Friday, December 22, 2006
Gore Vidal has just written a slim memoir covering the second half of his life called "Point to Point Navigation," and buying a copy at the Peppertree Bookstore in Palm Springs gained one an invitation to an interview and a book signing with him. The event was held on a freezing cold Wednesday evening at a local arthouse movie miniplex called the Camelot that has a full bar in its mezzanine, and the audience was mostly elderly gay men.
Vidal arrived for the first visit of his life to Palm Springs in a wheelchair, either from a recent "titanium" knee operation or from diabetes complications.
In any case, the 81-year-old author was looking frail and beat-up, though his brain was as sharp as ever.
He wasn't helped by an upside-down microphone, or a bad interviewer in the person of George Englund, an old producer/director of crappy 1960s movies like "The Ugly American" and "The Shoes of the Fisherman."
The memoir is mostly a rumination on death, including those of his beloved aviation pioneer father Gene Vidal and Howard Austen, who was literally Gore's "domestic partner" since they lived together for 50 years while having separate sexual lives.
The interviewer George Englund kept trying to probe into Vidal's secret heartbreak over living with an alcoholic mother who married a succession of rich and/or famous men, but Gore wasn't having any of it. He referred to his recent move from Italy to the Hollywood Hills to finish out the "Cedar Sinai Hospital period" of his life. "It's only in Los Angeles, I've noticed, that you can hear ninety year old women whining about the mistreatment they received at the hands of their parents. Ninety years old!"
Englund didn't get the hint, and continued, "how did it really make you feel being a stepchild in all those families?" to which Vidal replied, "well, it was an easy way to acquire a lot of interesting relatives quickly." Englund pushed on, "but how were you treated by your stepfathers?" and Vidal replied, "They treated me with deference and distance as they could see I had very sharp teeth."
The memoir indulges in gossip about everyone from Garbo to Frederico Fellini to the assassins of JFK, and there's a few last-minute score settlings with the late Randy Shilts of the "San Francisco Chronicle" and Fred Kaplan who recently wrote a bad and inaccurate biography of Vidal.
However, there is not an ounce of self-pity or bitterness in the man and there never has been. It was an honor to see him in person again before he moves "graciously, I hope, toward the door marked Exit."