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Gore Vidal

Vidal in New York City to discuss his 2009 book, Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare
Born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal
October 3, 1925 (1925-10-03) (age 84)
West Point, New York
Pen name Edgar Box
Cameron Kay
Katherine Everard
Occupation Novelist, essayist, journalist, playwright
Nationality United States
Genres Drama, fictional prose, essay, literary criticism
Literary movement Postmodernism

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (pronounced /ˌɡɔər vɪˈdɑːl/ or /vɪˈdæl/) (born October 3, 1925) is an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter and political activist. Early in his career he wrote The City and the Pillar (1948), which outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality.


Early years

Vidal was born in West Point, New York, the only child of Lieutenant Eugene Luther Vidal (1895–1969) and Nina S. Gore (1903–1978).[1][2] He was born in the Cadet Hospital of the United States Military Academy, where his father was the first aeronautics instructor, and was christened by the headmaster of St. Albans preparatory school, his future alma mater.[3] According to "West Point and the Third Loyalty", an article Vidal wrote for The New York Review of Books (October 18, 1973),[2] he decided to be called Gore in honor of his maternal grandfather, Thomas Gore, Democratic senator from Oklahoma.

Vidal's father, a West Point all-American quarterback who was director of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce (1933–37) in the Roosevelt administration,[4] was one of the first Army Air Corps pilots and, according to biographer Susan Butler, was the great love of Amelia Earhart's life.[5] In the 1920s and 1930s, he was a co-founder of three American airlines: the Ludington Line, which merged with others and became Eastern Airlines, Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, which became TWA), and Northeast Airlines, which he founded with Earhart, as well as the Boston and Maine Railroad. The elder Vidal was also an athlete in the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics (seventh in the decathlon; U.S. pentathlon team coach).[6][7]

Gore Vidal's mother was an actress and socialite who made her Broadway debut in Sign of the Leopard in 1928.[8] She married Eugene Luther Vidal Sr. in 1922 and divorced him in 1935.[9] She later married twice more; one husband, Hugh D. Auchincloss, was later the stepfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and, according to Gore Vidal, she had "a long off-and-on affair" with actor Clark Gable.[10] She was an alternate delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention.[11]

Vidal had four half-siblings from his parents' later marriages (the Rev. Vance Vidal, Valerie Vidal Hewitt, Thomas Gore Auchincloss, and Nina Gore Auchincloss Steers Straight) and four stepbrothers from his mother's third marriage to Army Air Forces Major General Robert Olds, who died in 1943, ten months after marrying Vidal's mother.[12] Vidal's nephew Burr Steers is a writer and film director, and nephew Hugh Auchincloss Steers (1963–1995) was a painter whose work is in the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Denver Art Museum.[13][14]

Vidal was raised in Washington, D.C., where he attended Sidwell Friends School and St. Albans School. Since Senator Gore was blind, as a boy his namesake read aloud to him and was his guide. The senator's isolationism contributed a major principle of his grandson's political philosophy, which is critical of foreign and domestic policies shaped by American imperialism.[15] In 1943, on graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Vidal joined the U.S. Army Reserve serving in the Aleutian Islands during World War II, where he served as master of an Army freight and supply boat.[16][17]

Photo of Vidal by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Personal life

Vidal has had affairs with both men and women. The novelist Anaïs Nin claimed an involvement with Vidal in her memoir The Diary of Anaïs Nin but Vidal denied it in his memoir Palimpsest. Vidal has also discussed having dalliances with people such as actress Diana Lynn, and has alluded to the possibility that he may have an illegitimate daughter.[18] He was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward, before she married Paul Newman; after eloping, the couple shared a house with Vidal in Los Angeles for a short time. In 1950, he met his long-term partner Howard Austen.[19]

During the latter part of the twentieth century Vidal divided his time between Italy and California. In 2003, he sold his 5,000-square-foot (460 m²) Italian Villa, La Rondinaia (The Swallow's Nest), and moved to Los Angeles. Austen died in November 2003 and, in February 2005, was buried in a plot for himself and Vidal at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Writing career


Gore Vidal in 2008 at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Vidal, whom a Newsweek critic has called "the best all-around American man of letters since Edmund Wilson,"[20] began his writing career at nineteen, with the publication of the military novel Williwaw, based upon his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty. The novel was successful and chronologically the first of the war novels about World War II.[21] A few years later, The City and the Pillar caused a furor for its dispassionate presentation of homosexuality. The New York Times refused to review his next five books.[22] The novel was dedicated to "J.T."

