Gore Vidal (3 October 1925 – 31 July 2012) was a celebrated writer, essayist, commentator and actor. But he was also famous for his waspish wit and irony. The man who said "whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies", was noted for his literary and political feuds.
Gore Vidal made no secret that he detested the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood, saying once: "Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house."
When asked "What was Capote doing that you didn't like?" Vidal shouted: "Lying! The one thing I hate most on this earth. Which is why I do not have a friendly time with journalists." He called Capote's death "a good career move" and added "Every generation gets the Tiny Tim it deserves."
Vidal was a frequent critic of the writings of John Updike, complaining that the author of the Rabbit series “describes to no purpose”. Vidal also told The Partisan Review: "With me the problem is that Updike doesn’t write about anything that interests me. I am not concerned with middle-class suburban couples. On the other hand, I’m not concerned with adultery in the French provinces either. Yet Flaubert commands my attention. I don’t know why Updike doesn’t." He was more explicit in later life, saying: "I can't stand Updike. Nobody will think to ask because I'm supposedly jealous; but I out-sell him. I'm more popular than he is, and I don't take him very seriously... oh, he comes on like the worker's son, like a modern-day DH Lawrence, but he's just another boring little middle-class boy hustling his way to the top if he can do it."
Norman Mailer once punched Vidal at a party after the writer had given him a bad review. Still on the floor, Vidal declared: "Once again, words fail Norman Mailer." Their lengthy literary feud continued and Mailer also reportedly headbutted Vidal before an appearance on the Dick Cavett TV show, after Vidal compared him to infamous killer Charles Manson. When Mailer once said that "Vidal lacks the wound" (a reference to his privileged upbringing), Vidal snapped: "Privileged? You mean more privileged than a fat boy from South Africa with a doting mother?" [Mailer's father was born in Cape Town].
Vidal later claimed he was not the main instigator of the antagonism, saying: "Mailer feuded with me. I knew Norman's syndrome. If I was on the cover of Time and he wasn't, my God he would be insulting me in the press. He couldn't stop. He lived for his little swig of PR."
When Watership Down,author Richard Adams, on That Was The Week That Was, called Vidal's work "meretricious", Vidal shot back: "Really? Well, meretricious to you and a happy new year."
Vidal said of John Simon: “English is his third language and some of us were thinking about getting up a fund and sending him back to Berlitz for the remainder of the English language course.”
When Vidal was Interviewed live on the BBC about the election of Barack Obama, Dimbleby asked the writer a question about dirty tricks in American elections. Vidal claimed he had been misinterpreted and added: "I don’t know why you would because I don’t know who you are!” “I know who you are, Mr Vidal,” said Dimbleby. "Well you're on up on me," said Vidal, keen as ever to have the last word.
WILLIAM F BUCKLEY Jr
Vidal and the arch-conservative William F Buckley clashed regularly. In a television debate from August 1968 (picture below), Vidal described Buckley as "Hitler without the charm." Buckley then compared anti-Vietnam war demonstrators to Nazis.
"As far as I'm concerned," Vidal told him, "the only sort of pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself." "Now listen, you queer," Buckley replied. "Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I'll sock you in your goddamn face and you'll stay plastered . . . I was in the infantry in the last war." "You were not," Vidal replied. "I was." "You were not."
When asked later 'Where is your friend Mr Buckley?”, the writer feigned surprise before replying: “Oh, Buckley. He’s over at the Wallace headquarters stitching hoods”.
In July 2015, a documentary called Best of Enemies, made by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, explored the impact of the debates on American culture.
Vidal, a master essay and historical novelists, did not contain his feuds to the living. He was a strong critic of the cult of Abraham Lincoln, writing once: "Nothing that Shakespeare ever invented was to equal Lincoln’s invention of himself". Vidal was frequently attacked by American historians for his portrait of the former President. Richard N Current, a leading Lincoln biographer, said that “Vidal is wrong on big as well as little matters. He grossly distorts Lincoln’s character and role in history.”
SIR CYRIL OSBORNE
Cyril Osborne was a hard line Conservative MP and Justice of the Peace. In a TV debate, he clashed with Vidal on morality and said he demanded a straight answer to a straight question: "Do you or do you not believe in corporal punishment?" Vidal replied: "Only between consenting adults."
Vidal was antagonistic towards fellow gay author Edmund White. During a lunch in London with White's UK publisher , Vidal grabbed a bottle of olive oil, poured it into a wine glass and drank it. Spitting it furiously all over the table, he yelled at the publisher, “You, you did this! You want to kill me so that your writer Edmund White can be King Fag!”
HIS OWN PEN PERSON, CAMERON KAY
Vidal wrote under three pseudonyms. As Edgar Box he wrote three mystery novels, he penned a romance novel under the name Katherine Everard and as Cameron Kay – a name he borrowed from a great uncle – he wrote Thieves Fall Out, a crime thriller set in Egypt during the 1952 revolution. In 2004 he turned down a request to republish the book, saying: "I don’t know that I want to be associated with this now." In 2015, it was published by Titan Books as a pulp crime novel.