Novelist, playwright, politician and commentator Gore Vidal died July 31 in Los Angeles. He was 86. Along with such contemporaries as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was considered both a literary genius and a celebrity. His works included hundreds of essays, novels such as Lincoln and Myra Breckenridge and scores of plays.
In his attacks on the establishment, Vidal appeared as brutal as he was exacting. He bemoaned what he said would be the eventual demise of democracy and America’s political power, as well as the destruction of the environment. His sometimes overwhelming contempt for everyone and everything around him alienated him from the same literary world in which he thrived. Besides an honorary National Book Award, he won few major writing prizes and initially declined membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, joking that he already belonged to the Diners Club.
Born in West Point, NY, Vidal’s grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, was a U.S. senator from Oklahoma. His father, Gene Vidal, served briefly in President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration and was an early expert on aviation. Amelia Earhart was a family friend and reported lover of Gene Vidal.
Unable to make a living from fiction, at least when identified as “Gore Vidal,” he wrote a trio of mystery novels in the 1950’s under the pen name “Edgar Box” and also wrote fiction as “Katherine Everard” and “Cameron Kay.” He wrote for the theater and television. “The Best Man,” which premiered in 1960, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda. Paul Newman starred in “The Left-Handed Gun,” a film adaptation of Vidal’s “The Death of Billy the Kid.” He the script for “Suddenly Last Summer” and added a subtle homoerotic context to “Ben-Hur.” The author himself later appeared in a documentary about gays in Hollywood, “The Celluloid Closet.” His acting credits included “Gattaca,” “With Honors” and the political satire, “Bob Roberts.”
In recent years, Vidal wrote the novel “The Smithsonian Institution” and the nonfiction best sellers “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace” and “Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney – Bush Junta.” A second memoir, “Point to Point Navigation,” came out in 2006.
“Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge,” he once wrote, “all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. No thing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.”