Liz Smith: The Enthralling, Brilliant, Enlightening, Excoriating Gore Vidal — Gone, But Not Resting, I Bet!
IT IS with a sigh of sadness that I bid farewell to my longtime friend and sometimes adversary, the famous writer Gore Vidal. Somehow, in the ’70s ’80s, and ’90s, I became embroiled with knowing and admiring both Gore and his occasional mortal enemies, Norman Mailer … Truman Capote … William S. Buckley, Jr. Later, it was Gore vs. Dominick Dunne, with me in the middle. He liked to excoriate me for boosting those he felt were minor talents, or people simply unworthy of notice.
I see in one series of letters we exchanged, I wrote: “You and Mike Nichols are about my only remaining friends of intellect.” (I was continuously entertained, enthralled and enlightened by Gore’s writing, especially his historical novels.)
So be it! I usually kept up with Gore in later years via our mutual friend, the agent Boaty Boatwright. I can’t be too sad about losing Gore. I know he had been very unhappy in living long past his contemporaries. He was very lonely after the death of his life companion, Howard Austen. (Gore’s Rx for a 50-year-love affair? They never slept together.) Austen died in 2003 after he and Gore had moved back to L.A., selling their well-visited home in Ravello, Italy.
So, perhaps the admirable Gore was glad to give up this mortal coil. At any rate, the revival of his political play “The Best Man,” is now thriving on Broadway. Written in the benign beginning of the ’60s, it is full of knowing presentments about the goings on of a presidential campaign like none other. It predicts our own sorry times and is, I think, just about the best thing on Broadway.
Thus, Gore, goes out with a bang, not a whimper! So long you giant talented brain. May you enlighten the universe.
HERE’S A quote about women that I was waiting to print, but I wanted to be sure it had some relevance. Someone named Sri Aurobindo once said: “If there is to be a future, it will wear the crown of feminine design.”
But will it? The Congress and its conservative majority are, this very week, trying to end Roe vs. Wade and fight the abortion fight all over again. They are openly waging war on America’s women.
This caused a Mr. Parnell to send me the above quote adding: “Unless we awaken to the mystery of the sacred feminine, and allow it to glow, irradiate, illumine, and penetrate every area of our activity — to create in them all harmony, justice, peace, love, ecstasy, and balance — we will all die out and take nature with us.”
So, I shall just steal Time’s clever answers. Here they are:
1. Mariah Carey relinquishing her diva crown: The just-named ‘American Idol’ judge will net a reported $18 million per season — $3 million more than predecessor Jennifer Lopez.
2. Snoop Dogg’s rebranding skills: He‘s changing his sound to reggae and adopting an alter ego named Snoop Lion.
3. The pop-cultural relevance of Kodiak, Alaska: Thanks to an Internet campaign, the town’s Walmart will host an appearance by hip-hop artist Pitbull.
Thank you, Time, for a mind-bending release!
I WON’T go on too much about the massive “The Richard Burton Diaries“, edited by Chris Williams and published by Yale University Press. For one thing, most of it has already appeared in various biographies of Richard and Elizabeth Taylor. And let’s be honest, those are the parts most people want to read. The diaries stop and start, with years in-between. He wasn’t writing during the first heady years of his affair and marriage to Elizabeth. (She kept him busy with more sensual entertainments.)
But what he did write is fascinating, often scathingly funny and always inevitably melancholy. It’s clear that Life With Liz, while exciting, and profitable, had its drawbacks — her illnesses, her drinking, her reliance on prescription drugs (Burton is violent on the subject of the doctors who supplied her.) And there was his own epic intake of booze, which brought out lashing anger and frustration. It’s tragic how both of them ignored or excused their mutual alcoholism.
You cannot read this book — despite Richard’s many paeans to Elizabeth’s beauty, kindness, talent, etc. — without realizing that these two people were sometimes bad for each other. And Richard was shockingly, perpetually bored — with the jet-set life, with his work, and probably with Elizabeth, though he never quite says it. (All he really wants to do is read and write and be left alone.) He constantly declares that he loves, worships, cannot live without Elizabeth. But there is something hollow in his self-insistence. Yet I still believe they would have married again, for a third time! Theirs was an opulent, obsessive masochism.
Richard was Faustus. He and Elizabeth even made a movie on the subject. But neither really seemed to understand what they were conveying about their own relationship. He’d sold his soul for wealth and Helen of Troy. He cast La Liz as “The face that launched a thousand ships.” But in the end, he also casts Elizabeth as a cackling demon dragging him into hell.
This is not “Furious Love” the title of the recent tale of the Burton/Taylor marriage. This diary is “Fatalistic Love.”
This column originally appeared on NYSocialDiary.com on 8/2/12