Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (born October 3, 1925), known simply
as Gore Vidal, is a prolific and versatile American writer of
novels, stage plays, screenplays, and essays and has been a public
and often controversial figure on both the American literary and
political scenes for nearly sixty 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's father, Eugene Luther Vidal, was born in April 1895 in
Madison, Lake County, South Dakota, to Felix Luther Vidal (born
Sept. 1871 in Bangor, La Crosse, Wisconsin to Eugen Fidel Vidal,
an Austrian chemist from Feldkirch and a Swiss mother Emma Hartmann)
and Margaret Ann Rewalt (born August 1870 in Wrightsville, York,
Pennsylvania to a prominent physician Luther L. Rewalt, who was
of German and Scotch-Irish descent, and a mother Mary Jane Magee).
Eugene Luther Vidal worked as an engineer for A.A. Humphrey's
Military Camp in Fairfax, Virginia, in 1920.
Vidal's mother, Nina S. Gore, was born in Lawton, Comanche County,
Oklahoma, in 1904. Nina's parents were Thomas P. Gore, who was
born as "Governor Thomas Pryor Gore" on December 10,
1870 in Walthall, Sumner County, Mississippi, and Nina Belle Kay,
who was born in March 1877 in Palo Pinto, Texas. Thomas' father,
Thomas M. Gore, was born in Alabama, and his mother, Carrie E.
W., was born in South Carolina. They chose titled names for their
sons. Thomas Pryor Gore also had a brother whose first name was
Colonel. Nina Belle Kay's father was J. Thomas Kay and was born
in South Carolina. Her mother's name was Macilla, and she was
born in Mississippi.
1930, young Eugene was living with his parents and his maternal
granduncle, Howard M. Kay, at 5 Connecticut Avenue in Washington,
D.C. His maternal grandparents lived next door.
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 access unusual for a child to the
corridors of power. Senator Gore's steadfast isolationism contributed
to one of the major principles underlying Vidal's political philosophy,
which has been consistently critical of what he perceives as a
foreign (and, by extension, a domestic) policy shaped by the imperatives
of American imperialism.
graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Vidal joined the US Army
Reserve in 1943.
much of the late twentieth century, Vidal divided his time between
Ravello, Italy on the Amalfi Coast and Los Angeles, California.
He decided to sell his 5,000-square-foot (460 m²) cliffside
villa in Ravello (called La Rondinaia or Swallow's Nest) for health
reasons in 2003. He now spends most of his time living in Los
Angeles. In November 2003, Howard Austen, Vidal's life partner,
died. In February 2005, Vidal buried Austen's remains in a tomb
maintained for the two of them at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington,
is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society.
The man whom a Newsweek critic was later to describe as "the
best all-around man of letters since Edmund Wilson" began
his writing career at the age of twenty-one with publication of
the novel Williwaw, based upon his military experiences in the
Alaskan Harbor Detachment. Conventionally realistic, the book
was well received. A few years later, his pioneering novel The
City and the Pillar, which dealt candidly with gay themes, caused
such a furor that the daily New York Times refused to review his
next five books.
book was dedicated to "J.T." After rumors were published
in a magazine, Vidal eventually confirmed that this referred to
his St. Albans love Jimmie Trimble, who had died in the Battle
of Iwo Jima on June 1, 1945. Vidal later claimed that Trimble
was the only person with whom he had ever been in love. 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 later
were adapted successfully as movies.
the early 1950s, using the pseudonym Edgar Box, he wrote three
mystery novels about a fictional detective named Peter Sergeant.
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 collaborate 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 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 veiled
homosexuality of a scene which Vidal claims to have written and
has denied that Vidal had significant involvement in the script.
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 Franklin D. Roosevelt era. The third novel was as daring as
it was unexpected–the satirical transsexual comedy Myra
Breckinridge (1968), an inventive and often humorous variation
on the familiar Vidalian themes of sex, gender, and popular culture.
two commercially unsuccessful plays Weekend (1968) and An Evening
With Richard Nixon (1972) and the formally inventive but largely
underappreciated novel Two Sisters, Vidal would focus mainly on
his essays and two distinct strains in his fiction. The first
strain comprises novels dealing with American history and specfically
with the nature of national politics. Of the latter theme, the
critic Harold Bloom wrote, "Vidal's imagination of American
politics. . .is so powerful as to compel awe."
in this series include 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). The second strain is represented by 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).
