Gore Vidal wrote 25 novels and various memoirs, essays, plays, television dramas and screenplays. He invested himself in American politics and ran for office twice, losing both times. He tended openly toward homosexuality long before the country warmed up to the idea. And he never backed down from a good argument. Gore Vidal died Tuesday from complications of pneumonia at his home in Los Angeles.
During the 1960s and 70s, Vidal feuded publicly with literary and political foes alike. Sometimes it made for good TV. Other times it made for bad TV. It didn’t really matter. He was ready to go. Above, we have Gore Vidal’s verbal brawl with the mercurial (and seemingly sauced) novelist Norman Mailer. It happened on The Dick Cavett Show in December, 1971, and only the show’s host (and the bewildered Janet Flanner) emerge from the dustup looking okay. Slate has more on this memorable episode here.
The next clip brings us back to an ABC television program aired during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. Suffice it to say, emotions were running high. In the months leading up to the Convention, Martin Luther King Jr. and RFK were both assassinated. Riots followed. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War splintered the nation in two. The Chicago police tried to shut down demonstrations by anti-war protestors, and eventually the two sides clashed in the parks and streets. Amidst all of this, Buckley and Vidal, both political analysts for ABC News, started discussing the protestors and their rights to free speech, when things came to a head. Vidal called Buckley a “pro-crypto-Nazi.” Buckley called Vidal a “queer” and threatened to “sock [him] in the goddamn face.” The threat was not easily forgotten. It became the fodder for jokes when Buckley interviewed Noam Chomsky the next year. Find the complete episode here.