1956, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer hired Gore Vidal as a screenplay writer with a four-year employment contract. In 1958, the director William Wyler required a script doctor to rewrite the screenplay for Ben-Hur, originally written by Karl Tunberg. As one of several script doctors assigned to the project, Vidal rewrote significant portions of the script to resolve ambiguities of character motivation, specifically to clarify the enmity between the Jewish protagonist, Judah Ben-Hur, and the Roman antagonist, Messala, who had been close boyhood friends. In exchange for rewriting the Ben-Hur screenplay, on location in Italy, Vidal negotiated the early termination of his four-year contract with MGM.
Thirty-six years later, in the documentary film The Celluloid Closet, Vidal explained that Messala's failed attempt at resuming their homosexual, boyhood relationship motivated the ostensibly political enmity between Ben-Hur and Messala, that Boyd was aware of the homosexual subtext to the scene and that the director, the producer and the screenplay writer agreed to keep Heston ignorant of the subtext, lest he refuse to play the scene. In turn, on learning of that script-doctor explanation, Charlton Heston said that Gore Vidal had contributed little to the script of Ben-Hur. Despite Vidal's script-doctor resolution of the character's motivations, the Screen Writers Guild assigned formal screenwriter-credit to Karl Tunberg, in accordance with the WGA screenwriting credit system, which favored the "original author" of a screenplay, rather than the writer of the filmed screenplay.
Two plays, The Best Man: A Play about Politics and Visit to a Small Planet were theatre and movie successes; Vidal occasionally returned to the movie business, and wrote historically accurate teleplays and screenplays about subjects important to him. Two such movies are the cowboy movie Billy the Kid, about William H. Bonney, a gunman in the New Mexico territory Lincoln County War, and later an outlaw in the U.S. Western frontier; and the Roman Empire movie Caligula, from which Vidal had his screenwriter credit removed, because the producer, Bob Guccione, the director, Tinto Brass and the leading actor, Malcolm McDowell, rewrote the script and added extra sex and violence to increase the commercial success of a movie based upon the life of the Roman Emperor Caligula.
In the 1960s, Vidal migrated to Italy, where he befriended the film director Federico Fellini, for whom he appeared in a cameo role as himself in the film Roma. He acted in the movies Bob Roberts, a serio-comedy about a reactionary populist politician who manipulates youth culture to win votes; With Honors an Ivy league college-life comedy; Gattaca, a science-fiction drama about genetic engineering; and Igby Goes Down, a coming-of-age serio-comedy directed by his nephew, Burr Steers.
Political campaignsGore Vidal began to drift towards the political left after he received his first paycheck, and realised how much money the government took in tax. He reasoned that if the government was taking so much money, then it should at least provide first-rate healthcare and education.
As a public intellectual, Gore Vidal was identified with the liberal politicians and the progressive social causes of the old Democratic Party.
In 1960, Vidal was the Democratic candidate for Congress for the 29th Congressional District of New York, a usually Republican district on the Hudson River but lost to the Republican candidate J. Ernest Wharton, by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent. Campaigning under the slogan of You'll get more with Gore, Vidal received the most votes any Democratic candidate had received in the district in fifty years. Among his supporters were Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, friends who spoke on his behalf.
In 1982, he campaigned against Jerry Brown, the incumbent Governor of California, in the Democratic primary election for the U.S. Senate; Vidal forecast accurately that the opposing Republican candidate would win the election. That foray into senatorial politics is the subject of the documentary film , directed by Gary Conklin.
In a 2001 article, "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh", Gore undertook to discover why domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He concluded that McVeigh had destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building as an act of revenge for the FBI's Waco massacre at the Branch Davidian Compound in Texas, believing that the U.S. government had mistreated Americans in the same manner that he believed that the U.S. Army had mistreated the Iraqis. In concluding the Vanity Fair article, Vidal refers to McVeigh as an "unlikely sole mover," and theorizes that foreign/domestic conspiracies could have been involved.
Vidal was very much against any kind of military intervention in the world. In Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, Vidal drew parallels about how the United States enters wars and said that President Franklin D. Roosevelt provoked Imperial Japan to attack the U.S. in order to justify the American entry to the Second World War. He contended that Roosevelt had advance knowledge of the dawn-raid attack on Pearl Harbor. In the documentary Why We Fight, Vidal said that, during the final months of the war, the Japanese had tried to surrender: "They were trying to surrender all that summer, but Truman wouldn't listen, because Truman wanted to drop the bombs... To show off. To frighten Stalin. To change the balance of power in the world. To declare war on communism. Perhaps we were starting a pre-emptive world war".
at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, August 26, 2009
Criticism of George W. BushAs a public intellectual, Vidal criticized what he viewed as political harm to the nation and the voiding of the citizen's rights through the passage of the USA Patriot Act during the George W. Bush administration. He described Bush as "the stupidest man in the United States" and said that Bush's foreign policy was explicitly expansionist. He contended that the Bush Administration and their oil-business sponsors, aimed to control the petroleum of Central Asia, after having gained hegemony over the petroleum of the Persian Gulf in 1991.