After a magazine published rumors about J.T.'s identity, Vidal confirmed they were the initials of his St. Albans-era love, James "Jimmy" Trimble III, killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima on June 1, 1945;[23] later saying Trimble was the only person he had ever loved.[24] Subsequently he wrote plays, films, and television series. Two plays, The Best Man and Visit to a Small Planet, were both Broadway and film successes. In the early 1950s he also wrote under the pseudonym "Edgar Box", producing three mystery novels featuring public relations man "Peter Cutler Sargeant II".[25]

In 1956, Vidal was hired as a contract screenwriter for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. In 1959, director William Wyler needed script doctors to re-write the Ben-Hur script, originally written by Karl Tunberg. Vidal collaborated with Christopher Fry, reworking the screenplay on condition that MGM release him from the last two years of his contract. Producer Sam Zimbalist's death complicated the screenwriting credit. The Screen Writers Guild resolved the matter by listing Tunberg as sole screenwriter, denying credit to both Vidal and Fry. This decision was based on the WGA screenwriting credit system which favors original authors. Vidal later claimed in the documentary film The Celluloid Closet that in order to explain the animosity between Ben-Hur and Messala, he had inserted a gay subtext suggesting that the two had had a prior relationship, but that actor Charlton Heston was oblivious.[26] Heston denied that Vidal contributed significantly to the script.[27]

In the 1960s, Vidal wrote three novels. The first, Julian (1964) dealt with the apostate Roman emperor, while the second, Washington, D.C. (1967) focused on a political family during the Franklin D. Roosevelt era.

Vidal's third novel in the '60s was the satirical transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge (1968), a variation on familiar Vidalian themes of sex, gender, and popular culture. In the novel, Vidal showcased his love of the American films of the '30s and '40s, and he resurrected interest in the careers of the forgotten players of the time including, for example, the late Richard Cromwell, who, he wrote, "was so satisfyingly tortured in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer."

After the staging of the plays, Weekend (1968) and An Evening With Richard Nixon (1972), and the publications of the novel Two Sisters (1970), Vidal focused on essays and two distinct strains in his fiction. The first strain comprises novels dealing with American history, specifically with the nature of national politics.[28] Critic Harold Bloom wrote, "Vidal's imagination of American politics...is so powerful as to compel awe." This series' Narratives of Empire titles include Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1990), The Golden Age (2000), and another excursion into the ancient world Creation (1981, published in expanded form 2002).

The second strain consists of the comedic "satirical inventions": Myron (1974, a sequel to Myra Breckinridge), Kalki (1978), Duluth (1983), Live from Golgotha: the Gospel according to Gore Vidal (1992), and The Smithsonian Institution (1998).

Vidal occasionally returned to scriptwriting cinema and television, including the television movie Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid with Val Kilmer and the mini-series Lincoln. He also wrote the original draft for the controversial film Caligula, but later had his name removed because director Tinto Brass and actor Malcolm McDowell re-wrote the script, changing the tone and themes significantly. The producers later made an attempt to salvage some of Vidal's vision in the film's post-production.[29]

Essays and memoirs

Vidal is—at least in the U.S.—even more respected as an essayist than as a novelist.[30] The critic John Keates praised him as "[the twentieth] century's finest essayist." Even an occasionally hostile critic like Martin Amis admits, "Essays are what he is good at ... [h]e is learned, funny and exceptionally clear-sighted. Even his blind spots are illuminating."

For six decades, Gore Vidal has applied himself to a wide variety of sociopolitical, sexual, historical, and literary themes. In 1987, Vidal wrote the essays titled Armageddon?, exploring the intricacies of power in contemporary America. He pilloried the incumbent president Ronald Reagan as a "triumph of the embalmer's art." In 1993, he won the National Book Award for his collection of essays, United States (1952–1992),[31] the citation noting: "Whatever his subject, he addresses it with an artist's resonant appreciation, a scholar's conscience, and the persuasive powers of a great essayist." A subsequent collection of essays, published in 2000, is The Last Empire. Since then, he has published 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 an historical essay about the U.S.'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 also published Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories.

Because of his matter-of-fact treatment of same-sex relations in such books as The City and The Pillar, Vidal is often seen as an early champion of sexual liberation.[32] Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings, a representative sampling of his views, contains literary and cultural essays. Focusing on, in his view, the anti-sexual heritage of Judeo-Christianity, irrational and destructive sex laws, feminism, heterosexism, homophobia, gay liberation and pornography, the essays frequently return to a favorite Vidal motif: the fluidity of sexual identity. Vidal argues that "there are no homosexual people, only homosexual acts." Given the diversity of human desire, Vidal resists any effort to categorize him as exclusively "homosexual"—either as writer or human being.[33]

In 2005, Jay Parini was appointed as Vidal's literary executor.[34]

Acting and popular culture

In the 1960s, Vidal moved to Italy; he was cast as himself in Federico Fellini's film Roma. In 1992, Vidal appeared in the film Bob Roberts (starring Tim Robbins) and has appeared in other films, notably Gattaca, With Honors, and Igby Goes Down. Vidal has voiced himself on both The Simpsons and Family Guy and appeared on the Da Ali G Show, where Ali G (intentionally) mistakes him for Vidal Sassoon. On his 2007 lecture tour, Vidal claimed that the core idea for the film Night at the Museum was suggested by one of his novels (presumably The Smithsonian Institution).[citation needed] He provided the narrative for the Royal National Theatre's production of Brecht's Mother Courage in the autumn of 2009.

Portrayed in Amelia (2009), as a child, by Canadian actor William Cuddy, (1997-), and in Infamous, the story of Truman Capote, as a young adult, by American Michael Panes (1963-).

Political views and activities

Besides his politician grandfather, Vidal has other connections with the Democratic Party: his mother, Nina, married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., who later was stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Gore Vidal is a fifth cousin of Jimmy Carter. Vidal may be a distant cousin of Al Gore[35], but no link has been found by a Gore family historian.[36]

As a political activist, in 1960, Gore Vidal was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress (running as Eugene Gore), losing an election in New York's 29th congressional district, a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River, encompassing all of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Schoharie, and Ulster Counties to J. Ernest Wharton, by a margin of 57% to 43%.[37] Campaigning with a slogan of "You'll get more with Gore", he received the most votes any Democrat in 50 years received in that district. Among his supporters were Eleanor Roosevelt, Paul Newman, and Joanne Woodward; the latter two, longtime friends of Vidal's, campaigned for him and spoke on his behalf.[38]

On the December 15, 1971 taping of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner, it was alleged that Norman Mailer had headbutted Vidal during an altercation in which there were mutual insults and name calling between the two before both went on air. The Wikipedia article about landmark episodes of the show stated : A 1971 interview with Norman Mailer was not going well. Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests (Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner), and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?"[2] Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you'll all accept finger-bowls." Mailer later said to Cavett "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett replied "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?" A long laugh ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had come up with that line and Cavett replied "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?".

From 1970 to 1972, Vidal was one of the chairmen of the People's Party.[39] His 1982 campaign against incumbent Governor Jerry Brown for the Democratic primary election to the United States Senate from California was documented in the film, Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No directed by Gary Conklin. Vidal lost to Brown in the primary election.

Frequently identified with Democratic causes and personalities,[17][40] Vidal wrote in the 1970s:

There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party...and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats, who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt—until recently... and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand. But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties.[41]

Despite this, Vidal has said "I think of myself as a conservative."[42] Vidal has a protective, almost proprietary attitude toward his native land and its politics: "My family helped start [this country]", he has written, "and we've been in political life... since the 1690s, and I have a very possessive sense about this country."[43] At a 1999 lecture in Dublin, Vidal said:

A characteristic of our present chaos is the dramatic migration of tribes. They are on the move from east to west, from south to north. Liberal tradition requires that borders must always be open to those in search of safety or even the pursuit of happiness. But now with so many millions of people on the move, even the great-hearted are becoming edgy. Norway is large enough and empty enough to take in 40 to 50 million homeless Bengalis. If the Norwegians say that, all in all, they would rather not take them in, is this to be considered racism? I think not. It is simply self-preservation, the first law of species.”[44]

He has suggested that President Roosevelt deliberately provoked the Japanese to attack the U.S. at Pearl Harbor to facilitate American entry to the war, and believes FDR had advance knowledge of the attack.[45] During an interview in the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, Vidal asserts that during the final months of World War II, the Japanese had tried to surrender to the United States, to no avail. He said, "They were trying to surrender all that summer, but Truman wouldn't listen, because Truman wanted to drop the bombs." When the interviewer asked why, Vidal replied, "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."[46]

During domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh's imprisonment, Vidal corresponded with McVeigh and concluded that he bombed the federal building as retribution for the FBI's role in the 1993 Branch Davidian Compound massacre in Waco, Texas.[47]

Vidal is a member of the advisory board of the World Can't Wait organization, a left-wing organization seeking to repudiate the Bush administration's program, and advocating the impeachment of George W. Bush for war crimes.[48]

Gore Vidal and former U.S. Senator George McGovern at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, August 26, 2009

In 1997, Vidal was one of 34 celebrities to sign an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which protested the treatment of Scientologists in Germany.[49]

Vidal contributed an article to The Nation in which he expressed support for Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, citing him as "the most eloquent of the lot" and that Kucinich "is very much a favorite out there in the amber fields of grain".[50]

In April 2009, Vidal accepted appointment to the position of honorary president of the American Humanist Association, succeeding Kurt Vonnegut.[51]

On September 30, 2009, the Times published a lengthy interview with him headlined "We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the US - The grand old man of letters Gore Vidal claims America is ‘rotting away’ — and don’t expect Barack Obama to save it", which brings up-to-date his views on his own life, and a variety of political subjects.[52]

Vidal versus Buckley

In 1968, ABC News invited Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. to be political analysts of the Republican and Democratic presidential conventions.[53] Verbal and nearly physical combat ensued. After days of mutual bickering, their debates devolved to vitriolic, ad hominem attacks. During discussions of the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests, the men were arguing about freedom of speech in regards to American protesters displaying a Viet Cong flag when Vidal told Buckley to "shut up a minute" and, in response to Buckley's reference to "pro-Nazi" protesters, went on to say "As far as I'm concerned, the only sort of pro-crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself." The visibly livid 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." After an interruption by anchor and facilitator Howard K. Smith, the men continued to discuss the topic in a less hostile manner.[54]

Later, in 1969, the feud was continued as Buckley further attacked Vidal in the lengthy essay, "On Experiencing Gore Vidal", published in the August 1969 issue of Esquire. The essay is collected in The Governor Listeth, an anthology of Buckley's writings of the time. In a key passage attacking Vidal as an apologist for homosexuality, Buckley wrote, "The man who in his essays proclaims the normalcy of his affliction [i.e., homosexuality], 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."

Vidal responded in the September 1969 issue of Esquire, variously characterizing Buckley as "anti-black", "anti-semitic", and a "warmonger".[55] The presiding judge in Buckley's subsequent libel suit against Vidal initially concluded that "[t]he court must conclude that Vidal's comments in these paragraphs meet the minimal standard of fair comment. The inferences made by Vidal from Buckley's [earlier editorial] statements cannot be said to be completely unreasonable."[citation needed] However, Vidal also strongly implied that, in 1944, Buckley and unnamed siblings had vandalized a Protestant church in their Sharon, Connecticut, hometown after the pastor's wife had sold a house to a Jewish family. Buckley sued Vidal and Esquire for libel. Vidal counter-claimed for libel against Buckley, citing Buckley's characterization of Vidal's novel Myra Breckinridge as pornography.[citation needed]

The court dismissed Vidal's counter-claim; Buckley settled for $115,000 in attorney's fees and an editorial statement from Esquire magazine that they were "utterly convinced" of the untruthfulness of Vidal's assertion.[56] However, in a letter to Newsweek, the Esquire publisher stated 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."

As Vidal's biographer, Fred Kaplan, later commented, "The court had 'not' sustained Buckley's case against Esquire... [t]he 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. [italics original.] The cash value of the settlement with Esquire represented 'only' Buckley's legal expenses [not damages based on libel]... " Ultimately, Vidal bore the cost of his own attorney's fees, estimated at $75,000.

In 2003, this affair re-surfaced when Esquire published Esquire's Big Book of Great Writing, an anthology that included Vidal's essay. Buckley again sued for libel, and Esquire again settled for $55,000 in attorney's fees and $10,000 in personal damages to Buckley.[citation needed]

After Buckley's death on February 27, 2008, Vidal summed up his impressions of his rival with the following obituary on March 20, 2008: "RIP WFB—in hell."[57] In a June 15, 2008, interview with the New York Times, Vidal was asked by Deborah Solomon, "How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year?" Vidal responded:

I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.[58]

Criticism of the George W. Bush administration

Vidal was strongly critical of the George W. Bush administration, listing it among administrations he considered to have either an explicit or implicit expansionist agenda.[59]

He is of the view that for several years the Bush administration and their associates have aimed to control the petroleum of Central Asia (after gaining effective control of the petroleum of the Persian Gulf in 1991). In October 2006, Vidal derided NORAD for what he claims is a conspiracy against the US public having been perpetrated by an alliance of the US Air Force and the government of Canada at the time.[60]

In May 2007, Vidal clarified his views, saying:

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, I'm a conspiracy analyst. Everything the Bushites touch is screwed up. They could never have pulled off 9/11, even if they wanted to. Even if they longed to. They could step aside, though, or just go out to lunch while these terrible things were happening to the nation. I believe that of them.[61]


Essays and non-fiction

  • Rocking the Boat (1963)
  • Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship (1969)
  • Sex, Death and Money (1969) (paperback compilation)
  • Homage to Daniel Shays (1972)
  • Matters of Fact and of Fiction (1977)
  • Views from a Window Co-Editor (1981)
  • The Second American Revolution (1982)
  • Armageddon? (1987) (UK only)
  • At Home (1988)
  • A View From The Diner's Club (1991) (UK only)
  • Screening History (1992) ISBN 0-233-98803-3
  • Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992) ISBN 1-878825-00-3
  • United States: essays 1952–1992 (1993) ISBN 0-7679-0806-6
  • Palimpsest: a memoir (1995) ISBN 0-679-44038-0
  • Virgin Islands (1997) (UK only)
  • The American Presidency (1998) ISBN 1-878825-15-1
  • Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings (1999)
  • The Last Empire: essays 1992–2000 (2001) ISBN 0-375-72639-X (there is also a much shorter UK edition)
  • Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be So Hated, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, (2002) ISBN 1-56025-405-X
  • Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, (2002) ISBN 1-56025-502-1
  • Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003) ISBN 0-300-10171-6
  • Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (2004) ISBN 1-56025-744-X
  • Point to Point Navigation : A Memoir (2006) ISBN 0-385-51721-1
  • The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (2008) ISBN 0-385-52484-6
  • Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare (2009) ISBN 0-810-95049-9




Under pseudonyms

  • A Star's Progress (aka Cry Shame!) (1950) as Katherine Everard
  • Thieves Fall Out (1953) as Cameron Kay
  • Death Before Bedtime (1953) as Edgar Box
  • Death in the Fifth Position (1952) as Edgar Box
  • Death Likes It Hot (1954) as Edgar Box

