He Was One of Our Best-Known Writers. Controversial Novelist, Playwright, Screenwriter, TV Writer and Commentator Gore Vidal Dead at 86

Jul 31, 2012  •  Post A Comment

Gore Vidal, 86, "died Tuesday [night] at his home in the Hollywood Hills of complications of pneumonia, said [Vidal’s] nephew Burr Steers," reports the Los Angeles Times.

In Vidal’s obituary by Tina Fineberg of the Associated Press, she writes, "Along with such contemporaries as Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was among the last generation of literary writers who were also genuine celebrities — fixtures on talk shows and in gossip columns, personalities of such size and appeal that even those who hadn’t read their books knew who they were.

"His works included hundreds of essays; the best-selling novels ‘Lincoln’ and ‘Myra Breckenridge’; the groundbreaking ‘The City and the Pillar,’ among the first novels about openly gay characters; and the Tony-nominated play ‘The Best Man,’ revived on Broadway in 2012."

Reuters writes, "His most famous literary enemies were conservative pundit William F. Buckley Jr. and writer Norman Mailer, who Vidal once likened to cult killer Charles Manson.

"Mailer head-butted Vidal before a television appearance [on the ‘Dick Cavett Show’] and on another occasion knocked him to the ground.

"Vidal and Buckley took their feud to live national television while serving as commentators at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Vidal accused Buckley of being a ‘pro-crypto-Nazi’ while Buckley called Vidal a ‘queer’ and threatened to punch him."

One of Vidal’s most famous works for TV was a play for the "Goodyear Television Playhouse" in 1955 called "Visit to a Small Planet." Vidal later adapted it for Broadway and then for Hollywood as a movie starring Jerry Lewis.

Vidal began writing for TV in 1954 with "Dark Possession," a "Studio One" drama starring Geraldine Fitzgerald. CBS’s "Studio One" was a drama anthology — a different drama was presented every week.

In the 2008 boxed set of a collection of "Studio One" episodes put out by Koch Entertainment Vidal says, " ‘Dark Possession’ was the first play I ever wrote and this was during the dark days when The New York Times decided in its wisdom not to review any novel by me starting with ‘The City and the Pillar,’ which had given offense to them.  [TVWeek note: The Times started its policy of ignoring Vidal because it was offended by the frank depiction of homosexuality in ‘The City and the Pillar.’] In those days I had a wonderful agent called Harold Franklin who asked me if I would write plays for television. I said, ‘I think I’d better watch one first, don’t you?’ "

The Reuters story adds that Vidal "once described the United States as ‘the land of the dull and the home of the literal’ and starting in the 1960s lived much of the time in a seaside Italian villa [near the town of Ravello on the picturesque Amalfi Coast]. He moved back [to the United States] permanently in 2003, shortly before Howard Austen, his companion of more than 50 years, died of cancer."

Here’s a clip from the famous Vidal and Mailer confrontation on the "Dick Cavett Show." It was taped on Dec. 15, 1971. The woman is Janet Flanner, the late Paris correspondent of the New Yorker.


  1. A terrible sense of loss throughout the civilized world! I suppose it was inevitable, even the magnificent Gore Vidal leaves the known world, but still shocking and sad.
    But we should rejoice by re(reading) some of those masterpieces he delivered to us – well Burr and Creation and 1876 of course, but what about the sly Kalki? Best Man, naturally, screenplay for Suddenly Last Summer, well nobody’s perfect.
    The very definition of articulate, decades ahead of his time, feisty until the end (Bill Maher this year), the wonderful raconteur and brilliant, innovative man of the world will live on for us.

  2. This clip shows everything that is missing from TV today. No one is shouting. Each person is allowed by the other to complete a thought. The intellectual back-and-forth as well as out right thumb-in-the-eye personnal jabs make for a truly watchable and fascinating talk show.

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