“Entering, as I am, the springtime of my senility”: these were the first words out of Gore Vidal’s mouth, uttered in his dark mahogany patrician drawl, when he began the wickedly smart William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in the History of American Civilization at Harvard in 1991. Once published, they became one of his sharpest, shortest, and most outrageously enjoyable books, Screening History, a cameo-autobiography filtered through his encounters with the movies. Vidal never really turned autumnal, much less senile. Mellow fruits and ripeness were definitely not his thing, though toward the end, faced with what he considered the unshakably fatuous self-deceptions of a moribund American empire, his irony did develop a frosty rime at its bitter edge.
(Photo: Gore Vidal in Los Angeles, California,1981 (Tony Korody / Sygma-Corbis))