Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Best Man


One of my favorite writers is Gore Vidal. He had spats with 2 other notable men, one William Buckley, JR, who called him a queer (making 2 syllables out of the word) on TV in 1968 and Bobby Kennedy. Although it dogged his life, I found the funniest anecdote in Vidal's Palimpsest, his first memoir, about him and Bobby Kennedy.

The story goes, there was a party at the White House and Gore Vidal was invited. There were a series of rooms in which guests talked and drank. Gore went into a room where Jackie was. He squatted down, as there were no empty chairs, and rested his hand on Jackie's left shoulder. They began to speak, but the person to her right got her attention. All of a sudden someone knocked his hand off Jackie's shoulder. He looked up. It was Bobby Kennedy who just kept walking. Gore was able to get Jackie's attention again, resting his hand on her shoulder for balance. The person to her right again spoke to her, so Jackie turned to listen. Again, someone knocked Vidal's hand off Jackie's shoulder. It was Bobby Kennedy who left the room.

Gore got up and followed Kennedy. He made sure the door was closed behind him, and the one across the way was already shut. It was just he and Bobby in a hallway. Gore, who towered over Kennedy, said, "Don't you ever do that to me again." To which Bobby replied, "Fuck off, Buddy Boy." To which one of America's Man of Letters heard himself reply, "You fuck off." Gore added no one witnessed this momentous exchange. It got around somehow that Gore was drunk and caused a disturbance at the White House. According to rumor he was thrown out. He claims he left of his own volition with 2 other writers.

Buckley used the fabled incident to say to Gore Vidal on national TV, "I'll punch you in the face -- and you'll stay plastered." As he became more demented, Truman Capote elevated this to the Secret Service picking up Gore physically and depositing him on Pennsylvania Ave!

Jackie never spoke to him again after that party, which is sad. They were stepbrother and stepsister once removed. She used to use his room and wear one of his flannel shirts when she felt chilly. After she died, he published Palimpsest and said a lot of flattering things about her, specifically, her intelligence.

About 15 years ago there was a 2-hour special about Gore Vidal. I wished I had taped it. He was still handsome. And in 2 scenes I saw him drunk. But he was a happy drunk, so it almost doesn't matter. In one scene he was in the back of a limo, on the right, with the photographer apparently on the left jump seat. His dear companion of decades past sang out "New York, New York" loudly and unabashedly. When the concert ended, Gore Vidal looked at the camera and said, "Do you see why I like him? He was the first person I ever met who had a college degree." (Yes, future writers/historians, Gore Vidal never went to college.)

In another scene Gore sat with Susan Sarandon and others in a bar, ridiculing some personage in a descriptive manner, much in the way he writes -- parenthetical phrases (like this one).

The close relationship he enjoyed with Johnny Carson surprised me. They were very close. Gore, of course, speaks eloquently; and Carson hosted a talk show. So no mystery there.

The only thing I really disagree about Gore's look on the world is when he's asked who was the worst President to ever hold office. He says time and again, John Kennedy, with whom he was friendly. Kennedy liked Hollywood gossip and Vidal could provide this.

Anyway, Gore Vidal blames John Kennedy for bringing us closest to nuclear annihilation. Gore should read Brothers by David Talbot. He will see how isolated the Kennedy Bros were from their Joint Chiefs of Staff. These top military officials were telling Kennedy to bomb Cuba. Kennedy did not do what they wanted. And they argued for it. Anyone with brains knew if you bombed Cuba, Russia would probably bomb us and it would be over. Kennedy fought against nuclear war. He was using back channels to deal with Castro and Kruschev. He wasn't going into Viet Nam. He felt other countries should fight their own battles within reason. He didn't want to go Global. He didn't want to emulate Nazi Germany, which during the Third Reich set out to rule the world. He wanted America the way the Constitution decreed. No New World Order.

The 2 cruel and Catholic Diem Bros of South Viet Nam were murdered and North Viet Nam, a Communist country, wanted to take over the South. That Kennedy would not send troops to Viet Nam angered the Vatican. It was the Domino Theory. No matter that Kennedy was Roman Catholic. He was killed 2 weeks after the Diem Bros.

So that's my issue with Gore Vidal, who's now in a wheelchair; and who published a large book of photos his friend took of their lives together over the decades. (The wealth! The opulence!)

Maybe Jackie didn't want to talk to someone who said her slain husband made the worst President. (And the best, according to Gore Vidal was Lincoln.)

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