Gore Vidal was many things. Often pompous and dismissive of others, he was nevertheless a somewhat revered writer, essayist, thinker, politician, screenwriter and one of the earliest advocates of gay rights, writing positively about same-sex relationships as early as 1948. Vidal has now died at his home in Los Angeles at about 7.45pm on Tuesday 31st July local time, due to complications from pneumonia. He was 86 years old.
Gore broke new ground in 1948 with his novel The City and the Pillar, which was among the first books to feature openly gay characters and caused outrage at the time. Many bookshops refused to have anything to do with it and Vidal had to write under a pseudonym for several years because of the controversy. The book was dedicated to JT, who Vidal later revealed was James ‘Jimmy’ Trimble III. He was killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima, and described by Vidal as the only person he had ever loved.
He refused to define his own sexuality, although said he’d had over 1,000 sexual encounters with both men and women. He once said, ‘Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not ‘normal’.’
His screenwriting work covered both film and TV, including adapting Tennessee Williams’ controversial Suddenly Last Summer in 1959 (which had to have all reference to homosexuality removed), work on Ben-Hur (he claims to have wanted Stephen Boyd’s character to be in love Charlton Heston’s, with Heston not knowing that) and Spartacus (including the infamous ‘snails and oysters’ scene between Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis). He also wrote the porn-meets-art movie Caligula, although he disowned the film after changes were made.
He was certainly a fascinating character, who never failed to support both gay and straight relationships. Indeed, he was a fan of sex in general, once saying, ‘I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television.’