Gore Vidal | Corbis, Photographer unknown | 14370
Gore Vidal has died aged 86 at his home in Los Angeles, of complications from pneumonia. Gore Vidal produced 25 novels, including the best-selling Burr and Myra Breckenridge, more than 200 essays and several plays. He also collaborated in the production of films. His second book, The City and the Pillar, tackled homosexuality, making it highly controversial at the time. Bookshops refused to stock it, and for most of the 1950s he was forced to work under pseudonyms.
Gore Vidal | Date uncertain | Associated Press | 14160
Gore Vidal – the author of Myra Beckenridge and The City and The Pillar. Not gay? Some mistake, surely.
“Sure he had sex with men, but just try to call him gay to his face,” writes Tim Teeman in the Beast.
While Harvey Milk and Randy Shilts were open, Gore Vidal, pictured, occupied a more vexed, undeclared place. Vidal was arguably a gay radical and hero, but he would have hated the plaudit. However, he clearly was a thorn in the side of the American Establishment of his day, and his place as a gay icon is deserved.
“Vidal died a year ago…, aged 86, of complications from pneumonia, the culmination of a long, painful decline which had included alcoholism and dementia. His death precipitated a memorable correction in the New York Times, whose obituary initially stated Vidal and Howard Austen, his partner from 1950 to 2003, when Austen died, did not have sex. “According to Mr Vidal’s memoir, Palimpsest, they had sex the night they met, but did not sleep together after they began living together. It was not true that they never had sex.””
Now we get to the kernel. Vidal said he was bisexual, but his family and friends say he was gay. Vidal adamantly believed “gay” referred to a sexual act, not a sexual identity.
“Vidal said almost nothing about HIV and AIDS, even though his nephew Hugh, who died of AIDS, begged him to. “Gore didn’t think of himself as a gay guy,” says Vidal’s close friend and now-biographer Jay Parini. “It makes him self-hating. How could he despise gays as much as he did? In my company he always used the term ‘fags.’ He was uncomfortable with being gay. Then again, he was wildly courageous.” Fred Kaplan, who wrote a landmark biography of Vidal, says, “He was not interested in making a difference for gay people, or being an advocate for gay rights. There was no such thing as “straight” or “gay” for him, just the body and sex.””
“Vidal loved sex, and gossiping about it: he estimated he had had sex with a thousand men before he was 25. He told his nephew Burr Steers he had successfully pursued and had sex with Fred Astaire when he first moved to Hollywood. Steers says, “He also told me Dennis Hopper had a lovely tuft of hair above his ass. He never told me how he knew that.” ”
That is only half the story. Vidal was, for the time, courageous.
“The first page of Gore Vidal’s FBI file, released by the bureau after his death a year ago on July 31, is not about his political activism, his critique of the National Security State or even about his homosexuality. The first page, from 1960, says he made disparaging remarks about FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover,”
The FBI decided to open a file on Gore Vidal. An agent was despatched to see a Vidal play. It is not known whether the Agent understood it. However the FBI agent was careful in his choice of words. On a routing slip, the report was checked off by Clyde Tolson and seven other high officials of the FBI. It was initialed by Hoover himself.
Who was this Gore Vidal? “He seemed to be “a male homosexual.” The source of this information may surprise some: The Daily Worker, the official publication of the Communist Party USA. FBI Agents were obsessive readers of The Daily Worker. The relevant story was The Daily Worker’s 1948 review of Vidal’s novel The City and the Pillar—actually a hostile, a bitter attack on the book as “crude” and “primitive” in its portrayal of “the ‘delights’ of homosexuality.””
The Vidal FBI file came to thirty-five pages, many of them letters from right-wingers complaining to Hoover about political statements Vidal made in print or on TV. Hoover replied to most of those with a polite brush-off.
“The bureau’s findings were summarized in two pages, starting with a crucial statement: “Mr. Gore Vidal…has not been the subject of an investigation by the FBI”—the most important single sentence in Vidal’s FBI file. He had a file, but that contained only clippings and correspondence about him.
President L. B. Johnson was informed that Vidal was “a writer and author of several books as well as a contributor of articles to various nationally distributed magazines,” as well as “a Democratic-Liberal candidate for the US Congress in 1960.” So far, all true—and no doubt also known to LBJ’s people. Next came The Daily Worker quote describing The City and the Pillar as a book about “the physical adventures of a male homosexual.” Then came another quote, from the left-wing National Guardian, reporting that Vidal was scheduled to speak in 1961 at a New York City “rally to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee,” which he had “severely criticized” in a column for the New York Herald Tribune. Then the news that a “confidential source” reported six years earlier, in 1961, that Vidal “was associated with the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee.”