Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay Literary Lion, Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.” Gore Vidal, Julian

Los Angeles, California – Gay intellectual and literary giant, Gore Vidal, died Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills.  He succumbed to pneumonia after what his nephew, Burr Steers, called “a long illness.” Vidal was 86.

Charles McGrath of the New York Times writes in his obituary, “Mr. Vidal was, at the end of his life, an Augustan figure who believed himself to be the last of a breed, and he was probably right.”  Eugene Gore Vidal, born at the U.S. Military Academy where his father was an assistant football coach and flying instructor, grew up in the patrician environs of New York City. He dropped his first name so he would not be confused with his father, Eugene Vidal Sr.  His grandfather, Senator T.P. Gore of Oklahoma, tried to steer his grandson toward a life of politics.  Instead, Vidal pursued a literary career, eventually churning out more than 25 books, numerous celebrated essays, a raft of plays for theater, and many successful and lucrative screenplays for Hollywood.

By turns moody, brooding, trenchant, and uncommonly brilliant, Vidal was a star in the remarkable constellation of gay writers who transformed American life and set their stamp on gay culture throughout the world.  Vidal had a celebrated feud with Truman Capote, a rich friendship with Tennessee Williams, and wrote alongside James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Christopher Isherwood. His 1947 novel, The City and the Pillar, was the earliest fiction title in American literature to feature a fully gay character.

Vidal loved sex but rejected labels.  It was clear that his preference was for men, whom he cruised with abandon.  Yet, the only person he ever loved, to whom he dedicated The City and the Pillar, was Jimmie Trimble, a classmate of his at the exclusive St. Alban’s School, who died on Iwo Jima.

Vidal carried out a highly publicized antagonism with conservative maven, William F. Buckley Jr., who, in a fit of pique at being bested by Vidal’s razor tongue and superior wit, denounced him as a “queer” on national television. Vidal accused Buckley of libeling him (though at a later time he agreed that he was, indeed, gay), and the quarrel spilled over into print.  Buckley wrote in the August 1969 Esquire Magazine, “On Experiencing Gore Vidal,” with the subtitle, “Can there be any justification in calling a man a queer before ten million people on television?”  Vidal answered with a broadside of his own in the September edition, entitled “A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley, Jr.,” with the subheading, “Can there be any justification in calling a man a pro crypto Nazi before ten million people on television?”  The cover of the magazine flashed the title, “The Kids vs. The Pigs” and a photo of a collegiate boy face-to-face with a live pig, to reflect the confrontation of youth and police at the Chicago Democratic National Convention–the nub of the argument between Vidal and Buckley.

Twice Vidal ran unsuccessfully for public office as a Democrat in New York. But his real charism was writing, and through that medium he left an indelible stamp on the creation and definition of what it means to be gay in American life. For many years, he lived abroad in Ravello, Italy, returning as needed to the States. He once said, “In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you are a great writer, you must say that you are.”  Vidal followed his own advice.  He was never able to remain quiet about his own genius.  In large measure, he was right–both about himself and the American people. 

Gore Vidal was an outlaw prince amidst a band of queer princelings who changed the fortunes of the countless LGBTQ people who followed them.  From the era prior to World War II, when gayness was thought to be unspeakably dirty and verboten, to the 21st century when queer folk have become media darlings, Vidal and his associates wrote a whole new reality into existence–a more diverse and tolerant nation than the one into which they were born.  We owe him and them for that.  And we will not forget it.

August 1, 2012 - Posted by | California, gay men, Gore Vidal, Remembrances | , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. [...] Queer intellectual and literary giant, Gore Vidal, died Tuesday :( [...]

    Pingback by Periodical Political Post *119 « milkboys – The Boys Blog | August 1, 2012 | Reply

  2. It is a great lost i like his work

    Comment by Eddy J-M Michiels | August 2, 2012 | Reply

  3. I had the chance to her Mr Vidal on CFRB a local talk station here in Toronto Canada and his wit and humor as well as well spoken prose and insight will be missed. Good-bye sir!!

    Comment by Kevin Crane | August 13, 2012 | Reply


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