Gore Vidal: Prolific, Outrageous, Brilliant, Irreplaceable

"If everybody lies, then there's no reality." Gore Vidal

LOS ANGELES—The scope of Gore Vidal's life and vast talent far eclipsed the natural limitations found in pornography, to say the least, but in many people's minds the great writer and memorable public figure, who died Tuesday at his Hollywood Hills home at the age of 86, will always be linked to pornography, if not to a sexual licentiousness that expressed itself vigorously through a variety of literary, theatrical and public means, starting in 1948, with the publication of his first novel, The City and the Pillar. So frequently was the association made that a mere search a day after his death using the keywords "Gore Vidal" and "pornography" resulted in many obituaries and many commentaries.

On the public stage, Vidal was perhaps most memorably linked to pornography by William F. Buckley during a no-holds barred segment that was broadcast live on TV during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Buckely, along with novelist Norman Mailer, engaged in lifelong public feuds with Vidal that included disagreements on any number of subjects from politics and literature to sex and homosexuality. Buckley's son, Christopher, wrote about the relationship yesterday for the New Republic. .

The 1986 Buckley incident was a typically pugilistic affair. After being called a "crypto-Nazi" by Vidal, Buckley responded by saying,, "Stop calling me a crypto-fascist or I’ll sock you in your goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered," and then added for good measure, "‘Let the author of Myra Breckinridge go back to his pornography and stop making allusions to Nazism." Myra Breckinridge, of course, was Vidal's outrageous 1968 satiric novel about America, Hollywood and sex, later made into a movie starring Raquel Welch, John Huston and Mae West, that addressed themes that remain taboo for many to this day.

Vidal was also famously and controversially involved with the 1979 Bob Guccione-produced production of Caligula, which notoriously mixed leading Hollywood actors with explicit sex scenes and lavish set designs, resulting in a movie that was a critical disaster and yet remains a visual spectacle the likes of which will never be seen (or at least, produced) again. Vidal, who penned several versions of the screenplay, none of which were finally used, ended up suing Guccione, but dropped the suit in exchange for having his name removed from the film.

Despite his inevitable link to a level of sexual frankness that will always be publicly labeled scandalous—at least in America—Vidal was actually always just being brutally honest about sex, which he described thusly: "Sex is. There is nothing more to be done about it. Sex builds no roads, writes no novels and sex certainly gives no meaning to anything in life but itself."

But he also said, "We seem never to tire looking at naked bodies. This is true," while reminding the world, "Doubtless, sex tales were told about the Neanderthal campfire and perhaps instructive positions drawn on cave walls. Meanwhile, the human race was busy establishing such exciting institutions as slavery and its first cousin, marriage."

Indeed, as mentioned, Gore Vidal's place in history as a man of letters, a political animal of the highest order, a cultural commentator with few peers, and as an unabashed and unapologetic warrior for what we like to now call free speech far eclipses his role as a pioneer of the "sexual revolution." That said, as we combed through what seemed like hundreds of heartfelt commentaries and obituaries Tuesday and Wednesday as news of Vidal's death spread around the world, it occurred to us that we needed to reach out to another singular man, Hustler founder Larry Flynt, who we thought would probably have a keen opinion of Gore Vidal. We did not realize how intimate they had been.

Flynt responded tersely but significantly to our request for comment: “The greatest writer of the past century," he said, simply. "I am happy to have included him as one of my closest friends.”

Hustler president Michael Klein added yet another fascinating sliver of insight into the two men's relationship when he mentioned in an email that he too had met Vidal "earlier this year when having dinner with Larry at the Polo Lounge and Gore came over to say hi to Larry." An image for the ages.

We also took note of a 2005 AVN.com article, written by Acme Andersson, reporting on the opening of an exhibit in Santa Monica, California, for Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ book of photos and essays, "XXX: 30 Porn Star Portraits," for which Gore Vidal wrote the introduction. Vidal was at the opening, though apparently more or less under the radar.

"Author Gore Vidal, who wrote the book’s introduction, spent much of the night sitting in a chair behind the table where books were being sold," Andersson wrote. "Sitting with cane in hand, he went unrecognized by many in the crowd. Asked for a quote by AVN.com, Vidal said nothing, rather writing in a copy of the reporter’s book, 'Adam & Eve at the beginning there was porno then the snake.'"  

Vidal also participated in numerous media appearances and documantaries, including 2005's Inside Deep Throat, an HBO-backed film that explored the making and cultural significance of the groundbreaking 1972 porn flick. The movie featured commentary from a number of mainstream figures, including "[Linda] Lovelace's mother, sister and best friend; directors John Waters, Francis Ford Coppola and Wes Craven; sexologist Dr. Ruth Westheimer; novelists Erica Jong, Camile Paglia, Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal; Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown (who waxes eloquently about the skin care benefits of a cum facial); talk show host Dick Cavett (who claimed he'd never seen the movie); Citizens for Decent Literature founder (and convicted swindler) Charles Keating; and prosecutor Larry Parrish and several other law enforcement officials." 

Last but certainly not least, we cannot help but reflect on the continuing gifts Vidal gives and will no doubt continue to give, post mortem. It was only yesterday, in fact, in the immediate aftermath of his death, that we came to learn that Vidal's 1973 historic novel, Burr (or was it 1876?) was the cause for Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's conversion to conservatism, not, we suspect, that she would have even registered on his scale of politicians worth taking seriously. But that is precisely the point, isnt it? He impacted her.  

Photo: Gore Vidal pictured in 1948 and 2008.