Buckley, Mailer and Capote
'60s icons vs. Gore Vidal
did Robert F. Kennedy, William F. Buckley Jr., Norman Mailer and
Truman Capote have in common during the 1960s?
The person they hated most in the entire world was
Gore Vidal. Was Vidal worthy of such collective enmity? Did the
foursome have a point? To be fair to all parties, one would have
to weigh each person's dispute with Vidal on its merits.
However, to bend over backwards to be fair to Kennedy,
Buckley, Mailer and Capote, I'm going to handicap Vidal and do the
final grading collectively thus answering the question:
Who's better ... Vidal? Or Kennedy, Buckley, Mailer and Capote
Kennedy hated Vidal earliest, for being insufficiently sycophantic
to his Kennedy in-laws, and for writing an article critical of the
F.B.I. early in the Kennedy administration. Vidal had the moral
high ground. Point goes to Vidal.
was so terrified of Vidal that, in 1968, when asked to participate
in a series of political debates, he requested that the other debater
be anyone but Vidal. Vidal was selected anyway, and when Vidal accurately
described Buckley as a pro-crypto-Nazi, Buckley screamed at him,
"Listen, you goddam queer! You stop calling me a Nazi or I'll
sock you in your goddam face and you'll stay plastered!"
Buckley subsequently eschewed physical combat for litigation, but
was forced to discontinue his case when it became evident that he
could not prevail at trial. Vidal demonstrated keener intelligence
and better manners throughout. Point goes to Vidal.
In comparing Vidal's writings against those of Mailer and Capote,
it would be difficult to make an attempt to not succumb to withering
sarcasm. I am not going to even make the attempt. Some cheap shots:
(1) Mailer and Capote both wrote novels about Marilyn Monroe. Vidal
has never, ever written about Monroe.
(2) Mailer wrote a really awful novel about Christ, the title of
which eludes me. Vidal wrote a very funny novel about Christ ("Live
(3) Vidal, as a homosexual writer in a homophobic society, wrote
an intelligent novel about contemporary homosexuality in the United
States ("The City and the Pillar"). Capote, as a homosexual
writer in a homophobic society, lisped.
(4) Vidal, as a young WWII veteran, wrote a novel ("Williwaw")
based on his war experiences that brilliantly satirized Hemingway.
Mailer, as a young WWII veteran, wrote a novel ("The Naked
and the Dead") based on his war experiences that clumsily rehashed
John Dos Passos.
(5) Capote falsely claimed that Vidal had been physically ejected
from the White House in 1961. Vidal sued and Capote settled out
of court and wrote a letter admitting that the story wasn't
Mailer once physically assaulted Vidal at party. Vidal pushed Mailer
to the ground, and Mailer was asked to leave.
The categories of physical prowess, literary merit and personal
integrity all go to Vidal. Combined with his wins against Kennedy
and Buckley, Vidal takes every category.
Clearly then, and counterintuitive as it might seem, one Gore Vidal
is worth more than four other men at least the four men discussed
in this essay.