Gore Vidal

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Gore Vidal, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Gore Vidal (born October 3, 1925) is a well-known American "man of letters," a writer of novels, plays and essays, and a leading public figure for over fifty years.



He was born Eugene Luther Vidal in West Point, New York, the son of Eugene Vidal and Nina Gore. His birth took place at the United States Military Academy where his father was an aeronautics instructor. Vidal later adopted as his first name the surname of his maternal grandfather, Thomas P. Gore, Democratic Senator from Oklahoma.

Vidal was brought up in the Washington, D.C., area. It was there that he attended St. Albans School. His Grandfather Gore was blind, and the young Vidal both read aloud to him and frequently acted as his guide, thereby gaining unusual access for a child to the corridors of power. Senator Gore's isolationism has been one of the guiding beliefs of Vidal's political philosophy, which has always been unwaveringly critical of American Imperialism.

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Gore joined the US Army Reserve in 1943.

Writing career

At age 21, he wrote his first novel, Williwaw, based upon his military experiences in the Alaskan Harbor Detachment. The book was well received. A few years later, his novel The City and the Pillar, which dealt candidly with gay themes, caused a furor, to the extent that the New York Times refused to review a number of his later books. The book was dedicated to "J.T." who, after rumors were published in a magazine, Vidal was eventually forced to confirm was his St. Albans love Jimmy Trimble and who the book clearly involved. Trimble died in the Battle of Iwo Jima June 1, 1945, and Vidal would later claim that he was the only person he ever loved. Subsequently, as sales of his novels slipped, Vidal worked on plays, films, and television series as a scriptwriter. Two of his plays, The Best Man and Visit to a Small Planet, were Broadway hits and, adapted, successful movies.

In the early 1950s, using the pseudonym Edgar Box, he wrote three mystery novels about a fictional detective named Peter Sergeant.

Vidal was hired as a contract writer for MGM in 1956. In 1959, Director William Wyler needed work done on the script of Ben-Hur, written by Karl Tunberg. Vidal agreed to work with Christopher Fry to rework the screenplay on the condition that MGM let him out of the last two years of his contract. The death of the producer, Sam Zimbalist, however, led to complications in allotting the credit. The Screenwriters Guild resolved the issue by listing Tunberg as the sole screenwriter, denying credit to both Vidal and Fry. Charlton Heston was less than pleased with the (carefully and deliberately veiled) homosexuality of a scene Vidal claims to have written and has denied that Vidal had significant involvement in the script.[1] (http://www.isebrand.beliefnet.com/page4.html)

In the 1960s, Vidal wrote three highly successful novels. The meticulously researched Julian (1964) dealt with the apostate Roman Emperor, while Washington, D.C. (1967) focused on a political family during the FDR era. The third novel was unexpected–the satirical transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge (1968).

After two unsuccessful plays, Weekend (1968) and An Evening With Richard Nixon (1972), and the strange semi-autobiographical novel Two Sisters, Vidal would focus mainly on his essays and two distinct strains of his novels: historical novels dealing with American history such as Burr (1973), 1876 (1976), Lincoln (1984), Empire (1987), Hollywood (1989), The Golden Age (2000) and another excursion into the ancient world Creation (1981, published in expanded form 2002); and the funny and often merciless "satirical inventions" Myron (1975, a sequel to Myra Breckinridge), Kalki (1978), Duluth (1983), Live From Golgotha (1992) and The Smithsonian Institution (1998).

Vidal also occasionally returned to write for cinema and television including a TV movie of Billy the Kid with Val Kilmer and a mini-series of Lincoln. Although he wrote the original script for the controversial film Caligula, he tried to have his name removed from the final result.

Perhaps contrary to his own wishes, Vidal is more respected as an essayist than novelist. He writes chiefly on political, historical, and literary themes. He won the National Book Award in 1993 for United States (1952-1992). A subsequent collection to 2000 is The Last Empire. Since then he has published "pamphlets" highly critical of the present Bush-Cheney administration as well as the text on America's founding fathers, Inventing A Nation. He published a well-received memoir, Palimpsest in 1995, and according to recent reports is working on the follow-up.

In the early 1970s, Vidal moved to Italy and was cast as himself in Federico Fellini's film Roma. His liberal politics are well-documented and in 1987 he wrote a series of essays entitled Armageddon, exploring the intricacies of power in contemporary America, and ruthlessly pillorying the presidential incumbent Ronald Reagan, whom he once famously described as a "triumph of the embalmer's art". Besides his politician grandfather, Vidal has other connections to the Democratic Party; his mother, Nina, married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., who later became the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Vidal is a 5th cousin of Jimmy Carter. He was also an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 1960, losing a very close election in a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River. He lost a second attempt in 1982, despite the backing of such liberal celebrities as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Vidal has said that he and Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, are distant cousins, but genealogical research has uncovered no such family link.

He co-starred in the 1994 film, Bob Roberts, with Tim Robbins, as well as other films, notably Gattaca, With Honors and Igby Goes Down.

Vidal is noted as a self-publicist and if a more accurate definition of his view on things were required, it is neatly summed up in the tongue-in-cheek assertion from a magazine interview: "There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

In August 2004, the New York Times reported that Vidal, now 79, was selling his 5,000 square foot (460 m²) cliff-side villa in Italy, which had been his principal residence for 30 years, for health reasons and was moving permanently to his other home in Los Angeles.

Missing image
Gore Vidal now advanced in years

Views on September 11, 2001

Vidal is critical of the Bush administration, as he has been of previous U.S. administrations that he considers to have either an explicit or implicit expansionist agenda. He has frequently made the point in interviews, essays, and in a recent book that Americans "are now governed by a junta of oil-Pentagon men ... both Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on". He makes the case that for several years this group and their associates have aimed to control the oil of central Asia (after, in his view, gaining effective control of the oil of the Persian Gulf in 1991). Specifically regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks, Vidal writes how such an attack, which he claims American intelligence warned was coming, politically justified the plans the administration already had in August 2001 for invading Afghanistan the following October.

He discusses the lack of defense, among them the ninety-minute delay in getting fighter planes into the air to intercept the hijacked airliners, compared with the five minutes or so one would expect after a hijacking report; the lack of comparison to previous hijackings (in which fighters were rarely scrambled) is notable. If, he says, these huge failures were incompetence, they would deserve "a number of courts martial with an impeachment or two thrown in". Instead there is to be only a limited inquiry into how the "potential breakdowns among federal agencies ... could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur." This, concludes Vidal, in the denouement of his conspiracy theory, proves that the administration in fact let the attack happen, in order to allow just about all options for domination in world oil supplies under the banner of noble war against an Axis of Evil.

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 (1973)
  • Matters of Fact and of Fiction (1977)
  • 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 0233988033
  • Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992) ISBN 1878825003
  • United States: essays 1952–1992 (1993) ISBN 0767908066
  • Palimpsest: a memoir (1995) ISBN 0679440380
  • Virgin Islands (1997) (UK only)
  • The American Presidency (1998) ISBN 1878825151
  • Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings (1999)
  • The Last Empire: essays 1992–2000 (2001) ISBN 037572639X (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 156025405X
  • Dreaming War: blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, (2002) ISBN 1560255021
  • Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003) ISBN 0300101716
  • Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (2004)



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 (1954) as Edgar Box
  • Death Likes It Hot (1954) as Edgar Box

External links


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