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Gore Vidal

(American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist)

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Gore Vidal (October 3, 1925 - July 31, 2012) was an American author, playwright, essayist, screenwriter, and political activist. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), outraged mainstream critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality. He also ran for political office twice and was a longtime political critic.

Vidal was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal in West Point, New York, the only child of 1st Lieutenant Eugene Luther Vidal (1895-1969) and Nina Gore (1903-1978). He was born in the Cadet Hospital of the United States Military Academy, where his father was the first aeronautics instructor, and was christened by the headmaster of St. Albans preparatory school, his future alma mater. He later decided to be called Gore in honor of his maternal grandfather, Thomas Gore, Democratic senator from Oklahoma.

Vidal's father, a West Point football quarterback and captain, and an all-American basketball player, was director of the Commerce Department's Bureau of Air Commerce (1933-1937) in the Roosevelt administration, was one of the first Army Air Corps pilots and, according to biographer Susan Butler, was the great love of Amelia Earhart's life. In the 1920s and 1930s, he was a co-founder of three American airlines: the Ludington Line, which merged with others and became Eastern Airlines, Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT, which became TWA), and Northeast Airlines, which he founded with Earhart, as well as the Boston and Maine Railroad. The elder Vidal was also an athlete in the 1920 and 1924 Summer Olympics (seventh in the decathlon; U.S. pentathlon team coach).

Gore Vidal's mother was a socialite who made her Broadway debut as an extra in Sign of the Leopard in 1928. She married Eugene Luther Vidal, Sr. in 1922 and divorced him in 1935. She later married twice more; one husband, Hugh D. Auchincloss, was later the stepfather of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and, according to Gore Vidal, she had "a long off-and-on affair" with actor Clark Gable.

Vidal had four half-siblings from his parents' later marriages (the Rev. Vance Vidal, Valerie Vidal Hewitt, Thomas Gore Auchincloss, and Nina Gore Auchincloss Steers Straight) and four stepbrothers from his mother's third marriage to Army Air Forces Major General Robert Olds, who died in 1943, ten months after marrying Vidal's mother. Vidal's nephews include the brothers Burr Steers, writer and film director, and painter Hugh Auchincloss Steers (1963-1995).

Vidal was raised in Washington, D.C., where he attended Sidwell Friends School and then St. Albans School. Since Senator Gore was blind, his grandson read aloud to him and was often his guide. The senator's isolationism contributed a major principle of his grandson's political philosophy, which is critical of foreign and domestic policies shaped by American imperialism. Gore attended St. Albans in 1939, but left to study in France. He returned following the outbreak of World War II and studied at the Los Alamos Ranch School in 1940, later transferring to Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire.

Vidal, whom a Newsweek critic called "the best all-around American man of letters since Edmund Wilson," began his writing career at nineteen, with the publication of the military novel Williwaw, based upon his Alaskan Harbor Detachment duty. The novel was the first about World War II and proved a success for Vidal. A few years later, The City and the Pillar caused a furor for its dispassionate presentation of homosexuality. The novel was dedicated to "J.T." Decades later, after a magazine published rumors about J.T.'s identity, Vidal confirmed they were the initials of his St. Albans-era love, James "Jimmy" Trimble III, killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima on March 1, 1945; Vidal later said that Trimble was the only person he had ever loved.

He wrote plays, films, and television series. Two plays, The Best Man (1960) and Visit to a Small Planet (1955), were both Broadway and film successes.

In 1956, Vidal was hired as a contract screenwriter for Metro Goldwyn Mayer. In the 1960s, Vidal wrote three novels. The first, Julian (1964) dealt with the apostate Roman emperor, while the second, Washington, D.C. (1967) focused on a political family during the Franklin D. Roosevelt era. The third was the satirical transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge (1968), a variation on Vidal's familiar themes of sex, gender, and popular culture.

After the staging of the plays Weekend (1968) and An Evening With Richard Nixon (1972), and the publication of the novel Two Sisters: A Novel in the Form of a Memoir (1970), Vidal focused on essays and two distinct themes in his fiction. The first strain comprises novels dealing with American history, specifically with the nature of national politics.

The second strain consists of the comedic "satirical inventions": Myron (1974, a sequel to Myra Breckinridge), Kalki (1978), Duluth (1983), Live from Golgotha: The Gospel according to Gore Vidal (1992), and The Smithsonian Institution (1998).

