His work could be frustratingly opaque, long-winded or confusing, but by God he was never boring. Gore Vidal was aristocratic, arrogant and cold-blooded, but craved attention. His long-time adversary Norman Mailer hit him on the head with a glass before a talk show, William F Buckley Junior threatened to punch him in the face after Vidal accused him of being a ‘crypto-Nazi’ on TV, and his feud with Truman Capote became the stuff of legend.
He was ostracized for a decade after writing ‘The City and the Pillar’ and scandalised America with his sexual satires ‘Myra Breckinridge’ and ‘Myron’. Deciding the film version was ripe for reappraisal I was surprised to find it still controversial, and a veritable encyclopaedia of seventies style.
For me, Vidal’s incisive essays constitute his best work, although I haven’t read his novels about US presidents. As a raconteur he was unreliable and hilarious, especially when discussing the insertion of a gay subtext in the story of the Christ, in his screenplay for ‘Ben-Hur’.
The chances of him ever being elected as a liberal atheist gay politician may have been swiftly dashed, but for many of us fascinated US-watchers he was the contrapuntal voice of the times, and the world is a less interesting place without him. Pictured, Raquel Welch as the ‘unpossessable’ Myra Breckinridge, posed as she appears in the novel as a rotating statue outside a hotel window, the symbol of New Woman.