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Gore Vidal, Novelist, Screenwriter, Bon Vivant, Dead at 86

Gore Vidal
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Gore Vidal, the writer of such novels as ‘Myra Breckinridge,’ plays such as ‘The Best Man,’ and screenwriter on such films as ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and ‘Caligula,’ has died from complications from pneumonia. He was 86.

For many Vidal was one of the great pundits/essayists, who – like many witty authors in the 1970′s – found themselves a regular of the talk show circuit, perhaps most famously when ABC News had Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr. on in 1968 to talk about the presidential conventions. Their conversation became so vitriolic, many thought it might result in an actual fist fight.

But Vidal was also an author, either under his real name or under his pseudonym Edgar Box. And like many in the 1950′s, he was drawn in to both Broadway and Hollywood. It was for New York he wrote the play ‘The Best Man’ (which was later adapted to the big screen), but it was for California that he adapted Tennessee Williams’ ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ for the big screen.

One of Vidal’s most famous film credits is still under some contention: He has long said that he worked on ‘Ben-Hur’ even though he is not one of the credited writers. It was in the 1990′s he spread the story that the antagonistic relationship between Charlton Heston’s Ben-Hur and Stephen Boyd’s Messala was based in a previous homosexual relationship. Heston denies the story, and Vidal’s imput into the film.

Though in some way – even though he contributed to interesting films like ‘The Left Handed Gun’ and ‘Is Paris Burning’ – his most famous on-screen credit is for ‘Caligula,’ which at one point was called ‘Gore Vidal’s Caligula.’ It came in 1979, at the apex of porno chic, and was produced by Penthouse’s Bob Guccione, and directed by noted adult-themed director Tinto Brass. The film stars Malcolm McDowell, John Geilgud, Peter O’Toole and Helen Mirren, and was meant to show decadence, but ultimately became known for the hard core pornography inserted into the film to make it of interest.

It was something Vidal had no problem talking about – Vidal rarely had problems talking about anything – though it’s failure is only one small part of the man’s legacy as a writer, essayist and great American personality. He will be missed.

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