Vidal became a member of the board of advisors of The World Can't Wait, a political organization who sought to publicly repudiate the foreign-policy program of the Bush Administration and advocated Bush's impeachment for war crimes, such as the Second Iraq War and torturing prisoners of war in violation of international law.
In May 2007, while discussing 9/11 conspiracy theories that might explain the "who?" and the "why?" of the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Vidal said
Political philosophyIn the American Conservative article, "My Pen Pal Gore Vidal", Bill Kauffman reported that Vidal's favorite American politician, during his lifetime, was Huey Long, the populist Governor and Senator from Louisiana, who also had perceived the essential, one-party nature of U.S. politics and who was assassinated by a lone gunman.
Despite that, Vidal said, "I think of myself as a conservative", with a proprietary attitude towards the United States. "My family helped start ... and we've been in political life... since the 1690s, and I have a very possessive sense about this country". Based upon that background of populism, from 1970 to 1972, Vidal was a chairman of the People's Party of the United States. In 1971, he endorsed the consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader for U.S. president in the 1972 election. In 2004, he endorsed Democrat Dennis Kucinich in his candidacy for the U.S. presidency, because Kucinich was "the most eloquent of the lot" of presidential candidates, from either the Republican or the Democratic parties and that Kucinich was "very much a favorite out there, in the amber fields of grain".
In a September 30, 2009 interview with The Times of London, Vidal said that there soon would be a dictatorship in the United States. The newspaper emphasized that Vidal, described as "the Grand Old Man of American belles-lettres", claimed that America is rotting away – and to not expect Barack Obama to save the country and the nation from imperial decay. In this interview, he also updated his views of his life, the United States, and other political subjects. Vidal had earlier described what he saw as the political and cultural rot in the United States in his essay, "The State of the Union",
The Capote–Vidal feudIn 1975 Vidal sued Truman Capote for slander over the accusation that he had been thrown out of the White House for being drunk, putting his arm around the first lady and then insulting Mrs. Kennedy's mother. Said Capote of Vidal at the time: "I'm always sad about Gore – very sad that he has to breathe every day". Mutual friend George Plimpton observed "There's no venom like Capote's when he's on the prowl – and Gore's too, I don't know what division the feud should be in." The suit was settled in Vidal's favor when Lee Radziwill refused to testify on Capote's behalf, telling columnist Liz Smith, "Oh, Liz, what do we care; they're just a couple of fags! They're disgusting".
The Buckley–Vidal feudIn 1968, the ABC television network hired the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. as political analysts of the presidential-nomination conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties. Their commentaries led to Buckley threatening to assault Vidal. After days of bickering, their debates degraded to vitriolic ad hominem attacks. Discussing the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, the public intellectuals argued about freedom of speech, namely the legality of protesters to display a Viet Cong flag in America, Vidal told Buckley to "shut up a minute". Buckley had likened violent left wing protesters to German National Socialists. Vidal stated "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself". Buckley replied, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face, and you'll stay plastered". ABC's Howard K. Smith interjected, and the debate resumed without violence. Later, Buckley said he regretted having called Vidal a "queer" yet said that Vidal was an "evangelist for bisexuality".
In 1969, in Esquire magazine, Buckley continued his cultural feud with Vidal in the essay "On Experiencing Gore Vidal", in which he portrayed Vidal as an apologist for homosexuality; Buckley said, "The man who, in his essays, proclaims the normalcy of his affliction , and in his art the desirability of it, is not to be confused with the man who bears his sorrow quietly. The addict is to be pitied and even respected, not the pusher." The essay is collected in The Governor Listeth: A Book of Inspired Political Revelations, an anthology of Buckley's writings from the time.
Vidal riposted in Esquire with the September 1969 essay "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr." and said that Buckley was "anti-black", "anti-semitic" and a "warmonger". Buckley sued Vidal for libel.
The feud continued in Esquire, where Vidal implied that in 1944, Buckley and unnamed siblings had vandalized a Protestant church in Sharon, Connecticut, after the wife of a pastor had sold a house to a Jewish family. Buckley again sued Vidal and Esquire for libel and Vidal filed a counterclaim for libel against Buckley, citing Buckley's characterization of Myra Breckinridge as a pornographic novel. The court dismissed Vidal's counterclaim. Buckley accepted a money settlement of $115,000 to pay the fee of his attorney and an editorial apology from Esquire, in which the publisher and the editors said that they were "utterly convinced" of the untruthfulness of Vidal's assertions. In a letter to Newsweek magazine, the publisher of Esquire said that "the settlement of Buckley's suit against us" was not "a 'disavowal' of Vidal's article. On the contrary, it clearly states that we published that article because we believed that Vidal had a right to assert his opinions, even though we did not share them".
