Gore Vidal, Prolific Author and Provocateur, Dead at 86
It's hard for me to imagine a world without Gore Vidal. In the annals of literature, on the TV talk shows of my youth, in the screenplays of Hollywood classics, on the landscape of American politics, and in the quest for queer liberation, Vidal was ever present -- sometimes at the forefront, and always lurking in the background. Today comes word that he died last night in California.
I must confess to not being a great consumer of Gore Vidal's writings, though a high-school reading of "Visit to a Small Planet" always stayed with me. To me, Vidal was a cultural presence, not least of which because he didn't hide his romantic involvement with other men. He hated the labels of sexual orientation, especially the word "gay", describing himself, if made to put a word to it, as a bi-sexual. It was a phenomenally radical thing to do. In the 1940s, he wrote a novel about a man coming to terms with his homosexuality that put a temporary halt to Vidal's fiction-writing career. So he became a screenwriter.
Vidal's public life was not without its troubling aspects. The manner in which he criticized supporters of Israel brought charges of anti-Semitism (he called Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz and his wife Midge Decter "Israeli Fifth Columnists). And he seemed to have a soft spot for Oklahoma Cty bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Famous for feuds with other high-profile writers, he once called William F. Buckley a "cryptofascist", to which the rather effete Buckley responded by calling Vidal "a queer". (Back then, that was a perjorative.)
Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
Mr. Vidal loved conspiracy theories of all sorts, especially the ones he imagined himself at the center of, and he was a famous feuder; he engaged in celebrated on-screen wrangles with Mailer, Capote and William F. Buckley Jr. Mr. Vidal did not lightly suffer fools — a category that for him comprised a vast swath of humanity, elected officials especially — and he was not a sentimentalist or a romantic. “Love is not my bag,” he said.