I got a few minutes today, so I went looking for video of Gore Vidal, who died the night before last. He was very important to me when I was a teenager—and beyond. I particularly remember his essay Sex Is Politics, which he published in Playboy in 1974. (Ah, for the days when intellectuals could ogle at naked women! Or perhaps perverts ogle at naked intellectuals?)
It is rare that I care when I learn that someone has died. I felt a little bad about Ernest Borgnine, because he looked so good in RED, I was hoping he’d make it to 100. I like round numbers. But mostly: nothing; I just don’t care. When I heard that Vidal had died, I was sad in a way usually reserved for people I actually know.
I found this video from the last year that shows him in all of his later life glory:
He is already missed.
Gore Vidal always makes me think of this video, even though it is really all about Normal Mailer:
There are a few interesting things about it. One is that Vidal actually takes pity on Mailer. The worst comes from Dick Cavett and Janet Flanner. Another is that Mailer is certainly at a low point—and drunk! (I’m very fond of him and I feel bad about what goes on, even though he is entirely to blame.) Finally, this video cuts off before the best line. Cavett tells Mailer, “Why don’t you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don’t shine.”
After the laughter dies down, Mailer asks, “Mr. Cavett, on your word of honor, did you just make that up, or have you had it canned for years, and you were waiting for the best moment to use it?”
Cavett responds, “I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?”
Dick Cavett discusses the episode at length in an obituary of Norman Mailer. Talking about all of their relationships after that episode, Cavett writes:
That’s classic Gore Vidal.
And for the record, Mailer was the better writer. Gore Vidal was a deeper thinker and smarter and more knowledgeable and pretty much anything else you can think about. It is Mailer’s example that keeps me writing after all these years even though I know I’m not deep enough, smart enough, knowledgeable enough or pretty much anything else enough to attain greatness in any objective sense.