J a n u a r y   2 0 0 3

Guest Writer

Kennedy, Buckley, Mailer and Capote
Four '60s icons vs. Gore Vidal
by Neil Anderson

hat 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 combined?

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.

Buckley 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 from Golgotha").

(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 true.

(6) 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.

See more from Neil in our archives.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.