Vidal occasionally returned to writing for film and television, including the television movie Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid with Val Kilmer and the mini-series Lincoln. He also wrote the original draft for the controversial film Caligula, but later had his name removed when director Tinto Brass and actor Malcolm McDowell rewrote the script, changing the tone and themes significantly. The producers later made an attempt to salvage some of Vidal's vision in the film's post-production.

Vidal is-at least in the U.S.-even more respected as an essayist than as a novelist.

For six decades, Gore Vidal applied himself to a wide variety of sociopolitical, sexual, historical, and literary themes. A subsequent collection of essays, published in 2000, is The Last Empire. He subsequently published such self-described "pamphlets" as Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, and Imperial America, critiques of American expansionism, the military-industrial complex, the national security state, and the George W. Bush administration. Vidal also wrote an historical essay about the U.S.'s founding fathers, Inventing a Nation. In 1995, he published a memoir Palimpsest, and in 2006 its follow-up volume, Point to Point Navigation. Earlier that year, Vidal also published Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories.

Because of his matter-of-fact treatment of same-sex relations in such books as The City and The Pillar, Vidal is often seen as an early champion of sexual liberation.
In 2009, he won the annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation, which called him a "prominent social critic on politics, history, literature, and culture".

In the 1960s, Vidal moved to Italy; he gave a cameo appearance in Federico Fellini's film Roma. In 1992, Vidal appeared in the film Bob Roberts (starring Tim Robbins) and appeared in other films, notably Gattaca, With Honors, and Igby Goes Down, which was directed by his nephew Burr Steers. Vidal voiced himself on both The Simpsons and Family Guy and appeared on the Da Ali G Show, where Ali G (intentionally) mistakes him for Vidal Sassoon. He provided the narrative for the Royal National Theatre's production of Brecht's Mother Courage in the autumn of 2009.

Vidal was portrayed in Amelia (2009), as a child, by Canadian actor William Cuddy, and in Infamous (2006), the story of Truman Capote, as a young adult, by American actor Michael Panes.

Besides his politician grandfather, Vidal had other connections with the Democratic Party: his mother, Nina, married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., who later was stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Gore Vidal is a fifth cousin of Jimmy Carter. Vidal may have been a distant cousin of Al Gore.

As a political activist, in 1960, Gore Vidal was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress, losing an election in New York's 29th congressional district, a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River, encompassing all of Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Schoharie, and Ulster Counties to J. Ernest Wharton, by a margin of 57% to 43%.
From 1970 to 1972, Vidal was one of the chairmen of the People's Party. In 1971, he wrote an article in Esquire advocating consumer advocate Ralph Nader for president in the 1972 election.

In 1982 he campaigned against incumbent Governor Jerry Brown for the Democratic primary election to the United States Senate from California. This was documented in the film, Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No directed by Gary Conklin. Vidal lost to Brown in the primary election.

Vidal was a member of the advisory board of the World Can't Wait organization, a left-wing organization seeking to repudiate the Bush administration's program, and advocating the impeachment of George W. Bush for war crimes.

In 1997, Vidal was one of 34 celebrities to sign an open letter to then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, published as a newspaper advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, which protested the treatment of Scientologists in Germany.

Vidal contributed an article to The Nation in which he expressed support for Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, citing him as "the most eloquent of the lot" and that Kucinich "is very much a favorite out there in the amber fields of grain".
In April 2009, Vidal accepted appointment to the position of honorary president of the American Humanist Association, succeeding Kurt Vonnegut.

Vidal was strongly critical of the George W. Bush administration, listing it among administrations he considered to have either an explicit or implicit expansionist agenda. He described George W. Bush as "the stupidest man in the United States".
Vidal had affairs with both men and women. The novelist Anaïs Nin claimed an involvement with Vidal in her memoir The Diary of Anaïs Nin but Vidal denied it in his memoir Palimpsest. Vidal also discussed having dalliances with people such as actress Diana Lynn, and alluded to the possibility that he may have a daughter. He was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward, before she married Paul Newman; after eloping, the couple shared a house with Vidal in Los Angeles for a short time. In 1950, he met his long-term partner Howard Austen.

During the latter part of the twentieth century Vidal divided his time between Italy and California. In 2003, he sold his 5,000-square-foot (460 m²) Italian Villa, La Rondinaia (The Swallow's Nest) on the Amalfi Coast, and moved to Los Angeles. Austen died in November 2003 and, in February 2005, was buried in a plot for himself and Vidal at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Vidal died of complications from pneumonia on July 31, 2012.