Film appearances and interviews

See also


  1. ^ Vidal, Gore, "West Point and the Third Loyalty", The New York Review of Books, Volume 20, Number 16, October 18, 1973
  2. ^ a b Vidal, Gore, "West Point and the Third Loyalty", The New York Review of Books, Volume 20, Number 16, October 18, 1973.
  3. ^ Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation (New York: Doubleday, 2006), p. 245.
  4. ^ "Aeronatics: $8,073.61", Time, September 28, 1931
  5. ^ "Booknotes". Booknotes. http://www.booknotes.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1391. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  6. ^ "Eugene L. Vidal, Aviation Leader", The New York Times, February 21, 1969, p. 43.
  7. ^ South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame Profile: Gene Vidal.
  8. ^ "General Robert Olds Marries", The New York Times, June 7, 1942, p. 6.
  9. ^ "Miss Nina Gore Marries". The New York Times. 12 January 1922. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9F00E2DF1E3FE432A25751C1A9679C946395D6CF. 
  10. ^ Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation, New York: Doubleday, 2006, p. 135.
  11. ^ "Politicians: Aubertine to Austern". The Political Graveyard. 2008. http://www.politicalgraveyard.com/bio/aubert-austen.html. Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  12. ^ "Maj. Gen. Olds, 46, of Air Force, Dies", The New York Times, April 29, 1943
  13. ^ "Hugh Steers, 32, Figurative Painter", New York Times, March 4, 1995.
  14. ^ "Film; A Family's Legacy: Pain and Humor (and a Movie)", New York Times, September 15, 2002.
  15. ^ Rutten, Tim, "'The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal'", Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2008.
  16. ^ "Williwaw". Nytimes.com. 1946-06-17. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/vidal-williwaw.html. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  17. ^ a b "Gore Vidal". Thenation.com. http://www.thenation.com/directory/bios/gore_vidal. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  18. ^ Joy Do Lico and Andrew Johnson, "The rumours about my love child may be true, says Gore Vidal", The Independent, May 25, 2008.
  19. ^ "What I've Learned", Esquire, June, 2008, p. 132.
  20. ^ Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace
  21. ^ Vidal, Gore. The City and the Pillar and Seven Early Stories, (New York, NY: Random House), page xiii.
  22. ^ Gore Vidal, Point to Point Navigation (New York: Doubleday, 2006), p. 245
  23. ^ Roberts, James "The Legacy of Jimmy Trimble", ESPN, March 14, 2002.
  24. ^ Chalmers, Robert, "Gore Vidal: Literary feuds, his 'vicious' mother and rumours of a secret love child", The Independent, May 25, 2008.
  25. ^ The Pseudonyms of Gore Vidal: 1950-1954.
  26. ^ Ned Rorem (December 12, 1999). "Gore Vidal, aloof in art and in life". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 18S. 
  27. ^ Mick LaSalle (October 2, 1995). "A Commanding Presence: Actor Charlton Heston sets his epic career in stone -- or at least on paper". The San Francisco Chronicle. p. E1. 
  28. ^ John Leonard (7 July 1970). "Not Enough Blood, Not Enough Gore". The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/home/vidal-sisters.html. Retrieved 2008-10-30. 
  29. ^ "Show Business: Will the Real Caligula Stand Up?", Time, January 3, 1977.
  30. ^ Solomon, Deborah (2008–06–15). "Literary Lion". The New York Times Magazine. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/15/magazine/15wwln-Q4-t.html?ref=magazine. Retrieved 2008–06–29. 
  31. ^ "Gore Vidal Winner of the 1993 NONFICTION AWARD for UNITED STATES:ESSAYS 1952-1992" at nationalbook.org
  32. ^ Décoration de l’écrivain Gore Vidal.
  33. ^ "Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings", Salon, August 19, 1999.
  34. ^ "Sundance Resort - Create, Creative Happenings, Films, Literary". Sundanceresort.com. http://www.sundanceresort.com/create/hap_literary.html#. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  35. ^ "The other Gore", Salon, September 20, 2000
  36. ^ Gore, James L.. "GORE-L Archives". ancestry.com. http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GORE/2001-05/0989347001. Retrieved 2009-11-01. 
  37. ^ clerk.house.gov 1960 election p.31
  38. ^ Ira Henry Freeman, "The Playwright, the Lawyer, and the Voters", The New York Times, September 15, 1960, page 20
  39. ^ "Gore Vidal". Wtp.org. http://www.wtp.org/archive/transcripts/gore_vidal.html. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  40. ^ Ira Henry Freeman, "Gore Vidal Conducts Campaign of Quips and Liberal Views", The New York Times, September 15, 1960
  41. ^ Gore Vidal (1977). Matters of Fact and of Fiction: Essays 1973–1976. Random House. p. 268. ISBN 0394411285. 
  42. ^ Real Time With Bill Maher, Season 7, Episode 149, April 10th, 2009
  43. ^ Gore Vidal, "Sexually Speaking: Collected Sexual Writings", Cleis Press, 1999
  44. ^ The folly of mass immigration
  45. ^ Gore Vidal, "Three Lies to Rule By" and "Japanese Intentions in the Second World War", from Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, New York, 2002 ISBN 1560255021
  46. ^ Why We Fight
  47. ^ Gore Vidal, "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh". Vanity Fair, September 2001.
  48. ^ "World Can't Wait Advisory Board". http://www.worldcantwait.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=1&Itemid=2. Retrieved 2002-07-29. 
  49. ^ Drozdiak, William (1997-01-14). U.S. Celebrities Defend Scientology in Germany, The Washington Post, p. A11
  50. ^ "Dennis Kucinich". Thenation.com. http://www.thenation.com/doc/20071126/vidal. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  51. ^ ore Vidal Accepts Title of American Humanist Association Honorary President
  52. ^ Interview The Times September 30, 2009
  53. ^ "Political Animals: Vidal, Buckley and the ’68 Conventions". http://www.pitt.edu/~kloman/debates.html. Retrieved 2009-11-02. 
  54. ^ "William Buckley/Gore Vidal Debate". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRjZR8j4-z4. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  55. ^ Gore Vidal (September, 1969). "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley Jr.". Esquire. p. 140. 
  56. ^ "Buckley Drops Vidal Suit, Settles With Esquire", The New York Times, September 26, 1972, page 40
  57. ^ "Reports - Gore Vidal Speaks Seriously Ill of the Dead". Truthdig. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080320_gore_vidal_speaks_seriously_ill_of_the_dead/. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  58. ^ Solomon, Deborah. "Literary Lion: Questions for Gore Vidal". New York Times. June 15, 2008.
  59. ^ "YouTube - The Henry Rollins Show - The Corruption of Election 2008". Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-drWGnF6DjM. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  60. ^ "Gore Vidal Interview with Alex Jones Infowars, October 29, 2006 Texas Book Fest". Video.google.com. 2006-11-01. http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3156121348015048039&sourceid=docidfeed&hl=en. Retrieved 2009-01-22. 
  61. ^ Close (2007-05-05). "Diary: May 5 | Books | The Guardian". Books.guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2007/may/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview14. Retrieved 2009-08-17. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Don’t ever make the mistake with people like me thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren’t any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I’m never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it.
I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