In Gore Vidal: A Biography, Fred Kaplan said that "The court had 'not' sustained Buckley's case against Esquire... the court had 'not' ruled that Vidal's article was 'defamatory'. It had ruled that the case would have to go to trial in order to determine, as a matter of fact, whether or not it was defamatory. The cash value of the settlement with Esquire represented 'only' Buckley's legal expenses".
In 2003, Buckley resumed his complaint of having been libelled by Vidal, this time with the publication of the anthology Esquire's Big Book of Great Writing, which included Vidal's essay, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr." Again, the offended Buckley filed lawsuit for libel and Esquire magazine again settled Buckley's claim with $55,000–65,000 for the fees of his attorney and $10,000 for personal damages suffered by Buckley.
In the obituary "RIP WFB – in Hell", Vidal remembered Buckley, who had died on February 27, 2008. Later, in the interview "Literary Lion: Questions for Gore Vidal", New York Times reporter Deborah Solomon asked Vidal, "How did you feel, when you heard that Buckley died this year?" Vidal responded:
The Mailer–Vidal feudOn December 15, 1971, during the recording of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner, Norman Mailer allegedly head-butted Vidal when they were backstage. When a reporter asked Vidal why Mailer had knocked heads with him, Vidal said, "Once again, words failed Norman Mailer". During the recording of the talk show, Vidal and Mailer insulted each other, over what Vidal had written about him, prompting Mailer to say, "I've had to smell your works from time to time". Apparently, Mailer's umbrage resulted from Vidal's reference to Mailer having stabbed his wife of the time.
Polanski rape caseIn The Atlantic magazine interview, "A Conversation with Gore Vidal", by John Meroney, Vidal spoke about topical and cultural matters of U.S. society. Asked his opinion about the arrest of the film director Roman Polanski, in Switzerland, in September 2009, in response to an extradition request by U.S. authorities, for having fled the U.S. in 1978 to avoid jail for the statutory rape of a thirteen-year-old girl in Hollywood, Vidal said, "I really don't give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she's been taken advantage of?"
Asked for elaboration, Vidal explained the cultural temper of the U.S. and of the Hollywood movie business in the 1970s
Asked to explain the term "American values", Vidal replied, "Lying and cheating. There's nothing better."
In response to Vidal's opinion about the decades-old Polanski rape case, a spokeswoman for the organization Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Barbara Dorris, said, "People should express their outrage, by refusing to buy any of his books", called Vidal a "mean-spirited buffoon" and said that, although "a boycott wouldn't hurt Vidal financially", it would "cause anyone else, with such callous views, to keep his mouth shut, and avoid rubbing salt into the already deep wounds of " of sexual abuse.Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany, published in the International Herald Tribune, protesting the treatment of Scientologists in Germany. Despite that stance, as a dispassionate intellectual Gore Vidal was fundamentally critical of Scientology as religion.
SexualityIn 1967, Vidal appeared in the CBS documentary,, in which he expressed his views on homosexuality in the arts.
Commenting on his life's work and his life, he described his style as "Knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
Vidal often refuted the label of "gay". He maintained that it referred to sexual acts rather than sexuality. Gore did not express a public stance on the HIV-AIDs crisis. According to Vidal's close friend Jay Parini, "Gore didn’t think of himself as a gay guy. It makes him self-hating. How could he despise gays as much as he did? In my company he always used the term 'fags.' He was uncomfortable with being gay. Then again, he was wildly courageous." Biographer Fred Kaplan concluded: "He was not interested in making a difference for gay people, or being an advocate for gay rights. There was no such thing as 'straight' or 'gay' for him, just the body and sex."
In the September 1969 edition of Esquire, Vidal wrote
Personal lifeIn the multi-volume memoir The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Anaïs Nin said she had a love affair with Vidal, who denied her claim in his memoir Palimpsest. In the online article "Gore Vidal's Secret, Unpublished Love Letter to Anaïs Nin", author Kim Krizan said she found an unpublished love letter from Vidal to Nin, which contradicts his denial of a love affair with Nin. Krizan said she found the love letter while researching Mirages, the latest volume of Nin's uncensored diary, to which Krizan wrote the foreword. Vidal would cruise the streets and bars of New York City and other locales and wrote in his memoir that by age twenty-five, he had had more than a thousand sexual encounters. Vidal also said that he had an intermittent romance with the actress Diana Lynn, and alluded to possibly having fathered a daughter. He was briefly engaged to the actress Joanne Woodward before she married the actor Paul Newman; after marrying, they briefly shared a house with Vidal in Los Angeles.