Essays and non-fiction

- Rocking the Boat (1963)
- Reflections Upon a Sinking Ship (1969)
- Sex, Death and Money (1969) (paperback compilation)
- Homage to Daniel Shays (1972)
- Matters of Fact and of Fiction (1977)
- Views from a Window Co-Editor (1981)
- The Second American Revolution (1983)
- Vidal In Venice (1985) ISBN 0-671-60691-3
- Armageddon? (1987) (UK only)
- At Home (1988)
- A View From The Diner's Club (1991) (UK only)
- Screening History (1992) ISBN 0-233-98803-3
- Decline and Fall of the American Empire (1992) ISBN 1-878825-00-3
- United States: Essays 1952-1992 (1993) ISBN 0-7679-0806-6 -National Book Award[32]
- Palimpsest: a memoir (1995) ISBN 0-679-44038-0
- Virgin Islands (1997) (UK only)
- The American Presidency (1998) ISBN 1-878825-15-1
- Sexually Speaking: Collected Sex Writings (1999)
- The Last Empire: essays 1992-2000 (2001) ISBN 0-375-72639-X (there is also a much shorter UK edition)
- Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be So Hated, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, (2002) ISBN 1-56025-405-X
- Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, (2002) ISBN 1-56025-502-1
- Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson (2003) ISBN 0-300-10171-6
- Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia (2004) ISBN 1-56025-744-X
- Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir (2006) ISBN 0-385-51721-1
- The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (2008) ISBN 0-385-52484-6
- Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History's Glare (2009) ISBN 0-8109-5049-9

- Visit to a Small Planet (1957) ISBN 0-8222-1211-0
- The Best Man (1960)
- On the March to the Sea (1960-1961, 2004)
- Romulus (adapted from Friedrich Dürrenmatt's 1950 play Romulus der Große) (1962)
- Weekend (1968)
- Drawing Room Comedy (1970)
- An Evening with Richard Nixon (1970) ISBN 0-394-71869-0
- On the March to the Sea (2005)

- Williwaw (1946) ISBN 0-226-85585-6
- In a Yellow Wood (1947)
- The City and the Pillar (1948) ISBN 1-4000-3037-4
- The Season of Comfort (1949) ISBN 0-233-98971-4
- A Search for the King (1950) ISBN 0-345-25455-4
- Dark Green, Bright Red (1950) ISBN 0-233-98913-7 (prophecy of the Guatemala coup d'état of 1954, see "In the Lair of the Octopus" Dreaming War)
- The Judgment of Paris (1952) ISBN 0-345-33458-2
- Messiah (1954) ISBN 0-14-118039-0
- A Thirsty Evil (1956) (short stories)
- Julian (1964) ISBN 0-375-72706-X
- Washington, D.C. (1967) ISBN 0-316-90257-8
- Myra Breckinridge (1968) ISBN 1-125-97948-8
- Two Sisters (1970) ISBN 0-434-82958-7
- Burr (1973) ISBN 0-375-70873-1
- Myron (1974) ISBN 0-586-04300-4
- 1876 (1976) ISBN 0-375-70872-3
- Kalki (1978) ISBN 0-14-118037-4
- Creation (1981) ISBN 0-349-10475-1
- Duluth (1983) ISBN 0-394-52738-0
- Lincoln (1984) ISBN 0-375-70876-6
- Empire (1987) ISBN 0-375-70874-X
- Hollywood (1990) ISBN 0-375-70875-8
- Live from Golgotha: The Gospel according to Gore Vidal (1992) ISBN 0-14-023119-6
- The Smithsonian Institution (1998) ISBN 0-375-50121-5
- The Golden Age (2000) ISBN 0-375-72481-8
- Clouds and Eclipses: The Collected Short Stories (2006) (short stories, this is the same collection as A Thirsty Evil (1956), with one previously unpublished short story - Clouds and Eclipses - added)

- Climax!: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1954) (TV adaptation)
- The Catered Affair (1956)
- I Accuse! (1958)
- The Scapegoat (1959)
- Ben Hur (1959) (uncredited)
- Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
- The Best Man (1964)
- Is Paris Burning? (1966)
- Last of the Mobile Hot Shots (1970)
- Caligula (1979)
- Dress Gray (1986)
- The Sicilian (1987) (uncredited)
- Billy the Kid (1989)
- Dimenticare Palermo (1989)

Works under pseudonyms
- A Star's Progress (aka Cry Shame!) (1950) as Katherine Everard
- Thieves Fall Out (1953) as Cameron Kay
- Death Before Bedtime (1953) as Edgar Box
- Death in the Fifth Position (1952) as Edgar Box
- Death Likes It Hot (1954) as Edgar Box

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