Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (2013) Poster

Gore Vidal: Self



  • Gore Vidal : When I first came here, with us was a biographer of mine who was famous for getting everything wrong. I thought it would be a good way to start him on the biography to show him my tomb, to give him confidence. He begins with this desperate passage about Gore Vidal, who has 'a pathological hatred of death.' Anyone who has that doesn't take somebody to see his tomb. With that one mistake, he was off and running, as they say.

  • Gore Vidal : The whole point to a ruling class is they don't conspire, the rulers. They all think alike, unless you get out of it, as I did. And I defected, and I was rather worried about what was happening to what I think of as my country.

  • Gore Vidal : My father dreamed of being the Henry Ford of aviation, so he was forever coming up with prototypes of cheap airplanes that were absolutely safe. So safe that even I at the age of 10, could fly it.

  • Jay Parini : If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?

    Gore Vidal : My mother.


    Jay Parini : Whose mother do you want?

    Gore Vidal : I'll take Whistler's. I'll take anybody else's.

  • Gore Vidal : I was supposed to go to Harvard, and I remember thinking all my friends from Exeter had gone to Harvard, and I'd been accepted. And then I thought, 'My God, I've been institutionalized all of my life.' And I thought, 'Oh, dear God, I'm not gonna go in for that.' So they said. 'How are you gonna live?' I said, 'Well, you know, I'm gonna write.'

    [imitates patronizing laughter] 

  • Gore Vidal : It was very clear. You don't decide to be a writer, you are one or you're not one. This drives people crazy, because everybody thinks it's easy to sort of sit down and scribble, and that's it. Well, it isn't it, and you have to have a certain gift, which is not art. It's not Democracy. In fact, art is the enemy of Democracy.

  • Gore Vidal : Sex is politics. You know, I mean, it always has been used for that. Largely, it's used as a means of keeping people in line. The dream of every society is total control.

  • Gore Vidal : When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, I also ran for the House of Representatives at the same time. And I suppose I was more innocent about the political system. I thought it made some difference who the president was.

  • Gore Vidal : [speaking on the 60's]  Watching this conflict, one saw that it was a cultural war that has now joined the race war in the United States, and a generation war. That there was such malevolence of these elderly politicians toward the young, toward the idealists, towards anybody who wanted to change anything. And that was when I realized that the country is still less civil than what I thought. Uhh, I would say that the current commitment to political action throughout the United States is the most hopeful thing that I've ever seen in my lifetime. And it was begun partly by the race situation in America and has now come to a head with the Vietnamese War, and the slow recognition that the United States has become an empire of the most predatory kind. This has energized, radicalized many of the young in the United States, and I see those as good roles to play.

  • Gore Vidal : Well, there was a revolution in Chicago. The police were rioting. They were beating up delegates to the Democratic Convention and behaving like the pigs that they were known as. And I was... against the pigs and said so.

  • Gore Vidal : In every generation, there are a few unfortunate souls who are condemned, practically at birth, to be that absolute absurdity; a writer for life.

  • Gore Vidal : Here is Iwo Jima, the greatest moment of American heroism. Well, that's for the people back home. For the people at Iwo Jima, it was a nightmare.

  • Gore Vidal : You can persuade people to go to war and fight for Democracy and die, leaving a widow and orphaned children behind; that this is serving the greater good. Well, it isn't. It's surrendering to everything evil in the society. But they've been persuaded, 'Oh, it's a noble thing to give your life for your country.' Fuck that. I spent three years in WWII, the 'Good War.' In three years in the Pacific, mostly North, but a little bit South; I never heard one patriotic word said by an American soldier about anything.

  • Gore Vidal : Dr. Kinsey's great gift to the world was to tell us what people actually did sexually, as opposed to what they were supposed to do.

  • Gore Vidal : Faulkner I used to see. He saw two adaptations I had made of his short stories. He said, 'You must be very careful about Hollywood. Some people make the mistake of taking it seriously. Don't.' I saw Scott Fitzgerald ruin himself. He took movies seriously, and Faulkner would laugh. Imagine. It's not serious at all. It's not writing. If you need the money, go and do it. I did.

  • Gore Vidal : What does one say of a private relationship?

  • Gore Vidal : [speaking about John F. Kennedy]  He was really the most enjoyable company on earth and terribly funny. I took Tennessee over there one day, and Jack was putting up targets. And he got out guns, and we were gonna do some target practice. Jack begins, and he goes, 'Bang, Bang.' You know, he looked wonderful doing it, but, you know, didn't really hit the target. And Jack said, 'Well, Tennessee, don't you want to try at this target right here?'


    Gore Vidal : Tennessee goes, 'Yes, well, you know I'm totally blind in my left eye, but I don't mind giving it a try.' Bang, Bang, Bang. He hit every target.


  • Gore Vidal : [speaking of John F. Kennedy]  He got elected. I didn't get elected. Watching the disaster of his administration - and I was very fond of him and still am fond of the memory of the man. But in 1,000 days, he invades Cuba unsuccessfully and then ends by heating up the war in Vietnam. And we must put this on president Kennedy's head. He got us into it in October 1963, when he changed the 600 advisers we had there to 20,000 committed troops. And it is now part of the Kennedy legend, that had he lived, this war would not have taken place, or would not have pursued, or would not have escalated. I can promise you as much as you can guess anything, I mean, you know of a speculative nature, that he would have been as deeply in it as Johnson. With Kennedy, in the summer of '63; he had lost the students in America. He had lost the liberals. He was under tremendous pressure on all directions. He had done practically nothing as president of the United States, except maintain his image. He made some marvelous speeches of an analytical nature. There was no subject that at one time or another he did not say the wisest thing about. And no action ever followed any speech.

  • Gore Vidal : The thing about myths and legends, should we allow reality to intrude; the Kennedy legend is a very good one for the world, and it's a very good one for the United States. And as a critic, I am sort of split; because on the one hand, I know it's not true, and on the other hand I think, 'Well, if it's not true - it ought to be true.' I liked him tremendously, and I hang his picture in my library, not as an icon, not as a memory of Camelot, not as a memory of glorious nights at the White House or in Bel-Air; but never again to be taken in by anybody's charm. He was one of the most charming men I've ever known, one of the most intelligent, and one of the most disastrous presidents I think we've ever had.

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