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Fred Kaplan:
Gore Vidal
Fred Kaplan
  Gore Vidal  
Fred Kaplan    
essay

reading

an excerpt



  As a prominent post-WWII novelist, socialite and public figure, Gore Vidal has lived a life of incredible variety. Throughout his career, he has rubbed shoulders and crossed swords with many of the foremost cultural and political figures of our century: from Jack Kennedy to Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote to William F. Buckley.

From his early arrival on the literary scene, Vidal's fascinations with politics, power and public figures have informed his writing. He takes his first name from his maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, a populist Senator from Oklahoma for whom neither blindness nor feuds with FDR could prevent a long, distinguished career (Incidentally, T.P. Gore belonged to the same political dynasty into which Al Gore was born). Vidal's best-received historical fictions, like Julian, Burr, and Lincoln, re-imagine the personal and political lives of powerful figures in history. In his essays, he frequently chooses political subjects, as he did with his damaging assessment of Robert Kennedy-for-President in an Esquire article in 1963.

At the same time, Vidal's assets as a writer have made him a dangerous public figure in his own right. His sharp wit has discomposed the unrufflable (William F. Buckley) and the frequently ruffled (Norman Mailer) alike, and did so terrify his congressional campaign opponent J. Ernest Wharton that the latter refused to engage Vidal in debate. Even since he's left his aspirations as a politician behind, Vidal's attraction to controversial political issues continues in his provocative essays and public appearances.

Fred Kaplan, who previously edited Modern Library's Essential Gore Vidal, has written a lively and textured account of his subject's life, taking advantage of unfettered access to Vidal's private papers, letters, and photographs, and with complete freedom to interpret the record as he pleases. In this issue of Bold Type, he describes in an essay some of the pleasures and perils of writing a biography of Gore Vidal. He reads two passages from Gore Vidal: the prelude to the book, and an account of the explosive debate between Vidal and William F. Buckley in 1968. He also shares excerpts from the book: an encounter with Bobby Kennedy in the White House, and the feud it precipitated with literary rival Truman Capote.

 
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  Photo of Fred Kaplan copyright © Marion Ettlinger

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