“Every time a friend succeeds, something inside me dies,” Vidal famously said, and the phrase has been pressed into service as the title for the British edition of Parini’s book. But on the evidence of both Parini and Mewshaw, Vidal could be a generous, thoughtful and attentive friend to those who passed his muster, and the list of those who did was considerable, somehow including even Princess Margaret. His closest relationship was with [his longtime companion Howard] Austen, who in Parini’s book emerges as a thoroughly winning character.
Parini’s guess is that it’s [Vidal's] historical novels — especially “Julian,” “Burr” and “Lincoln” — that will last, if any do, but he also suggests that it was both Vidal’s gift and his limitation that no single literary form could contain him. The essay came closest, and it’s there that Vidal most gets to show off his wit, stylishness and erudition — to be Vidal. But as Vidal was painfully aware, unless you’re Montaigne, essays won’t make your reputation. It’s possible, in fact, that Vidal will live on most vividly not on the page but on YouTube. No other American writer has been so at home on television, a medium to which he was ideally suited and where, funny, urbane, glamorous and magisterial, he could capture the attention of millions and become the imperial self he imagined.
A good read about Gore Vidal in The Guardian: "A life in feuds: how Gore Vidal gripped a nation," by Jay Parini, poet, novelist, critic, and author of Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies: The Life of Gore Vidal (published by Little, Brown this month).
Vidal vs. Capote:
Vidal lived in New York after the war, as did Capote, and they moved in the same social circle, over which Tennessee Williams presided.
Theirs was a minor squabble, with neither side missing a chance to make a joke about the other. But the feud expanded in the 60s, after Vidal had been – according to Capote, in an interview with Playgirl – tossed out of the White House by Bobby Kennedy because he was “drunk and obnoxious”. In fact Kennedy had taken offence at Vidal’s apparent intimacy with Jacqueline Kennedy – the first lady was distantly related to Vidal by marriage – and the writer had left in a huff. Vidal sued Capote over the remark, and Capote countersued. The legal case dragged on with Vidal winning in the end, though Capote had no money by then, so it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Their wrangling continued until Capote, ill from his abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, died in the late summer of 1984. When Vidal’s editor called from New York with news of his rival’s death, Vidal remarked after the briefest pause: “A wise career move.”
Mailer had made a huge splash with The Naked and the Dead, his bestselling novel of the Pacific war, frustrating Vidal, whose own war novel, Williwaw, had barely registered. The two young writers circled each other warily, and a complicated friendship began that would play out over the next five decades. The two had little in common. “Norman imagined himself by nature a kind of boxer – though he wasn’t, not really,” says Gay Talese, a friend to both men. “In reality, Norman was soft. But he put on this aggressive mask. Vidal had another kind of mask: cool, suave, worldly-wise. It was a good contrast with Norman. They played well together, but it was always a kind of act. They both understood the publicity value of this contest, and they let it play out in different ways.”
Vidal vs. Buckley:
Their most infamous confrontation came in 1968, events now captured in the feature-length documentary film Best of Enemies.
[ABC's live broadcast of the] Buckley-Vidal debates attracted 10 million viewers for each session and the saturation coverage turned both men into celebrities.
The evening debate [on the 28th of August] contained fireworks of a kind never before seen on prime-time American television. Buckley spoke for the older generation when he decried the lawlessness in the streets. He exuded patriotism. When asked by Smith if raising a Viet Cong flag in the midst of the Vietnam war was unduly provocative, Buckley nodded, saying it was like raising a Nazi flag in the US during the second world war. Vidal shook his head, referring again and again to the “right to assembly”. “What are we doing in Vietnam if you can’t freely express yourself in the streets of Chicago?” he wondered.
Buckley and Vidal, each deemed a “national treasure” at the time, are now largely forgotten, which is sad. And we have no one like them today, which is sadder. We do have plenty of “public intellectuals” — scholars, thinkers, and literary types who write for the middle-to-highbrow press and give lectures at the 92nd Street Y. Some of them tub-thump against religion; some take brave stands on sexual culture; some run for political office. But their disputes play out on Twitter and other social media, before an audience fragmented into a thousand niche groups. And none of them are glamorous and magnetic the way Buckley and Vidal were....
Read the article at nymag.com.
Gore Vidal and William J Buckley were on opposing sides of the 60s political divide, and Best of Enemies adroitly shows what happened when they met head on....It’s set in a pre-culture wars America, where anti-intellectualism was prevalent but two articulate, self-indulgent and arrogant debaters could pull in huge television audience while lamenting the other’s inability to grasp 'axiomatic' theories.
From John Patterson's review in The Guardian for the general release of Best of Enemies, "The Best Of Enemies: political feuding from the golden age of TV":
The intense 1968 TV debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley are preserved forever in a film that shows up the moronic TV screamers of today."
