Just two days after his passing, the TV series “American Masters” jumped into action and aired “Gore Vidal: The Quotable American” that’s now featured in special encore airings on PBS.
“There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise,” said Gore Vidal; while fans of this famous American writer were sadden at the news that "the sound" of Gore Vidal on TV and in his many novels, screenplays, Broadway plays and essays has now been silenced due to his death July 31, of complications from pneumonia. The witty Vidal was 86. In addition to the recently aired “American Masters” episode “Gore Vidal: The Quotable American,” PBS is also airing another encore episode titled “The Education of Gore Vidal,” with both of these American Masters programs now airing on PBS during the remainder of August (check local listings); while these TV episodes are also available for viewing on demand by going to the American Masters program website.
Also, for those not familiar with Vidal’s work, he wrote for The Nation, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and Esquire. He was considered one of America’s greatest writers whose right up there with his late colleagues Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Truman Capote.
Vidal: a writers writer and "clever as all get out"
Also, Vidal's best-known novels fell into two distinct camps: social and historical. His most widely regarded social novel was “Myra Breckinridge.”
Although Vidal often argued with his old friend Norman Mailer, it was Mailer who called Vidal one of the “great writers of the 20th century, and as clever with words as all get out.”
Vidal’s best known historical novels included Julian, Burr, and Lincoln. His third novel, The City and the Pillar (1948), outraged conservative critics as one of the first major American novels to feature unambiguous homosexuality. Vidal always rejected the terms of "homosexual" and "heterosexual" as inherently false, claiming that the vast majority of individuals had the potential to be pansexual. His screenwriting credits included the epic historical drama Ben-Hur (1959), into which he claimed he had written a "gay subplot." Ben-Hur won the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Back in 1960, the political buttons read: “Gore Vidal for Congress,” with Vidal helping John F. Kennedy win the White House; while also musing about his own role in the Democratic party where he called for the “war on poverty,” along with JFK and Senator Robert Kennedy; with Vidal saying “Americans have wised up to the rich and powerful who use them to get richer.”
In fact, it was said that when people say they write for themselves, everyone silently thanked Vidal for writing for them via his many quotes that are the subject of the American Masters TV program “Gore Vidal: The Quotable American,” that’s now airing on PBS, and on demand for free viewing.
Vidal is still most quotable
Gore Vidal became an American icon with the publication of his many books, and also his clever quotes about living in America.
Here’s a list of some quotes from the American Masters’ - “Gore Vidal: The Quotable American”:
-- “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”
-- “Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”
-- “First coffee, then a bowel movement. Then the Muse joins me.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work
-- “Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all.”
-- “American society, literary or lay, tends to be humorless. What other culture could have produced someone like [Ernest] Hemingway and not seen the joke?” – from United States – Essays 1952-1992
-- “To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.” – from Screening History
-- “The more money an American accumulates the less interesting he himself becomes.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays
-- “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” – from The Sunday Times Magazine, 1973
-- “Andy Warhol is the only genius I’ve ever known with an I.Q. of 60″
-- “I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” – from Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays, 1972
-- “The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”
-- “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.”
-- “You hear all this whining going on, ‘Where are our great writers?’ The thing I might feel doleful about is: Where are the readers?” – from Esquire, 2008
-- “Never pass up a chance to have sex or appear on television.”
-- “A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.” – from The New York Times, 1981
-- “History is nothing but gossip about the past, with the hope that it might be true.” – from Butt, 2007
-- “The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since.” – from Matters of Fact and Fiction: Essays 1973 – 1976
-- “Celebrities are invariably celebrity-mad, just as liars always believe liars.” – from Palimpsest: A Memoir
-- “I do many different things rather better than most people do one thing.” – from The Paris Review Interviews: Writers at Work, interview by Gerald Clarke, 1974
In addition, Vidal said: “The usual question everybody asks now is: What are you proudest of, Mr. Vidal, of all your great achievements? To which I answer: ‘Despite intense provocations over the course of what is becoming a rather long life, I have never killed anybody. That is my greatest achievement.’ A little negative maybe, but that’s it.” – from Vanity Fair, 2009.
Remembering Gore Vidal’s work
According to the two “American Masters” TV programs, Vidal’s lineage in American literature may be traced back to Henry James, the sophisticated American from the upper echelons of society who mingles with European sophisticates, and Mark Twain, the raw humorist and critic of American empire.
For instance, for a writer barely out of his teens, his first book “was an extraordinary achievement. It seemed absolutely authentic and put Vidal on the map of young postwar novelists that included Norman Mailer, John Horne Burns, and Truman Capote.”
Also, the program explains “after a period in Europe, where he traveled with his friend Tennessee Williams, Vidal settled along the Hudson River in a mansion called Edgewater with his companion, Howard Austen. Among the many projects that occupied him during this period was THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS, one of his most compelling early novels. The ghost of Henry James hovers over this work, set largely in Europe, although its style looks forward to the later Vidal: dryly witty, deeply ironic.”
A writer until the end
The American Master’s program also explains how “Vidal observed the political world from the sidelines for many years, but this vantage did not satisfy him. Hoping for a more active role, he ran for Congress in 1960 as a Democrat-Liberal in New York’s highly Republican 29th District. In his public speeches, he supported many controversial ideas, including the recognition of Red China, shrinking the Pentagon’s budget, and putting more federal money into education. Given the conservative nature of the region and, more generally, the times, he was defeated, though he won more votes in his district than John F. Kennedy, who headed the Democratic ticket.
But, after the failed run for office in 1960, “Vidal chose to focus again on his career as a novelist. Early in the decade he moved to Italy, where he has remained, though with many short intervals of residence in the United States. In Rome, the library of the American Academy proved useful. There he worked on JULIAN, the first novel that demonstrates his maturity as a writer of fiction with its own signature style. In JULIAN, Vidal writes with massive authority about the ancient Roman world, much as he does when he writes about the American past. It is this authority for which he is probably most valued by his readers.”
Moreover, the program notes how “it could easily be argued that no American since Mark Twain has performed so ably as a man of letters as Gore Vidal. The American chronicle itself represents a vivid counter-narrative of American history and politics. The satirical novels are unique and add a vein of Swiftian humor to American literature unlike anything that preceded them. His workmanlike achievements as a dramatist and screenwriter were, in their time, notable. Finally, his essays and reviews have earned him a permanent place in American letters and politics. In his memoir, PALIMPSEST, he has left a remarkably entertaining record of his life and times, which are also the life and times of the nation. Although the quality of the work has varied, the total effect of his presence in American literary culture has been considerable.”
For more on the life of Gore Vidal, tune to “American Masters” on PBS, or check out the program’s website for free on demand viewing of the show’s two documentaries about this great American writer.
Image source of the famous photo by Carl Van Vechten of a young Gore Vidal in 1948. Vidal died at this Hollywood home on July 31 of complications from pneumonia. He was 86. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gore_Vidal