A genuine renaissance man, Gore Vidal has not only written everything from novels to screenplays, he has acted in some of those films, has run for political office and has played the proverbial role of provocateur to the media.
Vidal told the Deseret Morning News that he has found playwriting "pretty exciting, because you have actors to illuminate your text but writing essays has given relief to my brain."
Speaking by phone from his Hollywood home, the formidable Vidal seemed relaxed and thoughtful. He is pleased with his second memoir, "Point to Point Navigation, 1964-2006," an enjoyable book and a companion volume to his first memoir, "Palimpsest" (1995).
Vidal, 82, has been close friends with some of the most important people of our time and he he freely comments on them. For instance, he saw another side of Johnny Carson than most television viewers: "Johnny was very underestimated, because he was the only national satirist we had.
"It was always nice to have his monologue on our public life, but he was not just a jokey man. He was very serious, very bright and very quick."
As a young woman, Susan Sarandon starred in her first play, "An Evening With Richard Nixon," which was written in the 1970s by Vidal, and he said that he is close to her and her family, and that he thinks highly of her intellectual abilities. One of her children is his godson. "Always a godfather, never a god."
Vidal was a close friend of Tennessee Williams, a man he considers "our greatest playwright." They met in 1948 and often traveled together. "Toward the end of his life, I didn't see him much. I was invited to help get his final play ready to perform on Broadway. Peter Bogdanovich wants to direct it. The play is about death and is called 'Tempest.'"
He was also "fond of Saul Bellow," the legendary novelist. "He was such a crank. We disagreed on everything, but he was extremely intelligent. Novelists tend to be anti-intellectual, but he was one of the few of my fellow writers I could talk to about ideas."
Vidal was also a frequent visitor to President John F. Kennedy, whose wife, Jackie, was related to him by the marriage of his mother and her stepfather. In 1960, the year Kennedy was elected to the White House, Vidal ran for office as a Democrat in the 29th Congressional District in New York's Hudson Valley. Vidal lost the election, but he outpolled Kennedy in the heavily Republican district.
"In 1982, I ran against sitting Governor Jerry Brown in the U.S. Senate primary in California," Vidal said. "I came in second to him in a field of nine candidates but I never liked asking people for money. During the campaign, Sen. Cranston, D-Calif., asked me if I knew what I was getting into. He said, 'If you're elected, unless you want to sell out to one of the great lobbies, you have to raise $10,000 a week during the six years you serve. That's 312 weeks."'
Vidal said that was enough to scare him out of politics.
His novel "The City and the Pillar," written in 1946, was one of the first novels in the country to address same-sex attraction, and thus it received a great deal of attention. In fact, for many years, Vidal lived with his own same-sex companion, Howard Auster. When Auster died, Vidal went into deep grief. "I'm a stoic."
Vidal is very vocal about politics and very hard on the Bush administration. "We have lost the republic. The Bill of Rights is gone. The powers of the president are not inherent, as Mr. Bush keeps saying they are enumerated. And you can't pretend something more or you are inventing."
The author is convinced that Bush will be judged by historians to be the worst president in our history. "Bush is not a wartime president. First you have to have a country to go to war with and then you need Congress to declare war. Bush is a warlike, aggressive president who has attacked countries that have done nothing to us. Now if we go into Iran, we are going to have our heads handed to us."
Vidal's most current interest is in promoting Al Gore for president in 2008. He recently wrote a piece for Playboy, in which, as he puts it, he came out for Albert. "In the article, I talk about the three senators Gore Senator Gore who served from Oklahoma for 30 years, (Vidal's grandfather), violently opposing Woodrow Wilson's war; then Sen. Albert Gore (Albert's father), who was vigorously opposed to the Vietnam War; now we have Albert Gore, the former vice president, who has come forth to save the planet. I think Albert should show the Gore flag."
Title: "Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir"
Author: Gore Vidal
E-mail: [email protected]