How one yearns for a little of their exquisitely distilled poison among the moronic TV screamers of today.
Literary aristocrats and ideological foes, [Gore] Vidal and [William F.] Buckley attracted millions of viewers to what, at the time, was a highly irregular experiment: the spectacle of two brilliant minds slugging it out — once, almost literally — on live television. It was witty, erudite and ultimately vicious, an early intrusion of full-contact punditry into the staid pastures of the evening news.
[The documentary's] directors, Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon, present their ideas with a wide scope....
“They don’t make people like Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley anymore,” Mr. Neville said in a recent interview. “Their lives are the kind of American lives that people don’t have anymore. To me, just on a theatrical level, it seemed operatic: this kind of grand battle.”
Best of Enemies, a film about the 1968 Vidal-Buckley live televised debates. The documentary includes, of course, appearances by Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, Jr., but also John Lithgow, Kelsey Grammer, Dick Cavett, Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, Matt Tyrnauer, Ginia Bellafante, Sam Tanenhaus, and Brooke Gladstone among others.
Sundance, SXSW official selection, and in cinemas July 31, 2015.
For American viewers of an intellectual/historical persuasion, there could scarcely be any documentary more enticing, scintillating and downright fascinating than Best of Enemies. A sort of brainy equivalent of the Ali-Frazier boxing matches of the same general era, the televised debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal during the two national political conventions in the convulsive year of 1968 comprised a watershed event in several ways, all of which are reflected in this outstanding documentary that will prove riveting both to those who have general memories of watching the broadcasts at the time and to younger political buffs who may never before have seen these titans of articulation and elocution in action.
No one would call Gore Vidal a big old sweetie pie, but some people who knew him were aware that this most acerbic of wits and nettlesome of contrarians could be generous and kind. One such is Michael Mewshaw, a freelance journalist and novelist, whose Sympathy for the Devil: Four Decades of Friendship with Gore Vidal purports to be what its title suggests: a memoir of friendship, and it is that, I guess, in the sense that Mewshaw occupied the position of friend. As such, he is able to show us aspects of Vidal — fastidious and unflappable in his public persona — that the man might have preferred to remain private; specifically a few instances of quiet benevolence and discreet charity, and many more of anger, resentment, churlishness, and drunkenness.
The difference between the private, welcoming Vidal and the tough customer he presented himself as in public fascinated Mewshaw:
"This astringency, this belligerent self-sufficiency, might have been necessary early in his career. But even after he achieved riches and renown, he gave the impression of being pereptually embattled. Maybe it galvanized him; maybe the struggle produced better work. Still, I wondered how much it cost him to keep fighting against enemies real and imagined."
Michael Mewshaw's new book is Sympathy for the Devil. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.)
Vidal’s Myra, the militant transgender feminist, was dangerously close to my own idea of an ideal queer: a person so aggressively gay as to be a kind of enemy of the state. The fact that she was created by someone very much a friend of the state—notoriously political and, for lack of a better word, conservative—made it all the more satisfying as a paradox. That the desire to create Myra and the desire to write about the American Civil War could exist in one person was too thrilling—and thrillingly bizarre—for me analyze too closely. What I did start to question was how Vidal—and Myra—had slipped under my radar for so long.
Above all else, “The United States of Amnesia” convincingly makes the case that Gore Vidal was something of an oracle, well ahead of his time on many topics—homosexuality, the corporatization of American politics, the disastrous consequences of American foreign policy, the hollow office of the presidency and the mounting animosity toward the U.S. from abroad. He traced the contours of a country that squandered the dream of republic in its ongoing march toward empire, and though the many faces of Vidal might have confounded some of his audience, his words hold up in the final analysis. He may not have a rightful heir, but he leaves behind his work, along with one last backward glance in this film—and he still looks sharp, even from so far away.
READ THE REST OF THE REVIEW at www.truthdig.com and follow links there to Vidal's essay's for TruthDig. Some of the comments there touched on Vidal's mental decline. Reiterating what the Gore Vidal Pages posted as part of the conversation:
In the end--but not at the time of the filming of documentary--Vidal did come to suffer from dementia and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which is sometimes called "wet brain". No reporting nor the gossip mill have said that he had Alzheimer's, however.
Vidal clearly became less mentally sharp in his later years, certainly during the time of the filming of the documentary, Vidal was well past his prime mentally. But, that happens to virtually all people if they live long enough. He outlived most of his friends and enemies alike--everyone from Vonnegut and Paul Newman to Mailer, Capote, and Buckley.
Thankfully, Vidal lived long enough for Wrathall to produce this film with a fair amount of original footage. The scenes of Vidal's departure from Ravello were among the first that Wrathall captured. (That's why the house looks empty and in the scenes of Vidal at his desk the bookshelves behind him are empty. Everything had been packed up already.)