Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (born October 3, 1925), known simply as Gore Vidal, is a well-known American writer of novels, plays and essays, and has been a public figure for over fifty years.
He was born Eugene Luther Vidal in West Point, New York, the son of Eugene Vidal and Nina Gore. His birth took place at the United States Military Academy where his father was an aeronautics instructor. Vidal later adopted as his first name the surname of his maternal grandfather, Thomas P. Gore, Democratic Senator from Oklahoma.
Vidal was brought up in the Washington, D.C., area. It was there that he attended St. Albans School. His grandfather Gore was blind, and the young Vidal both read aloud to him and frequently acted as his guide, thereby gaining unusual access for a child to the corridors of power. Senator Gore's isolationism has been one of the guiding beliefs of Vidal's political philosophy, which has always been unwaveringly critical of what he perceives to be American imperialism.
After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Vidal joined the US Army Reserve in 1943.
For much of the late 20th century, Vidal divided his time between Ravello, Italy, on the Amalfi Coast, and Los Angeles, California. He sold his home in Ravello in 2003 and spends most of his time living in Los Angeles. In November, 2003, Howard Austen, Vidal's life partner, died. In February, 2005, Vidal buried Austen's remains in a tomb maintained for the two of them at Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, Dc.
At 21 he published his first novel, Visit To a Small Planet, were Broadway hits and later, were adapted successfully as movies.
In the early 1950s, using the pseudonym Edgar Box, he wrote three mystery novels about a fictional detective named Peter Sergeant.
Vidal was hired as a contract writer for MGM in 1956. In 1959, Director William Wyler needed work done on the script of Ben-Hur, written by Karl Tunberg. Vidal agreed to collaborate with Christopher Fry to rework the screenplay on the condition that MGM let him out of the last two years of his contract. The death of the producer, Sam Zimbalist, however, led to complications in allotting credit. The Screenwriters Guild resolved the issue by listing Tunberg as the sole screenwriter, denying credit to both Vidal and Fry. Charlton Heston was less than pleased with the carefully veiled homosexuality of a scene which Vidal claims to have written and has denied that Vidal had significant involvement in the script.
In the 1960s, Vidal wrote three highly successful novels. The meticulously researched Myra Breckinridge (1968).
Vidal also occasionally returned to write for cinema and television, including a TV movie of Billy the Kid with Val Kilmer and a mini-series of Lincoln. He also wrote the original script for the controversial film Caligula but later had his name removed because the director and the lead actor re-wrote the script, changing the overall tone and theme. Ironically, in a failed attempt to restore Vidal's vision during the post-production, the producers of the film ended up turning it into something neither Vidal, Brass nor McDowell had in mind.
Perhaps contrary to his own wishes, Vidal is more respected as an essayist than novelist. He writes chiefly on political, historical, and literary themes. He won the National Book Award in 1993 for Palimpsest in 1995, and according to recent reports is working on the follow-up.
In the 1960s, Vidal moved to Italy and was cast as himself in Federico Fellini's film Roma. His liberal politics are well-documented. In 1987 he wrote a series of essays entitled Armageddon, exploring the intricacies of power in contemporary America and ruthlessly pillorying the presidential incumbent Ronald Reagan, whom he once famously described as a "triumph of the embalmer's art." Besides his politician grandfather, Vidal has other connections to the Democratic Party: his mother, Nina, married Hugh D. Auchincloss, Jr., who later became the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Vidal is a 5th cousin of Jimmy Carter. He was also an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 1960, losing a very close election in a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River. In 1982, he lost to Jerry Brown in the Democratic Party senatorial primary despite the backing of such liberal celebrities as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Vidal has said that he and Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president, are distant cousins, but genealogical research has uncovered no such family link.
He co-starred in the 1992 film, Bob Roberts, with Tim Robbins as well as other films, notably Gattaca, With Honors and Igby Goes Down.
Vidal is noted as a self-publicist. If a more accurate definition of his view on things were required, it is neatly summed up in his tongue-in-cheek assertion from a magazine interview: "There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."
Vidal considers himself a "radical reformer" who has been described as wanting to return to the "pure republicanism" of early America. As a prep school student, he was a supporter of the America First Committee. Unlike other supporters of the movement, he continues to hold that the United States should not have become involved in World War II (although he now appears to believe that material assistance to the Allies was a good idea). He has also suggested that President Roosevelt "incited" the Japanese to attack the United States to allow American entry into the war, and believes that FDR had advance knowledge of the attack.
As a political activist, he became a 1960 Democratic candidate for Congress from upstate New York ("You'll get more with Gore"), receiving the most votes of any Democrat in 50 years. From 1970 to 1972 he was one of the chairmen of the People's Party, and in California's 1982 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he finished second in a field of nine (polling a half-million votes).