Remembering Gore Vidal

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Few embraced their place in American culture with such passion and relish. Gore Vidal was the ultimate man of letters who once said: "There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."

Born on October 3, 1925 in West Point, New York, Vidal's distinguished writing career began when he wrote his first novel at the age of 19. Over the course of his career, he would write over 25 novels, along with various works of nonfiction, essays, and screenplays as a contract writer for MGM Studios. Vidal helped doctor the script of the 1959 epic Ben-Hur. His third novel, The City and the Pillar, was one of the very first American novels to feature a well-adjusted gay protagonist. Published in 1948, the book generated a huge backlash of controversy for its frank and open portrayal of homosexuality. 

John Nichols is a writer for The Nation and was a friend of Vidal's. Vidal, he recalls, was not afraid to argue, but valued his friends. "If he disagreed with you, you knew it immediately," Nichols says. 

"[However], the fact is, he was a wonderful friend — very attentive, very caring, extremely interested," Nichols says. "He had what I will describe as the best [characteristic] in a friend — a staggering memory. When you would get together, sometimes having not seen each other for months, he would remember exactly where the conversation had broke off." 

Very often, those conversations would take the form of political debates. Vidal was outspoken in his opinions, and was one of President George W. Bush's most vocal critics. "He loved politics. He adored the debate, he adored the actual game of politics," Nichols says. "He liked to imagine that he could have sat with Jefferson and Madison and the other Founders, and told them how to get it right."

Vidal's constant criticism of elected officials and American democracy in general was a product of his desire to see that democracy improve. He was fascinated by what Nichols calls "explosions of democracy," like impeachment, and once called for a second Constitutional Convention to correct the document. "The funny thing is that if you know about the Founders, you would know that they would have been right with him," Nichols says. 

Vidal's passion for history and politics manifested itself in his novels. One of his most acclaimed, Julian, is written from the perspective of the eponymous fourth-century Roman emperor who challenges the spread of Christianity. 

"The most remarkable thing about Gore is that he spoke in perfectly written pages," Nichols says. "Those recordings of him are just one example of what I think is going to be an incredibly rich legacy." 

Vidal, who died yesterday from complications with pneumonia, was 86 years old. 

Guests:

John Nichols

Produced by:

Robert Balint

Comments [6]

For those that have actually read Vidal's written works it is a tragic day indeed. We have lost one of this countries
greatest writers, political thinkers and historians. Bradbury, Hutchins and now Gore, gone all in the same year. How terribly sad for us all.

Aug. 01 2012 03:30 PM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Occasionally, I toy with a play about Vidal and Norman Mailer that is a combination of The Odd Couple and Waiting for Godot.

What I always loved about Vidal was his ability to go after tough guys like Buckley and Mailer.

He was always able to go after these guys without losing his cool...

Oh and Buckley in my play, is a God who is always wrong but convincing.

Aug. 01 2012 10:49 AM
Naimar from Valdosta, Georgia

The words that came to mind when listening to this piece were fawning, truclking and obsequious.
This segment reminded me of a Vidal quote " Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they're scraping the top of the barrel."

He was a great writer, at times funny, superficially insightful and an incorrigible blowhard. The article made him out to be a gay savior we should all aspire to be. It was fluff that was difficult to bear.

Aug. 01 2012 10:17 AM
Linus from Brooklyn

Surely Gore Vidal would have nodded at Chicago journalist Sydney J. Harris's comment noting that "Any philosophy that can be put in a nutshell, belongs there."

I'm sorry that Vidal didn't have a chance to slice and dice Andrew Hacker, the stuffed puffball you featured yesterday: it would have been mighty entertaining. Incidentally, did you even vet that guy? Two years ago he was making his rounds on NPR lamenting how tenure was destroying education and criticizing students for pursuing vocational education. Isn't he just the sort of crackpot you should be wise enough to leave off the air?

Aug. 01 2012 09:24 AM
Eileen S. Smith from Great Neck, N. Y.

I remember when Gore Vidal came to the Book Club at NYU in the fifties. I was a student who worked at functions like these and generally paid little attention to the guest authors. This was not possible with Gore Vidal. His very classy manner of speaking and his extraordinary good looks made me stop what I was doing and pay attention to what he was saying. He was tall, fair-haired and very imposing and I realized that it was a coup for NYU to get him to come and speak to the literary segment of the student body.

Aug. 01 2012 09:11 AM
Karl from Denver

It isn't Vidal, but maybe it fits: Will Rogers: "If stupidity got us into this mess, why can't it get us back out?"

But maybe that quote is better remembered after President Romney is inaugurated.

Aug. 01 2012 09:07 AM

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