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. He also wrote the original script for the controversial
film Caligula but later had his name removed because the director
and the lead actor re-wrote the script, changing the overall tone
and theme. Ironically, in a failed attempt to restore Vidal's
vision during the post-production, the producers of the film ended
up turning it into something neither Vidal, Brass, nor McDowell
had in mind.
contrary to his own wishes, Vidal is—at least in the United
States—sometimes more respected as an essayist than as a
novelist. In fact, the critic John Keats, echoing the general
if occasionally grudging consensus, praised him as "this
[the twentieth] century's finest essayist." Even an occasionally
hostile critic such as Martin Amis has admitted, "Essays
are what he is good at. . . .He is learned, funny and exceptionally
clear-sighted. Even his blind spots are illuminating." Accordingly,
Vidal has for six decades brought his wit, intelligence, free-ranging
knowledge and inimitable voice to bear on a wide variety of socio-political
(including sexual), historical, and literary themes.
won the National Book Award in 1993 for United States (1952–1992),
the citation for which noted: "Whatever his subject, he addresses
it with an artist's resonant appreciation, a scholar's conscience,
and the persuasive powers of a great essayist." A subsequent
collection in 2000 is The Last Empire. Since then, he has published
"pamphlets" highly critical of the present Bush-Cheney
administration as well as a 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,
tentatively titled Point-to-Point Navigation.
the 1960s, Vidal moved to Italy and was cast as himself in Federico
Fellini's film Roma. His political views—often characterized
as "liberal" or "progressive" but perhaps
better described as radical in their disdain for privilege and
power—are well-documented. 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."
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 fifth 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. In 1982, he lost to Jerry Brown in the California Democratic
Party senatorial primary despite the backing of such liberal celebrities
as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
frequently identified with Democratic causes and personalities,
Vidal has written: "[t]here is only one party in the United
States, the Property party. . .and it has two right wings: Republican
and Democrat. Republicans are a bit stupider, more rigid, more
doctrinaire in their laissez-faire capitalism than the Democrats,
who are cuter, prettier, a bit more corrupt---until recently.
. .and more willing than the Republicans to make small adjustments
when the poor, the black, the anti-imperialists get out of hand.
But, essentially, there is no difference between the two parties."
Vidal has said that he and Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president,
are distant cousins, but research has not succeeded in establishing
a precise genealogical link.
co-starred in the 1992 film Bob Roberts with Tim Robbins as well
as other films, notably Gattaca, With Honors, and Igby Goes Down.
his gruffer contemporary Norman Mailer, Vidal is noted as a clever
and tireless self-publicist. If a more accurate definition of
his view on things were required, it is neatly summed up in his
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."
2005, Jay Parini was appointed as Vidal's literary executor.
Vidal considers himself a "radical reformer" who has
been described as wanting to return to the "pure republicanism"
of early America. As a prep school student, he was a supporter
of the America First Committee. Unlike other supporters of the
movement, he continues to hold that the United States should not
have become involved in World War II (although he now appears
to believe that material assistance to the Allies was a good idea).
He has also suggested that President Roosevelt "incited"
the Japanese to attack the United States to allow American entry
into the war and believes that FDR had advance knowledge of the
a political activist, he became a 1960 Democratic candidate for
Congress from upstate New York ("You'll get more with Gore"),
receiving the most votes of any Democrat in fifty years. From
1970 to 1972, he was one of the chairmen of the People's Party,
and in California's 1982 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he
finished second in a field of nine (polling a half-million votes).
News hired Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr. as analysts for the
1968 Republican and Democratic presidential coventions, predicting
that viewers would enjoy seeing two men famous for their acerbic
wit and sarcasm engage in verbal combat on-air. Verbal combat
was definitely joined, and very nearly physical combat as well.
After days of bickering that often devolved into childish "ad
hominem" attacks on both sides, Vidal referred to Buckley
as a "pro-crypto Nazi," to which Buckley, visibly livid,
riposted thusly: "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me
a pro-crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face and you'll
apologized to Vidal in a lengthy essay published in Esquire magazine
in August 1969, entitled "On Experiencing Gore Vidal"
(anthologized in The Governor Listeth, a collection of Buckley's
writings from the period). In a key passage that attacked Vidal
as an apologist for homosexuality, Buckley wrote that "the
man who in his essays proclaims the normalcy of his affliction
[i.e., homosexuality], and in his art the desirability of it,
is not to be confused with the man who bears his sorrow quietly.
The addict is to be pitied and even respected, not the pusher."
September 1969 edition of Esquire included a response by Vidal,
in which Vidal variously characterized Buckley as "anti-black,"
"anti-semitic," and a "warmonger." The presiding
judge in what became Buckley's subsequent libel suit against Vidal
initially concluded that "[t]he court must conclude that
Vidal's comments in these paragraphs meet the minimal standard
of fair comment. The inferences made by Vidal from Buckley's [earlier
editorial] statements cannot be said to be completely unreasonable."