Gore Vidal (born 1925-10-03) is an American author.



The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.

Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays (1972)

Random House/Vintage, 1973, ISBN 0-394-71950-6
  • I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.
    • "Writing Plays for Television," New World Writing," #10 (1956)
  • The theater needs continual reminders that there is nothing more debasing than the work of those who do well what is not worth doing at all.
    • "Love Love Love," Partisan Review (Spring 1959)
  • At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.
    • "Sex and the Law," Partisan Review (Summer 1965)
  • The more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.

Matters of Fact and Fiction (1978)

  • In any case, rather like priests who have forgotten the meaning of the prayers they chant, we shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods, perhaps in silence or with new words.
    • "French Letters: Theories of the New Novel" (1967)
  • That peculiarly American religion, President-worship.
  • The period of Prohibition — called the noble experiment — brought on the greatest breakdown of law and order the United States has known until today. I think there is a lesson here. Do not regulate the private morals of people. Do not tell them what they can take or not take. Because if you do, they will become angry and antisocial and they will get what they want from criminals who are able to work in perfect freedom because they have paid off the police.
    • "The State of the Union" (1975)
  • The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven't seen them since.
    • "The State of the Union" (1975)
  • Big oil, big steel, big agriculture avoid the open marketplace. Big corporations fix prices among themselves and thus drive out of business the small entrepreneur. Also, in their conglomerate form, the huge corporations have begun to challenge the very legitimacy of the state.
    • "The State of the Union" (1978)

The Second American Revolution (1983)

  • It is reasonable to assume that, by and large, what is not read now will not be read, ever. It is also reasonable to assume that practically nothing that is read now will be read later. Finally, it is not too farfetched to imagine a future in which novels are not read at all.
  • In any case, write what you know will always be excellent advice to those who ought not to write at all.
    • "Thomas Love Peacock: The Novel of Ideas" (1980)
  • Television is a great leveler. You always end up sounding like the people who ask the questions.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • Religions are manipulated in order to serve those who govern society and not the other way around.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • Actually, there is no such thing as a homosexual person, any more than there is such a thing as a heterosexual person. The words are adjectives describing sexual acts, not people. The sexual acts are entirely normal; if they were not, no one would perform them.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)
  • The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist (sometimes known as gay, fag, queer, etc.) is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy sexual relations with their own sex, many don't; many respond to both. This plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.
    • "Sex Is Politics" (1979)

At Home (1988)

The average "educated" American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past...
  • My father had a deep and lifelong contempt for politicians in general ("They tell lies," he used to say with wonder, "even when they don't have to").
    • "On Flying" (1985)
  • The last best hope on earth, two trillion dollars in debt, is spinning out of control, and all we can do is stare at a flickering cathode-ray tube as Ollie "answers" questions on TV while the press, resolutely irrelevant as ever, asks politicians if they have committed adultery. From V-J Day 1945 to this has been, my fellow countrymen, a perfect nightmare.
  • In a nation that has developed to a high art advertising, the creator who refuses to advertise himself is immediately suspected of having no product worth selling.
  • The average "educated" American has been made to believe that, somehow, the United States must lead the world even though hardly anyone has any information at all about those countries we are meant to lead. Worse, we have very little information about our own country and its past. That is why it is not really possible to compare a writer like Howells with any living American writer because Howells thought that it was a good thing to know as much as possible about his own country as well as other countries while our writers today, in common with the presidents and paint manufacturers, live in a present without past among signs whose meanings are uninterpretable.
    • "William Dean Howells" (1983)
  • I suspect that one of the reasons we create fiction is to make sex exciting.
  • Class is the most difficult subject for American writers to deal with as it is the most difficult for the English to avoid.
  • I regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam — good people, yes, but any religion based on a single... well, frenzied and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say, Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational system that has worked pretty well for twenty-five hundred years. So you see I am ecumenical in my dislike for the Book. But like it or not, the Book is there; and because of it people die; and the world is in danger.
    • Appendix

A View from the Diner's Club (1991)

  • Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.
    • "Gods and Greens" (1989)
  • Think of the earth as a living organism that is being attacked by billions of bacteria whose numbers double every forty years. Either the host dies, or the virus dies, or both die.
    • "Gods and Greens" (1989)
  • The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western World. No First World country has ever managed to eliminate so entirely from its media all objectivity — much less dissent.
    • "Cue the Green God, Ted" (1991).

