What a beautiful baby boy! He came from eminent parentage: his mother would marry the man destined to be Jackie Kennedy's stepfather, and often recalled the many times she hooked up with Clark Gable. The great love of his father's life was Amelia Earhart. Dad's on the left.
Vidal was raised in D.C., where he attended St. Alban's. He fell in love with a blond guy named Jimmie Trimble, who would later die at Iwo Jima. He walked the halls of the senate with his blind grandfather, T.P. Gore. After graduating from Exeter, he joined the Army and served in the Aleutian Islands during the Second World War. The Army didn't really suit him, as he found pleasure in other things. In his 20s he published The City and the Pillar, which enticed the NYT to not review his next five books because of the explicit homosexuality therein
In 1959, Vidal made his Hollywood debut by almost nabbing a partial screenwriting credit for Ben-Hur, inserting a gay subtext for Charlton Heston. He also appeared in Fellini's Roma. Though he's gay, Vidal was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward, and had a relationship with Anais Nin. In 1950, he settled down with his lifelong companion, Howard Austen. "Our relationship was what it was. A sexual relationship was the last thing I wanted. When I was 17 or 18 it was different; I used to become besotted with people. But by then I felt past all that," Vidal said. The two never had sex.
Vidal's feuds were legendary. He'd fight with friends, enemies, partners — whoever earned his ire. When ABC hired both Vidal and conservative luminary William F. Buckley to comment on the 1968 election, a memorable fight ensued. After Buckley died, the ever gracious Vidal said, "I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred." Nice.
He also had a falling out with Truman Capote, who he once called "a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices." Here's Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Gore together.
Vidal was never shy about squeezing his way into a photograph.
Tennessee and Gore were friends, though, for a time, as this picture of them in Rome in 1948 attests. He called the playwright "The Glorious Bird."
The photo's from a visit Williams and Vidal made to the Kennedys before they became the First Couple, which he later described in the New York Review of Books:
While Jackie flitted about, taking Polaroid shots of us, the Bird banged away at the target. ... At one point, while Jack was shooting, the Bird muttered in my ear, 'Get that ass!' I said, 'Bird, you can't cruise our next president.' The bird chuckled ominously: 'They'll never elect those two. They are much too attractive for the American people.' Later, I told Jack that the Bird had commented favorably on his ass. He beamed. 'Now, that's very exciting,' he said."
After publishing a series of critically acclaimed books, most of them concerned with American history, Vidal turned his attention to politics. He ran against Jerry Brown in the Democratic Party and finished second. Here he is during the campaign.
Despite pondering a second Senate run in the early 80s, as he got older Vidal preferred to fade from public eye, as he recalled in this amazing 1995 Andrew Solomon profile. He did make an appearance on The Simpsons with Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, and Tom Wolfe.
Vidal's now confined to a wheelchair because of a fall he took in an accident. Though he's still respected at the age of 83, he'll end up being more well known for his life than his literary talent. We leave you with this sterling image.
As Vidal himself put it: ''I'm not sentimental about anything. Life flows by, and you flow with it or you don't. Move on and move out.''