Vidal also heavily implied that Buckley and/or unnamed members
of his family had vandalized a church in their hometown of Sharon,
Connecticut, in 1944 after the wife of the pastor sold a home
to a Jewish family. Buckley sued Vidal and Esquire magazine for
libel, and Vidal counterclaimed for libel against Buckley, citing
Buckley's characterization of Vidal's novel Myra Breckenridge
claim was dismissed by the court, and Buckley eventually settled
for $115,000 in attorney's fees and a statement from Esquire magazine
that they were "utterly convinced" of the untruthfulness
of Vidal's assertion. However, in a letter to Newsweek, the publisher
of Esquire stated that "the settlement of Buckley's suit
against us" was not "a 'disavowal' of Vidal's article.
On the contrary, it clearly states that we published that article
because we believed that Vidal had a right to assert his opinions,
even though we did not share them."
one of Vidal's biographers, Fred Kaplan, later commented, "The
court had not sustained Buckley's case against Esquire. . .The
court had not ruled that Vidal's article was 'defamatory.' It
had ruled that the case would have to go to trial in order to
determine as a matter of fact whether or not it was defamatory.
The cash value of the settlement with Esquire represented only
Buckley's legal expenses [as opposed to damages based on libel].
. . ." Vidal ultimately bore his own attorney's fees, estimated
entire affair surfaced again in 2003 when Esquire published Esquire's
Big Book of Great Writing, an anthology that included Vidal's
essay. Buckley again sued for libel, and Esquire again settled
for $55,000 in attorney's fees and $10,000 in damages to Buckley
has stirred up controversy regarding his relations with Timothy
McVeigh. The two began a correspondence while McVeigh was in prison,
and Vidal believes that McVeigh either had accomplices or was
framed for the Oklahoma City terrorist attack. Vidal also has
suggested that the attack may have been carried out by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation in order to pass stronger anti-terrorist
laws. In another interview he said that Timothy McVeigh had bombed
the federal building as retribution for the FBI's role in "spying
on and murdering Americans."
1994, Vidal contributed a preface to Israel Shahak's highly controversial
book Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand
Years, which has been criticized by Talmudic scholars.
his preface, Vidal states that: "(s)ometime in the late 1950s,
that world-class gossip and occasional historian John Frank Kennedy
told me how, in 1948, Harry S Truman had been pretty much abandoned
by everyone when he came to run for president. Then an American
Zionist brought him two million dollars in cash, in a briefcase,
aboard his whistle-stop campaign train. 'That's why our recognition
of Israel was rushed through so fast.' As neither Jack nor I was
an anti-semite (unlike his father and my grandfather), we took
this to be just another funny story about Truman and the serene
corruption of American politics."
is a member of the advisory board of the World Can't Wait organization,
which demands the impeachment of George W. Bush, and the charging
of his administration with crimes against humanity.
on September 11, 2001
Vidal is strongly critical of the George W. 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 claims 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 that American intelligence
warned was coming, politically justified the plans that the administration
already had in August 2001 for invading Afghanistan the following
discusses the lack of defense, including the delay in getting
fighter planes into the air to intercept the hijacked airliners,
compared with the time one might expect after a hijacking report.
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, opens the possibility that the administration
in fact let the attack happen, in order to capitalize on a catalyzing
event that would enable it to achieve controversial policy goals
under the rubric of a War on Terror.
regard monotheism as the greatest disaster ever to befall the
human race. I see no good in Judaism, Christianity, or Islam --
good people, yes, but any religion based on a single, well, frenzied
and virulent god, is not as useful to the human race as, say,
Confucianism, which is not a religion but an ethical and educational
is such a silly religion."
people get hung up on theology, they've lost sanity forever. More
people have been killed in the name of Jesus Christ than any other
name in the history of the world."
idea of a good society is something you do not need a religion
and eternal punishment to buttress; you need a religion if you
are terrified of death."
a born-again atheist."
antihuman religions have evolved -- Judaism, Christianity and
Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal
-- God is the omnipotent father -- hence the loathing of women
for 2,000 years in those countries afflicted by the skygod and
his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god, of course.
He requires total obedience from everyone on earth, as he is in
place not just for one tribe but for all creation. Those who would
reject him must be converted or killed for their own good. Ultimately,
totalitarianism is the only sort of politics that can truly serve
the sky-god's purpose. Any movement of a liberal nature endangers
his authority and that of his delegates on earth. One God, one
King, one Pope, one master in the factory, one father-leader in
the family at home."