Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal, RIP

I was reading a book by Gore Vidal----a collection of essays. He mentioned in it that people today prefer reading books about novels to reading novels, which bothered me a bit because it was, at least at that point, true in my case. I had never read anything by Alain Robbe-Grillet, but a few months later, when a friend of mine told me about an unpleasant encounter he had with Robbe-Grillet in Europe, I was able to say that I knew who he was because I had read Gore Vidal's essay responding to Robbe-Grillet's essay on how to revive the novel as an art form.

Gore Vidal has died at age 86. He worked as a screenwriter, a novelist, he wrote essays and was commentator. He appeared on TV with William F Buckley, Jr, commenting on the Democratic National Convention in '68. Buckley said that anti-war protesters were like Nazis. Vidal told him that the only there who was a Nazi, crypto or otherwise, was Buckley. Buckley got his panties in a bunch and started sputtering. I don't remember his exact words. It's on You Tube. Buckley said to stop calling him a crypto Nazi, called Vidal a "queer" and physically threatened him, then said that he wrote pornography.

Vidal criticized Israel and was predictably smeared as an anti-semite. He appears in Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans in which Kerouac hints at the fact that he slept with him.

He was one of the writers for the movie Ben Hur. There was a problem with the story. It made no sense. The story was that, when Ben Hur (Charelton Heston) was a teenager, he was friends with a Roman name Messala (Stephen Boyd). When Messala returns to Palestine years later, he meets up with Ben Hur, they have two minute political disagreement, and for the next twenty years Messala persecutes Ben Hur and his family.

Vidal came up with an explanation for this inexplicable plot. He decided that, as teenagers, Ben Hur and Messala had been lovers. When they meet again, Messala wants to resume their relationship but Ben Hur isn't interested. This is what sets him off.

Vidal told this to Stephen Boyd that's how he played the scene. Charelton Heston was not told.


Since I talked about Chad Everett's Dick Cavett Show appearance, I guess I should talk about how Gore faced down the slightly drunken Norman Mailer. Vidal had written about Mailer in the New York Review of Books and Mailer was unhappy. He thought Vidal had made a subtle reference to Mailer's spousal abuse.

"I'm beginning to see what bothers you now," Vidal said. "I'm getting the point."

"Are you ready to apologize?" Mailer said.

"I would apologize if it hurt your feelings, of course I would."

"No, it hurts my sense of intellectual pollution."

"Well, I must say, as an expert, you would know."

And, finally, I saw some film of Vidal and his friend, Kurt Vonnegut. Vidal had just acted in the movie Bob Roberts and did pretty well. Vonnegut said that he had been in a movie, too----he appeared briefly in Back To School starring Rodney Dangerfield. Vidal said that they had offered him the role first, but he told them that under no circumstances would he do a nude scene.

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