Saturday Art: Influential Authors: Gore Vidal
For some reason, I have always preferred fiction to non-fiction. Yet when I think of Gore Vidal as an author, I tend to think of all his essays rather than his fiction works though I’ve read a number of his novels. From his wiki intro:
Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (/???r v??d??l/; born Eugene Louis Vidal, October 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012) was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. As a well-known public intellectual, he was known for his patrician manner and witty aphorisms. Vidal’s grandfather was the U.S. Senator Thomas Gore of Oklahoma.
Biography.com has a little more robust synopsis of Vidal:
American writer Gore Vidal is known for many popular screenplays, plays and novels, as well as other literary works. He wrote and published more than 200 essays and 24 novels throughout his career, which included a venture into politics, a stint as a popular talk-show guest and even running for political office. Among Vidal’s most famous works are the 1960s books Julian and Myra Breckinridge; the 1984 novel Lincoln; his 1993 political work United States: Essays 1952-1992, for which he won the National Book Award; and his 1995 memoir, Palimpsest. Vidal died on July 31, 2012, from complications due to pnemonia, at his home in Hollywood Hills, California.
As I look through Vidal’s wiki entry, it is fascinating to see just how eclectic his interests were. From his Essays and Non-fiction, his novels, screenplays, to his various media appearances it’s difficult to imagine a more wide-ranging public persona.
Politically, Vidal was a liberal though according to wiki, he called himself a conservative on an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher. He feuded with Norman Mailer and William F. Buckley (among others). Mailer allegedly head-butted Vidal during the taping of The Dick Cavett Show leading Vidal to quip:
Once again, words failed Norman Mailer.
I have not read all of Vidal’s novels but as I looked through the list of books, I know I have read some interesting books from him. He offered an interesting characterization of Aaron Burr in Burr. From the Goodreads synopsis:
Burr is a portrait of perhaps the most complex and misunderstood of the Founding Fathers. In 1804, while serving as vice president, Aaron Burr fought a duel with his political nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, and killed him. In 1807, he was arrested, tried, and acquitted of treason. In 1833, Burr is newly married, an aging statesman considered a monster by many. Burr retains much of his political influence if not the respect of all. And he is determined to tell his own story. As his amanuensis, he chooses Charles Schermerhorn Schuyler, a young New York City journalist, and together they explore both Burr’s past and the continuing political intrigues of the still young United States.
According to the wiki for Burr, Vidal “meticulously researched” the book but offers an interesting interpretation that differs greatly from the conventional perspective. One thing I remember from the book is that Aaron Burr was rumored to be the father of Martin Van Buren. Burr is the first chronologically of Vidal’s seven book series Narratives of Empire. I have also read Lincoln and 1876
It almost seems impossible that the same person who wrote Burr and Lincoln was also the author of Myra Breckinridge and Myron. I remember when Myra Breckinridge was first published and how to some critics, it seemed the end of Western Civilization. I did read both books and can only say that my education was furthered.
Just as with the rest of his writing, Vidal has an interesting mix of credits listed on IMDB. He has forty-four writing credits including an uncredited writing support for the movie Ben Hur (one of four on that movie.) He wrote the play The Left Handed Gun that later became a Paul Newman movie. The novel Lincoln was adapted to a TV movie starring Sam Waterston as Lincoln and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Todd Lincoln. He wrote the screenplay for the movie Caligula which wiki describes as:
a 1979 Italo–American erotic biographical drama film directed by Tinto Brass from a script by Gore Vidal, with additional scenes filmed by Giancarlo Lui and Bob Guccione. The film concerns the rise and fall of Roman Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, better known as Caligula. It was co-financed by Penthouse magazine and produced by Guccione and Franco Rossellini. It stars Malcolm McDowell, Teresa Ann Savoy, Helen Mirren, Peter O’Toole and John Gielgud.
Guccione, the publisher of the erotic magazine Penthouse and other similar publications, didn’t allow director Brass to edit the film, but instead changed its tone by removing and changing many scenes, in addition to adding pornographic and semi-pornographic scenes that hadn’t been filmed by Brass or scripted by Vidal. In return, Brass refused to be credited as “director” in the final film. Caligula remains one of the most infamous cult films ever made and remains banned in several countries to this day.[
Myra Breckinridge was also made into a movie, often described as one of the worst films ever made. Do check the full cast of this movie as it does have some quite interesting names.
Picture from Mark Coggins licensed under Creative Commons