Rest in peace, you cantankerous old warhorse.
Gore Vidal, the American writer and commentator, has died. He was a ground-breaking novelist and essayist, a searing critic of American foreign and domestic policy and one hell of a cantankerous, patrician sophisticate. As a sort of left-wing libertarian with an acid tongue, Gore had a habit of getting into feuds with people, institutions and even countries. He did it on TV, he did in print, he did it in the street. He relished these feuds so what better way to honour him than by celebrating some of his best?
Mailer, posing pugilist and writer of unreadable novels, was never going to get on with the more refined Gore. They found themselves together on The Dick Cavett Show after Gore had given Mailer’s Prisoner of Sex a terrible review which referred to Mailer having once stabbed his wife and suggested that the burly man of letters was all set to become the next Charles Manson. Mailer blithely told the audience that “We all know that I stabbed my wife many years ago” before launching into a semi-coherent, drunken diatribe. He would later go on to punch Vidal at a dinner party. Rising from the floor, Gore quipped, “Words fail Norman Mailer once again.”
“I don’t know why you would because I don’t know who you are!” Gore tells the BBC's Mr Election. “I know who you are, Mr Vidal,” splutters the craven appeaser Dimbleby.
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
“Perpetual war for perpetual peace,” was how Gore described American foreign policy. His attitude to his nation was more “perpetual war for perpetual war”. For a large part of his life, he lived in Rome and from there he tore at the American establishment he had been born into and the simple-minded drones his family and others like it had ruled over for years. The US had betrayed the founding fathers, had destroyed the rest of the world and had manufactured a Cold War with the Soviet Union, which Gore visited and pronounced, in his wisdom, to be no threat whatsoever. He even wrote a couple of pieces that, in part, defended Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber and America's Enemy #1 until, y'know, that guy came along with the planes.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Vidal’s hugely controversial, ground-breaking 1948 novel The City and the Pillar, which had a whole bunch of gay stuff in it that was most certainly not casually accepted at the time, was black-listed by The New York Times. For years after, the paper continued to refuse to cover Vidal, even removing him from bestseller lists. In revenge, Gore tore into “book chat” writers, noting that it was a pathetic, meaningless and gossip-y hobby and that when he wanted to make money, he simply wrote films. Of course, he didn’t let this opinion stop him from writing the odd review.
A fellow gay writer, Vidal was suspicious of White. One day, at lunch with White’s British publisher at the River Cafe in London, Gore grabbed one of the large bottles of olive oil on the table, poured it into a wine glass and slugged it down. Spitting it furiously all over the table, he shouted at the publisher, “You, you did this! You want to kill me so that your writer Edmund White can be King Fag!” In the 90s, White dramatised Vidal’s relationship with Timothy McVeigh in his play Terre Haute, which very clearly suggested that the old contrarian had a raging crush on McVeigh. Vidal, possibly whilst drunk or on medication, had agreed to this but once the play came out he furiously called White, threatening to sue him. Nothing came of it but the two former friends never reconciled.
WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY
It's 1968, and Vietnam and bras are burning! Buckley and Vidal square up on television. It’s the culture wars writ large. Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto Nazi”, Buckley calls Vidal a “queer” and threatens to “sock him in the Goddamn face”. Wonderful entertainment.
“There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo – or heterosexual – acts.” Way to represent for Team Gay, Gore!
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