Liz Smith: GORE VIDAL … And Guns Run Amok, But We Are Helpless

“NEVER PASS up a chance to have sex or appear on television,” said Gore Vidal famously.

This is just one of his many and best quotes which were sent to me last week by his all-time friend the agent Boaty Boatwright. (She has one of the fabulous names in show business.)

I thought of this when reading her list of quotes and thinking of her, standing in front of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater last Friday night when they observed a moment of silence in memory of Gore Vidal, just outside his revival of “The Best Man.” I knew Boaty was there on the sidewalk, raising a glass to Gore at the moment of darkness.

A moment of silence for Gore? He wasn’t sentimental but he was soft-hearted. However, I’d think Gore of all people would be snorting from the hereafter about a moment of silence. It was never silence he wanted.

Nothing contributes more to my happiness than the occasional retro look backward that reminds of when one believed things so firmly that every nuance counted. For instance, I observed Diane Sawyer, setting up on World News the TV contretemps betweenWilliam F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal on the night Gore’s death was announced. It seems quaint to me now that Buckley called Vidal “a queer” and that Vidal called Buckley “a crypto-Nazi.” It seemed so much to matter then. Now it merely reminds of what giant intellects do at their lowest ebb, name-calling. And as mother always told me, sticks and stones could break your bones but names couldn’t really hurt. I believed her and have never been much involved in worrying about being called a number of unpleasant things. It’s a fair balance when one is in the public eye like a cinder.

I just want to share with you a few truly great Gore Vidal quotes supplied by Boaty:

“I can understand companionship. I can understand bought sex in the afternoon, but I cannot understand the love affair …. A narcissist is someone better looking than you are …. You know, I’ve been around the ruling class all my life, and I’ve been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of this country …. I suspect that one of the reasons we create fiction is to make sex exciting …. The United States was founded by the brightest people in the country — and we haven’t seen them since …. Every four years the naïve half who vote are encouraged to believe that if we can elect a really nice man or woman president, everything will be all right. But it won’t be … The four most beautiful words in our common language — I told you so …. There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”

And, Liz’s own all-time Gore favorite: “Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note.”


HARDLY ANYTHING that happened over the weekend, or anything I read or saw, seemed terribly entertaining after the latest gun massacre. There seems to be no solution whatsoever. You can’t ban guns — or more reasonably, even suggest further regulations in the U.S. — without being called un-American. So, crazy people and criminals will continue to have a fine old time here, where the gun homicide rate is the world’s highest.

BUT LET’S not even dwell too much on those six innocent people slaughtered in their house of worship. The NRA might get its feelings hurt.

Instead, let’s talk about my favorite quote from the weekend news shows: “Harry Reid is a dirty liar!” That was Republican National Committee chairmanReince Priebus, calling out Democratic Senate Majority Leader Reid. Last week Harry got up on the floor of the Senate and declared that he knew from “good sources” that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid his taxes in a decade. He did not name those sources.

Even die-hard Democrats are somewhat aghast that Reid would use the Senate floor for such remarks, with no back-up. Is this politics or TMZ? Oh, wait — no difference.

Many think Harry Reid has bought himself — and the Obama campaign — a world of trouble. He really is going to have to name names. If Romney has somehow avoided paying taxes for ten years, it is he who will have — as Ricky always said to Lucy — “some ‘splaining to do.” But then there are some Democrats who say it’s just what Harry Reid was supposed to do.

Anyway by using the phrase “dirty liar” Priebus has brought back the good old days of politics when they really got down to the business of trashing all and sundry in the most colorful terms. Read up on American history. You’ll be astounded at what opponents flung at each other.

It’s much more vanilla now than you imagine.

I’M ALSO cheered by the dominance of women in London Olympics — let’s hope this shifts the entire matter of women’s sports to another level; the same level as the guys — recognition, respect, and financial compensations.

Speaking of the guys, once again I was inexplicably moved by the gold medal won by Britain’s favorite Scotsman, tennis ace Andy Murray. He beat out Switzerland’s Roger Federer, who had defeated Andy at Wimbledon a few weeks ago.

As with Michael Phelps’ initial London loss to Ryan Lochte, the press seemed to take pleasure in Murray’s Wimbledon stumble, especially his emotional speech, in which he promised his fans, friends and family he would “try harder.”

Well, he did try harder and now he is an Olympian.


Featured image: Boaty Boatwright. and Gore Vidal. Photo: Robin Platzer/Twin Images.

This column originally appeared on on 8/7/12

2 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Lila says:

    Liz – crazy people and criminals will have a fine time whether guns are banned or not. Or controlled, or not.

    Criminals will always have a way to get weapons – or make them, believe it or not, with the advent of 3D printing – and they won’t care too much what authority might have to say about registrations, permits, blah blah blah. They also won’t care too much about those pesky rules about not shooting people.

    As for crazies, or just plain old non-crazy hateful types – Maybe a gun ban would keep guns out of their hands, but then there are always pipe bombs and the like, which can be equally deadly (or more so). Or plowing one’s car into a crowd. Or any number of other violent acts that hurt a lot of people. Guns are not necessary, so banning them won’t stop this kind of mass violence.

    Interesting take on the whole phenomenon of mass murder: see the blog CrimeDime, where the current article is on the gender of mass murder. The take is that it has a lot to do with how men are socialized in this country and certain other countries. Certainly the rates of incidents like this vary from one culture to another, and it’s not correlated to the availability of weapons.

    Example – you know that Swiss men between ages 20 and 30 (34 for officers) are all part of the militia. All of these men have fully automatic assault rifles that they keep at home (or a pistol for the officers). You won’t find such a high ratio of full-auto weapons in the US!! After their militia service is over, they can elect to keep the weapons, but they must be factory-converted to semiautomatic. Switzerland had one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world. And yet they have only had one crazy mass shooting incident, and that nut job didn’t even use one of the Army-issue weapons. AND he also used a homemade bomb in his crime.

    Anyway, food for thought.

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Re: the women at the Olympics: I love that they are getting more equal access to the sports and more recognition, but… I can’t help but wonder why male beach-volleyball players get baggy trunks and jerseys, while the women get microscopic bikini bottoms.

    Not that I would ever have a hope in hell of getting to the Olympics in any sport, but I seriously would be so embarrassed to wear such a skimpy “uniform” on world TV – well, anywhere, actually – that I don’t think I would ever play the sport at all. I think the bra tops are only as generous as they are – which is to say, not very – so they can fit their 3-letter country codes on there. By the next quadrennial, maybe the women will wear thongs, go topless and just write their country codes someplace in magic marker. What the heck, why not enforce a Cote d’Azur dress code?

    So, since the women have to play virtually nude, I vote that the men should all go shirtless and wear tiny Speedos. Equality.