Friday, December 22, 2006

Gore Vidal

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."


Anonymous said...

oooo that first pic looks like a george segal sculpture. "aging grey-green people at bar"

mr. vidal is brilliant -- an original thinker, an interesting writer. he "gets" some stuff that folks in positions of privilege, especially (forgive me) men, rarely get, about power dynamics. i heard him speak in berkeley about 12 years ago. the audience was so fawning it got in the way of hearing the guy. lovely, his responses in the interview, about the family stuff!

bitterness, though, i do see. didn't we talk about this once? and what a publisher of his sex writings said to me?

i'll loan you my copy of palimpsest -- or however you spell that. thanks for the charming account.

more greetings. off to the pagan rights of the season.

Civic Center said...

Dear Ellen: The audience at this event was also too fawning which Vidal neither wanted nor needed. As for any "bitterness," I don't see it. Envy of others' gifts, possibly, but at this point in his life there is no bitterness at all. I've read "Palimpsest" and found it interesting, but the essays are what I like best. They're only going to improve with age.

And do you mean "pagan nights of the season" or "pagan rites of the season?" Enquiring minds want to know.

And yeah, that first picture is spooky. It's because I used "Nightshot" on my camera because there wasn't enough light and I hate using a flash.

Anonymous said...


I love the homage to George Segal! Or perhaps it's a still from some long-forgotten 50's zombie movie. In any case, it's a very powerful image.

I never used night shot when I owned such a camera as yours and now I wish I had experimented with it. I look forward to more surprises like this from you.

Have a lovely Christmas in the desert.


Anonymous said...

given the length of the nights, the pagan rights are of the nights. or.. something. oh you know, all the lighting candles in the dark of the year, rebirth of the sun-son in the secret sleeping darkness, beautiful trees with lights, snuggly warmth and improbable generosity, magical smells and luscious food, joy and delight and love, in spite of.... everything. like that.

i'm in agreement with finding the essays the most satisfying. his loathing of bobby kennedy was sort of fascinating, in the p book.

more x's and lots of appreciation, e

sfwillie said...

Call me a bitch, but...

Mr Vidal delivered considerable shtick about not remembering, or caring to, the names of all his relatives.

Then, moments later, he recites a litany of his famous relatives' names. Clearly he considers some relatives' names more worth remembering.

I'm not calling him a snob. Yes I am.

I think maybe some liberals take a little guilty pleasure from have a snotty snob on their side.

Civic Center said...

Dear Willie: Of course he's a snob and of course you're are a bitch, though not really, in either case.

janinsanfran said...

So he has it in for Randy. Will have to look, in a bookstore. :-) Great man.

Anonymous said...

sf mike , you luck bitch,
yes he's a snob and arrogant, he's one of my faves!! I hope he hangs around for manny years to come.
happy new year

Anonymous said...

thanks sfmike for this.... I just finished the book and it's wonderful... vintage Vidal... god when he goes it's really going to be "apres moi le deluge" ....