Eugene Luther Vidal, better known as Gore Vidal (born October 3, 1925), is a well-known American writer of novels, plays, and essays, who would once have been called a "man of letters".
Vidal was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his father, Eugene Vidal, was an aeronautics instructor. His mother was the former Nina Gore. He later adopted, as his first name, the surname of his maternal grandfather, Thomas P. Gore, Democratic Senator from Oklahoma.
He 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. After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Gore joined the US Army Reserve in 1943. At the age of 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 on the first of June 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 alloting 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 portion of the writing Vidal claims to have written and has denied that Vidal had significant involvement in the script.
In the 1960s, Vidal wrote a number of novels, either political or historical in terms of their subject matter. Among these were Julian and Washington D.C. . He also wrote the transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge and its sequel, Myron. Particularly noted among his later novels of the 1970s and 80s are Burr, Lincoln, Creation , Duluth , and Kalki . Although he wrote the original script for the controversial film Caligula, he tried to have his name removed from the final result.
Vidal writes chiefly on political, historical, and literary themes. Much of his essay work is collected in the volumes United States and The Last Empire .
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 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.
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 defence, 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.
- (1963) Rocking the Boat
- (1992) Screening History ISBN 0233988033
- (1992) Decline and Fall of the American Empire ISBN 1878825003
- (1993) United States: essays 1952–1992 ISBN 0767908066
- (1994) Jewish History, Jewish Religion: the weight of 3000 years (with Israel Shahak) ISBN 0745308198
- (1995) Palimpsest: a memoir ISBN 0679440380
- (1995) The Invention of Heterosexuality (with Jonathan Ned Katz ) ISBN 0525938451
- (1995) America First!: its history, culture, and politics (with Bill Kauffman ) ISBN 0879759569
- (1997) Out of This Century: confessions of an art addict (With Peggy Guggenheim) ISBN 0233976019
- (1998) The American Presidency ISBN 1878825151
- (2001) The Last Empire: essays 1992–2000 ISBN 037572639X
- (2002) Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be so Hated, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 156025405X
- (2002) Dreaming War: blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 1560255021
- (2003) Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson ISBN 0300101716
As Edgar Box
- (1953) Death Before Bedtime
- (1954) Death in the Fifth Position
- (1954) Death Likes It Hot