Thursday, October 3, 2019

Happy Birthday to Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal in 1983
Photo by Ulf Andersen

On this date -- October 3 -- in 1925, writer and bon vivant Gore Vidal was born. You can read a brief bio of Vidal at Friends of Kerouac.

Vidal appeared in Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans as Arial Lavalina and in Old Angel Midnight as Gore Bedavalled.

When one thinks of Kerouac and Vidal, one cannot help but ruminate on their supposed one-night liaison in New York's Chelsea Hotel in the summer of 1953. According to Gerald Nicosia (Memory Babe, 1994),
In the San Remo one night Bill (William S. Burroughs, who had a crush on Vidal and once planned with Kerouac to lure him to Guatemala, p. 391) finally got his chance to meet Gore Vidal, but before he could get to first base, Jack  himself started flirting with Vidal. Despite Alene's pleas for Jack to come home with her, he sent her home alone, promising to follow in a couple of hours. After kissing Vidal's hand, and showering the most abject flattery on his writing, Jack talked him into going to bed. But at Vidal's room in the Chelsea Hotel, Jack proved impotent. (p. 444)
This conflicts with Vidal's own words about the event: "I fucked him" (Ellis Amburn, Subterranean Kerouac, 1998. p. 40). Amburn goes into detail about the tryst on pages 193-194. Amburn claims that Jack bragged about blowing Vidal, yet Kerouac called Vidal a "pretentious little fag" in a November 21, 1953 letter to editor Malcolm Cowley (Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956).

Kerouac often said one thing and did another where homosexuality was concerned, but there is little argument that something sexual happened between the two on that night in the Chelsea.

Regarding Vidal's writing, Jack was a critic. In a May 18, 1952 letter to Allen Ginsberg, Jack wrote:
. . . and trying to read Gore Vidal's "Judgment of Paris" which is so uglily transparent in its method, the protagonist-hero who is unqueer but all camp (with his bloody tattoo on a thigh) and craptalk, the only thing good, as Bill says, are the satirical queer scenes, especially Lord Ayres or whatever his name . . . and they expect us to be like Vidal, great God. (Regressing to sophomore imitations of Henry James.) (Ibid, p. 357)
I've never read any of Gore's novels, but doing so is on my list of things to do at some point. I'm not sure which one to try. Any suggestions?

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gore. I came to appreciate your intellect and wit from the 2015 documentary film, Best of Enemies (re: your debates with William F. Buckley, Jr. during the 1968 Presidential election). Recommended viewing, by the way.

No comments: