Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal

Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was born on Oct. 3, 1925, in the Cadet Hospital of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. Vidal was named for his father, Eugene Luther Vidal, who was, at the time, an aeronautics instructor employed at the legendary institution. Later a cabinet appointee under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a pioneering Army Air Corps pilot, Vidal, Sr. went on to co-found Eastern Airlines, TWA and Northeast Airlines; the later alongside renowned aviatrix and rumored love interest, Amelia Earhart. Following his parents' 1935 divorce, Vidal was raised in Washington, D.C. by his actress-socialite mother Nina and his maternal grandfather, U.S. Senator Thomas Pryor Gore, in whose honor he adopted the simplified name of Gore Vidal. Because his grandfather had been blind since childhood - a handicap that did not prevent him from co-founding the state of Oklahoma - Vidal often read to him and was heavily influenced in his own burgeoning world view by the elder Gore's politics and love of literature, history and language.The path of Gore Vidal's formative education took him from the Quaker-run Sidwell Friends School to St. Albans, a college preparatory school in Washington, D.C. At the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Vidal was a member of a campus movement in opposition to America's entry into the looming Second World War. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and his 1943 graduation from Exeter, the 17-year-old Vidal enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves and served as a warrant officer and first mate on a supply ship in the Northern Pacific. Ferrying freight and passengers between the Aleutian Islands during a frigid squall, Vidal suffered hypothermia, which badly damaged one leg. While recuperating in a military hospital, he completed a novel he had begun writing during his long night watches. Its title, taken from the Aleut word for wind storm, Williwaw, was published in 1946 by E. P. Dutton and was one of the first of a wave of novels written by returning U.S. servicemen.While working as an editor at Dutton, Vidal completed a second novel. Set among the nightclubs, cocktail lounges and after-hours gay clubs of Manhattan, the semi-autobiographical In a Yellow Wood chronicled the postwar dissatisfaction of a former soldier who takes a lucrative but soul-crushing job as a stockbroker. The novel's poor reception, coupled with his own professional frustration, drove Vidal to journey to Guatemala, where he wrote his third novel. Published in January 1948, The City and the Pillar was a thinly-veiled memoir of Vidal's love for a fellow St. Albans student, an all-star athlete who was killed at the Battle of Iwo Jima. The novel's non-judgmental view of homosexuality, and Vidal's portrayal of gay men as masculine and normal, made The City and the Pillar a cause célèbre as well as a bestseller. Though the work was later identified as a landmark in the advancement of gay rights, Vidal found himself blacklisted in the publishing world, with no major American publication willing to review his work for the next six years.In 1954, Gore satisfied a long-suppressed desire to write for films. Between 1956 and 1970, he authored a number of screenplays and collaborated on several more as an uncredited rewrite man. While under contract to MGM, he reworked elements from The City and the Pillar into William Wyler's "Ben Hur" (1959), informing the central relationship between Charlton Heston's beleaguered Judean and Stephen Boyd's Roman tribune with homoerotic overtones. Vidal turned his hand to several film adaptations, including Paddy Chayefsky's "The Catered Affair" (1956) for director Richard Brooks, Tennessee Williams' "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959) for Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and his own "The Best Man" (1964) for Franklin J. Schaffner. Early in his career, Vidal had worked in live television, penning episodes of the omnibus series "Suspense" (CBS, 1949-1954), "Studio One in Hollywood" (CBS, 1948-1958) and "The Philco Television Playhouse" (NBC, 1948-1955). For CBS' "Climax!" (1954-58), he crafted an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as a parable of personal responsibility.During his blacklist period, Vidal wrote pulp fiction under the alias of Edgar Box. Vidal's three mystery novels featuring PR man-turned-amateur sleuth Peter Cutler Sergeant II sold briskly and attracted positive reviews by the very newspapers and magazines that had shut him out of their book review sections. In 1957, Gore's stage adaptation of his earlier satiric teleplay "Visit to a Small Planet" became a Broadway hit, winning a Tony Award and running for nearly a year at the Booth Theater; the play was adapted by Paramount Pictures for a 1959 film starring Jerry Lewis. Vidal was a Tony Award nominee for "The Best Man," which ran for 15 months at New York's Morosco Theater, but he had less success with his next three Broadway plays, which closed after limited runs. Beginning in 1961, Vidal became a familiar face on such talk shows as "The Jack Paar Show" (NBC, 1957-1962), "The Dick Cavett Show" (ABC, 1968-1972) and "The David Frost Show" (syndicated, 1969-1972), as well as popped up on Screen Gems' "Playboy After Dark" (1969) and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" (NBC, 1967-1973).At the height of his notoriety, Gore was as well known for his politics as for his fiction. A congressional campaign in 1960 and a senate run in 1982 both ended in defeat, though Gore drew many high-profile supporters. He was a frequent White House visitor during the abbreviated administration of Democratic President John F. Kennedy, but JFK's brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, viewed the author with disdain. The two became bitter enemies, despite his sister-in-law Jacqueline Kennedy's affection for Vidal. A vocal opponent of the Vietnam War, he helped found the short-lived People's Party, which touted Dr. Benjamin Spock as a presidential candidate in 1972. During the 1968 Democratic Convention, Vidal participated in a series of televised debates with conservative author William F. Buckley. The discourse turned combative and spilled over onto the pages of Esquire, which had commissioned essays by both men. The feud was renewed in 2003, when Esquire reran Vidal's "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley." Gore also enjoyed long-running feuds with novelists Truman Capote and Norman Mailer. Gore and Mailer came to blows in the green room of "The Dick Cavett Show" in 1971 but would reconcile over a decade later.Vidal received more than his fair share of negative press for two X-rated feature films with which he was associated. Based on Vidal's 1968 bestseller, Michael Sarne's "Myra Breckinridge" (1970) was an unmitigated box office disaster that was swiftly ranked among the worst films of all time. Vidal also sued unsuccessfully to have his name removed as the screenwriter of "Caligula" (1979) after producer and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione added hardcore pornographic inserts. Throughout his tenure in Hollywood, Vidal made a scattering of film appearances, playing a party delegate in "The Best Man" (1964), a frontier preacher in his own "Billy the Kid" (1989) for cable television, a conservative senator patterned after William F. Buckley in Tim Robbins' political satire "Bob Roberts" (1992), and a sinister aerospace executive in the dystopian science fiction thriller "Gattaca" (1997). He also appeared as himself in Federico Fellini's "Roma" (1972) and in an episode of the animated sitcom "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ). On July 31, 2012, Vidal passed away in his Los Angeles home of complications from pneumonia. He was 86 years old.