At 77, Vidal hasn’t lost his cranky edge


At 77, Vidal hasn’t lost his cranky edge

By BOB THOMAS Associated Press

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Los Angeles — You might think that Gore Vidal, the novelist, playwright, essayist, congressional candidate, TV personality and all- around American gadfly, would be mellowing at age 77.

Think again. The tireless iconoclast, who published his first novel at 20 and has written 25 more, remains as feisty and prolific as ever.

His latest book is a paperback “pamphlet” called “Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta.” And he’s busy on another, “The Founding Fathers,” in which he will claim that the leaders of the American Revolution were not as saintly as schoolbooks would have us believe.

Other works in progress: a movie script, a reworking of his play “Visit to a Small Planet” and a possible Broadway musical about Oscar Wilde.

He’s also the subject of an American Masters special, “The Education of Gore Vidal,” which appears on PBS Wednesday.

The hourlong show features a healthy dose of Vidal talking about himself, as well as comments by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., George Plimpton and others. There are also readings of Vidal’s works by longtime chums Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

True to form, Vidal challenges the title of the program.

“I had no education,” he said in an interview. “I graduated from Exeter (prep school) at 17 and went directly into the Army. I came out of the war with a novel, ‘Williwaw,’ for which I found a publisher.

“So from the age of 17, my father and grandfather didn’t have to support me. Which made them very happy.”

His father became head of the Civil Aviation Administration; his grandfather was a powerful senator from Oklahoma, who was blind. Vidal read the Congressional Digest to him and gained an early education in politics by watching Capitol dealings.

The boy’s mother, a Southern belle he calls “not my best friend,” married three times.

The TV special supplies at least one revelation: During a first reading of the Broadway revival of his play “The Best Man” two years ago, Vidal took over the lines of a pompous Southern senator. His delivery was impeccable, and the cast applauded at the end.

The incident makes one thing clear: Gore Vidal is an actor. He has acted in four films and learned to face the camera in the 1950s, when he made hundreds of appearances on TV talk shows to promote his books.

Vidal and his companion, Howard Austen, spend part of the year in the Hollywood Hills and the rest of the time in a villa at Rapallo, Italy.

He has been plagued with an arthritic knee that for a time prevented him from walking. A knee operation, daily swims and muscle massage has allowed him to hobble, but more surgery may be needed.


What: “American Masters: The Education of Gore Vidal” When: 9 p.m. Wednesday Where: WMVS-TV (Channel 10)

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