"A Narcissist is Someone Better Looking Than You Are"
I played him once. Well, not exactly, but I based a character that I played- a theatre critic in Tom Stoppard's brilliant- The Real Inspector Hound, on what would be the love child of Gore Vidal, taken from his appearances on talk shows, & yesterday's birthday gay- Rex Reed. Really. These 2 men are what I thought about when starting work on the character & working on my speech pattern.
In my collection of favorite authors, there looms the Holy Trinity: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote & Gore Vidal. If I was pressed to pick just one, I would pick the works of Gore Vidal, at least today because I am thinking about his birthday.
Brilliant, erudite, perceptive & sarcastic, Vidal could be my one writer library. He is the author of 23 novels, 5 plays, 3 memoirs, numerous screenplays & short stories, & well over 300 essays. With his pedigree (his grandfather was a US senator & his father was a member of Roosevelt’s Cabinet), some good luck & talent, Vidal was witness to almost a century of American political & social life.
Vidal has been a tried & true progressive promoter of gay visibility. He was brave at a time that could have had everything to lose. His third novel- 1948's The City & the Pillar was the first mainstream novel to deal openly with homosexuality. Vidal lacked backing from his own editor, who forced him to make the already dark ending inferior by having the gay main character be a murderer & killing his straight lifelong crush. The NY Times, reviewer was so outraged by this depravity that the paper refused to review Vidal’s next 5 books, just as Time & Newsweek had vowed never to review another book by him.
When ABC hired Vidal & William F. Buckley to cover the political conventions in 1968, the rancor & resentment came to a head when Vidal called Buckley a “pro-crypto Nazi”. Buckley ranted, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face & you'll stay plastered." Buckley continued to attack Vidal in Esquire magazine just months after Stonewall, claiming that Vidal: "was proclaiming the normalcy of his affliction” & comparing him to a drug pusher for promoting it.
His most famous series of novels: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington DC & The Golden Age are a fictional history of the United States from the American Revolution to the recent past.
Vidal ran for Congress in 1960 & the U.S. Senate in 1982, & he lost both elections. Vidal turned his political genius into literature, chronicling the decline & fall of the American empire in a series of perceptive essays- United States: Essays 1952-1992, which won the 1993 National Book Award. In 2008, Vidal's best essays were collected in The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal.
Vidal’s latest, Point To Point Navigation, is a memoir about Vidal coming to grips with the loss of his partner of 50 years+, Howard Auster, who died in 2003. As always, Vidal’s personal drama unfolds against the backdrop of a larger political & historical tableau, in this case the spectacle of George W. Bush’s America as it sinks deeper into war, debt, & autocratic rule. The book’s title refers to Vidal’s flight service during World War, a method of visual navigation in which one flies from one landmark to the next. A follow-up to his 1995 memoir- Palimpsest, the book returns to Vidal’s early years but focuses mostly on the last half of his life.
In the Snapshots In History’s Glare, Gore Vidal begins one paragraph with the words: “Despite never having been very social…”. He then proceeds to tell of asking Andy Warhol, Mick & Bianca Jagger to visit him & Howard Austen at their villa outside Ravello, Italy. Vidal: "Our old friends the Newmans (Paul & Joanne, that is) used to drop by. So did Lauren Hutton, Susan Sarandon, Rudolf Nureyev, Hillary Clinton, Sting, James Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Carson, Bruce Springsteen & many others.”
I have seen photos of a young Vidal setting off to war & later frolicking with Tennessee Williams; & of a middle-aged Vidal running for Congress & hobnobbing with JFK (Vidal shared a stepfather with Jackie Kennedy). Williams told Vidal that JFK had ‘a nice ass’; Vidal told Kennedy who answered: “Why, that’s very exciting.”
Vidal is a treasury of quips, bon mots & his vast knowledge of literature & history, particularly American history, shows him to be a sharp observer. His razor sharp tongue cuts down the powerful. He does it with aplomb:
“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, & not giving a damn."