Gore Vidal was one of the last century’s most celebrated authors as well as a screenwriter, essayist and political figure, and perhaps last of the postwar literary raconteurs just as famous for late-night conversation as their works. The New York Times notes that Vidal was such an engaging guest on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” that he was offered a spot as guest host.
While one of Vidal’s most famous plays, “The Best Man,” is enjoying a Broadway revival, his 1948 novel “The City and the Pillar” is what set the trajectory for the rest of his career. The novel about a man discovering his homosexuality created a sensation for the era, and led Vidal to pursue work writing for television and the movies, including an uncredited stint for the script of “Ben-Hur.”
Vidal ran for a New York Congressional seat in 1960 and for U.S. Senate in California in 1982, both unsuccessfully. But perhaps his most memorable political moment came in 1968, when he sparred with William F. Buckley during ABC’s coverage of the Democratic National Convention. He called Buckley a “crypto Nazi,” and the conservative icon called Vidal a “queer.” Later, he sparred with Norman Mailer on “The Dick Cavett Show.” Despite the on-air sparring, what made Vidal such a quotable figure was not just his wit and intelligence, but what he said didn’t fit neatly into ideological talking points, particularly a contrast to the 24-news landscape of today. In recent years he was asked to comment on just about any subject, whether it be politics or foreign policy, and he seemed to happily oblige.
After moving permanently to the Hollywood Hills and the death of his longtime companion in 2003, Vidal occasionally appeared at industry events, including a 2008 gathering of political and entertainment figures to push Congress to support a new G.I. Bill.