Screening History (1992)

Harvard University Press, 1992, ISBN 0-674-79587-3
  • To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, pp.2-3
  • Half the American people never read a newspaper. Half never vote for President — the same half?
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 5
    • Sometimes quoted as: Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half.
  • Lonely children often have imaginary playmates but I was never lonely; rather, I was solitary, and wanted no company at all other than books and movies, and my own imagination.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 23
  • Apparently, a concern for others is self-love at its least attractive, while greed is now a sign of the higher altruism. But then to reverse, periodically, the meanings of words is a very small price to pay for the freedom not only to conform but to consume.
    • Ch. 1: The Prince and the Pauper, p. 24
  • I shared, naturally, in that hatred of organized labor which has been the one political constant in my lifetime, culminating in Ronald Reagan's most popular gesture, the smashing of the air-controllers' union. No alternative view of organized labor has ever come to us through the popular media. If labor leaders were not crooks like Jimmy Hoffa, they were in the pay of Moscow.
    • Ch. 2: Fire Over England, p. 34
  • It is notable how little empathy is cultivated or valued in our society. I put this down to our traditional racism and obsessive sectarianism. Even so, one would think that we would be encouraged to project ourselves into the character of someone of a different race or class, if only to be able to control him. But no effort is made.
    • Ch. 2: Fire Over England, p. 49
  • By and large, serious fiction was the work of victims who portrayed victims for an audience of victims who, it was oddly assumed, would want to see their lives realistically portrayed.
    • Ch. 3: Lincoln, p. 78

The Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992)

  • Every four years the naive half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman President everything will be all right. But it won't be. Any individual who is able to raise $25 million to be considered presidential is not going to be much use to the people at large. He will represent oil, or aerospace, or banking, or whatever moneyed entities are paying for him. Certainly he will never represent the people of the country, and they know it. Hence, the sense of despair throughout the land as incomes fall, businesses fail and there is no redress.
  • As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests.

Preface to The City and the Pillar and Seven Early Stories (1995)

  • I have begun writing what I have said I'd never write, a memoir ("I am not my own subject," I used to say with icy superiority). [1]

Palimpsest, a memoir (1995)

Viking/Penguin, 1996, ISBN 0-14-026089-7
  • Anais Nin gave me my most original, or so I thought, creation.

    As I read Incest, I realized that something which I had always taken to be unique, the voice of Myra Breckinridge, was actually that of Anaïs in all the flowing megalomania of the diaries. Of course, I had not read the diaries then, but even so, if only for that one thundering voice, I am forever in her debt.

    • Ch. 7: "Today My Nerves Are Shattered. But I Am Indomitable!," pp. 107-108
  • I used to be able to summon up scenes at will, but now aging memory is so busy weeding its own garden that, promiscuously, it pulls up roses as well as crabgrass.
    • Ch. 12: The Guest of the Blue Nuns, p. 162
  • Celebrities are invariably celebrity-mad, just as liars always believe liars.
    • Ch. 18: To Do Well What Should Not Be Done at All, p. 311

Newspaper and magazine articles; speeches and lectures

  • The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament, three anti-human religions have evolved — Judaism, Christianity, Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal — God is the Omnipotent Father — hence the loathing of women for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course. He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in place not for just one tribe but for all creation. Those who would reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately, totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve the sky-god's purpose.
  • Congress no longer declares war or makes budgets. So that's the end of the constitution as a working machine.
    • "America First? America Last? America at Last?," Lowell Lecture, Harvard University (1992-04-20)
  • Apparently, "conspiracy stuff" is now shorthand for unspeakable truth.
    • "The Enemy Within," The Observer (2002-10-27)
  • Happily for the busy lunatics who rule over us, we are permanently the United States of Amnesia. We learn nothing because we remember nothing.
    • "The State of the Union," The Nation (2004-09-13)
  • We have ceased to be a nation under law but instead a homeland where the withered Bill of Rights, like a dead trumpet vine, clings to our pseudo-Roman columns.
    • "The State of the Union," The Nation (2004-09-13)