Vidal enjoyed telling his sexual exploits to friends. Vidal claimed to have slept with Fred Astaire when he first moved to Hollywood. Vidal reportedly told his nephew that Dennis Hopper had a "lovely tuft of hair above his ass".
In 1950, Gore Vidal met Howard Austen, who became his partner for the next 53 years, until Austen's death. He said that the secret to his long relationship with Austen was that they did not have sex with each other: "It's easy to sustain a relationship when sex plays no part, and impossible, I have observed, when it does." In , by Judy Wiedner, Vidal said that he refused to call himself "gay" because he was not an adjective, adding "to be categorized is, simply, to be enslaved. Watch out. I have never thought of myself as a victim... I've said – a thousand times? – in print and on TV, that everyone is bisexual". During their relationship, the two would often hire male prostitutes - the control appealed to Vidal. He was always the top.
In the course of his life, Vidal lived at various times in Italy and in the United States. In 2003, as his health began to fail with age, he sold his Italian villa La Rondinaia on the Amalfi Coast in the province of Salerno and he and Austen returned to live in their 1929 villa in Outpost Estates, Los Angeles. Howard Austen died in November 2003 and in February 2005 his remains were re-buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, in Washington, D.C., in a joint grave plot that Vidal had purchased for himself and Austen.
DeathIn 2010 Vidal began to suffer from Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome, a neurological disorder. On July 31, 2012 Vidal died of pneumonia at his home in the Hollywood Hills at the age of 86. A memorial service was held for him at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City on August 23, 2012. He was buried next to Howard Austen in Rock Creek Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.
LegacyPostmortem opinions and assessments of Gore as a writer varied. The New York Times described him as "an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right. Few American writers have been more versatile, or gotten more mileage from their talent". The Los Angeles Times said that he was a literary juggernaut whose novels and essays were considered "among the most elegant in the English language". The Washington Post described him as a "major writer of the modern era... astonishingly versatile man of letters".
The Guardian said that "Vidal's critics disparaged his tendency to formulate an aphorism, rather than to argue, finding in his work an underlying note of contempt for those who did not agree with him. His fans, on the other hand, delighted in his unflagging wit and elegant style". The Daily Telegraph described the writer as "an icy iconoclast" who "delighted in chronicling what he perceived as the disintegration of civilisation around him". The BBC News said that he was "one of the finest post-war American writers... an indefatigable critic of the whole American system... Gore Vidal saw himself as the last of the breed of literary figures who became celebrities in their own right. Never a stranger to chat shows; his wry and witty opinions were sought after as much as his writing." In "The Culture of the United States Laments the Death of Gore Vidal", the Spanish on-line magazine Ideal said that Vidal's death was a loss to the "culture of the United States", and described him as a "great American novelist and essayist". In The Writer Gore Vidal is Dead in Los Angeles, the online edition of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera described the novelist as "the enfant terrible of American culture" and that he was "one of the giants of American literature". In Gore Vidal: The Killjoy of America, the French newspaper Le Figaro said that the public intellectual Vidal was "the killjoy of America" but that he also was an "outstanding polemicist" who used words "like high-precision weapons".
On August 23, 2012, in the program a Memorial for Gore Vidal in Manhattan, the life and works of the writer Gore Vidal were celebrated at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, with a revival of The Best Man: A Play About Politics. The writer and comedian Dick Cavett was host of the Vidalian celebration, which featured personal reminiscences about and performances of excerpts from the works of Gore Vidal by friends and colleagues, such as Elizabeth Ashley, Candice Bergen and Hillary Clinton, Alan Cumming, James Earl Jones and Elaine May, Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Cybill Shepherd and Liz Smith.
In popular cultureIn the 1960s, the weekly American sketch comedy television program Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In featured a running-joke sketch about Vidal; the telephone operator Ernestine would call him, saying: "Mr. Veedul, this is the Phone Company calling! ". The sketch, titled "Mr. Veedle" also appeared in Tomlin's comedy record album This Is a Recording.
In the 1970s, in the stand-up comedy album Reality... What a Concept, Robin Williams portrayed Vidal as a drunken shill in a Thunderbird wine commercial.
Moreover, Vidal provided his own voice for the animated-cartoon versions of himself in The Simpsons and the Family Guy programs. Likewise, he portrayed himself in the Da Ali G Show; the Ali G character mistakes him for Vidal Sassoon, a famous hairdresser.
In the biographic film Amelia, the child Vidal was portrayed by William Cuddy, a Canadian actor. In the Truman Capote biographic film Infamous, the young adult Vidal was portrayed by the American actor Michael Panes.
The Buckley–Vidal debates, their aftermath and cultural significance, were the focus of a 2015 documentary film called Best of Enemies.
Selected list of works
- The City and the Pillar
- Myra Breckinridge