Interviews and profiles; remarks cited by others

  • Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.
    • Quoted in The Sunday Times Magazine, London (1973-09-16)
  • Envy is the central fact of American life.
    • "Gore Vidal," interview by Gerald Clarke (1974), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, 5th series (1981)
  • First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.
    • "Gore Vidal," interview by Gerald Clarke (1974), The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, 5th series (1981)
  • It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.'
    • Quoted by Gerard Irvine, "Antipanegyric for Tom Driberg," [memorial service for Driberg] (1976-12-08)
  • I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair.
    • Quoted in profile by Martin Amis, "Mr. Vidal: Unpatriotic Gore" (1977) in The Moronic Inferno (1987)
  • As one gets older, litigation replaces sex.
    • Quoted in profile by Martin Amis, "Mr. Vidal: Unpatriotic Gore" (1977) in The Moronic Inferno (1987)
  • A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.
    • Quoted in "Vidal: 'I'm at the Top of a Very Tiny Heap,'" profile by Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times (1981-03-12), Late City Final Edition, Section C, Page 17, Column 1
  • Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.
    • Quoted by Bob Chieger, Was It Good For You, Too? (1983)
  • We're supposed to procreate and society, god knows, is ferocious on the subject. Heterosexuality is considered such a great and natural good that you have to execute people and put them in prison if they don't practice this glorious act.
    • "American psyche", extract from interview with Anthony Clare on BBC Radio 4, "In the Psychiatrist's Chair"; published in The Independent (2000-10-08)
  • We should stop going around babbling about how we're the greatest democracy on earth, when we're not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarised republic. The founding fathers hated two things, one was monarchy and the other was democracy, they gave us a constitution that saw to it we will have neither. I don't know how wise they were.
  • Lennon was somebody who was a born enemy of those who govern the United States. He was everything they hated. So I just say that he represented life, and is admirable; and Mr. Nixon and Mr. Bush represent death, and that is a bad thing.
    • Quoted in the documentary The U.S. vs John Lennon (2006); video excerpt from The Huffington Post (2006-09-12) [2]
  • Private lives should be no business of the State. The State is bad enough as it is. It cannot educate or medicate or feed the people; it cannot do anything but kill the people. No State like that do we want prying into our private lives.
  • Everybody likes a bit of gossip to some point, as long as it’s gossip with some point to it. That’s why I like history. History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.
    • Quoted in Gert Jonkers, "Gore Vidal, the Fantastic Man," Butt, No. 20 (2007-04-07)
  • We must always remember that the police are recruited from the criminal classes.
  • Well, it's been the monopolizing of great wealth, which tends to happen in basically unjust societies and undemocratic societies. We have plenty of would-be democrats, would-be liberals, and would-be progressives. But how do you organize? The Democratic Party is a machine to get votes for its people, none of who should probably be elected to the high offices of state. That's all. The Republican Party is fundamentally crooked and might well be outlawed one of these days. Le Pen, you know, in France, who is an out-and-out fascist, the French have managed in some clever way to contain him. I mean, he's always running for president; his votes never seem to show up. I don't know how they do it, but we've got to do that with the Republican base, the religious right. We don't want them running the country. Nobody does. Certainly not the founding fathers. And I think we have to ride herd on them and make sure they do not seize the state.
  • Well, you have to work out what it is. They are a little splinter. They can't summon many voters at any given time. They are a minority of a minority of a minority. They have everybody buffaloed because the great corporations like them and pay money to their candidates for sheriff and senator. And they're playing big-time politics. Yes, indeed. But the average person doesn't like them. You know, any time I want to get applause—and I lecture across America in state after state after state—when I fear things are getting a little low, I always say, “And another thing: Let us tax all the religions,” I bring down the goddamn house with that. And any politician would if he had sense enough to do it. The people don't like their tax exemption.
  • Well, remember, all that area from which the Gore family comes was solid Democrat and progressive under Roosevelt for several decades. So they just didn't become Republicans because they all wanted to be bankers. They became it because they didn't like black people, and they thought the Democrats were pushing integration too fast. And that's how the great split came about, to the shame of the whole country.
  • Don’t ever make the mistake with people like me thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren’t any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I’m never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it.

"What I've Learned" (Esquire, June 2008)

People in my situation get to read about themselves whether they want to or not. It's generally wrong. Or oversimplified — which is sometimes useful.
Interview by Mike Sager, p. 132
  • There was more of a flow to my output of writing in the past, certainly. Having no contemporaries left means you cannot say, "Well, so-and-so will like this," which you do when you're younger. You realize there is no so-and-so anymore. You are your own so-and-so. There is a bleak side to it.
  • You hear all this whining going on, "Where are our great writers?" The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?
  • Some of my father's fellow West Pointers once asked him why I turned out so well, his secret in raising me. And he said, "I never gave him any advice, and he never asked for any." We agreed on nothing, but we never quarreled once.
  • Nonprofit status is what created the Bible Belt. The tax code brought religion back to this country.
  • People in my situation get to read about themselves whether they want to or not. It's generally wrong. Or oversimplified — which is sometimes useful.


  • Never have children, only grandchildren.
    • This was said by Vidal's maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, as recalled by Vidal: "My grandfather, Senator Gore ('I never give advice') was suddenly Polonius; he also changed his usual line from 'Never have children, only grandchildren' to 'Be not fruitful, do not multiply.' " [Palimpsest, ch. 3: The Desire and the Successful Pursuit of the Whole]

Quotes about Vidal

  • He was impressed by the young people who came to hear him, far less impressed by reviewers of his latest novel who seemed to have no historical education and therefore no context in which to place his fiction. For a writer steeped in Herodotus and Plotinus to be reviewed by those who have read neither must be galling.
    Gore is at heart an 18th-century man who belongs among those framers of the American Constitution — men who knew their Greek and Roman history and philosophy, and took the long, historical view of governments. His living on a promontory surrounded by ancient artefacts is indeed just what an 18th-century philosopher would do. He lives in splendid isolation — aiming fiery feuilletons at a dumb and dumber world.
    Gore Vidal understands what America might be if it didn't betray its own ideals — the ideals we gave the world and then renounced in favour of corporate oligarchy and the perpetual war machine.
    When we said goodbye after dinner and headed back to the sailboat we had anchored on the coast, I was inspired. Gore Vidal is everything a writer should be: a voice for sanity in a mad world.

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