Vidal was born at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his father was an aeronautics instructor. He later adopted, as his first name, the surname of his maternal grandfather.
He was brought up in the Washington, D.C., area, where his grandfather Thomas Gore was a Democratic Senator from Oklahoma. Thomas P. Gore was blind, and the young Vidal both read aloud to him and frequently acted as his guide, thereby gaining unusual access for a child to the corridors of power. (He became the first child to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.) After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Gore joined the US Army Reserve in 1943. At the age of 21, he wrote his first novel, Williwaw , based upon his military experiences in the Alaskan Harbor Detachment . The book was well received. A few years later, his novel The City and the Pillar, which dealt candidly with gay themes, caused a furor, to the extent that the New York Times refused to review a number of his later books. Subsequently, as sales of his novels slipped, Vidal worked on plays, films, and television series as a scriptwriter. Two of his plays, The Best Man and Visit to a Small Planet , were Broadway hits and, adapted, successful movies.
In the 1960s, Vidal wrote a number of novels, either political or historical in terms of their subject matter. Among these were Julian and Washington D.C. . He also wrote the transsexual comedy Myra Breckinridge and its sequel, Myron. Particularly noted among his later novels of the 1970s and 80s are Burr, Lincoln, Creation , Duluth , and Kalki . Although he wrote the original script for the controversial film Caligula, he tried to have his name removed from the final result.
The script for the Academy Award-winning Ben-Hur was apparently half Vidal's, half Christopher Fry's. The death of the producer, Sam Zimbalist , however, led to complications in alloting the credit. The Screenwriters Guild resolved the issue by listing Karl Tunberg as the screenwriter, denying credit to both Vidal and Fry. Charlton Heston was less than pleased with the (carefully and deliberately veiled) homosexuality of a portion of the writing Vidal claims to have written and has denied that Vidal had significant involvement in the script.
Vidal writes chiefly on political, historical, and literary themes. Much of his essay work is collected in the volumes United States and The Last Empire .
In the early 1970s, Vidal moved to Italy and was cast as himself in Federico Fellini's film Roma . His liberal politics are well-documented and in 1987 he wrote a series of essays entitled Armageddon , exploring the intricacies of power in contemporary America, and ruthlessly pillorying the presidential incumbent Ronald Reagan, whom he famously described as a "triumph of the embalmer's art". Besides his politician grandfather, Vidal has other connections to the Democratic Party; his mother Nina married Hugh D Auchincloss, Jr. , who was the stepfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Vidal is a 5th cousin of Jimmy Carter. He believes he is cousin to Al Gore, but attempts to trace the common ancestor have found none within the New World Gores. He was also an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Congress in 1960, losing a very close election in a traditionally Republican district on the Hudson River. He lost a second attempt in 1982, despite the backing of such liberal celebrities as Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Vidal is noted as a self-publicist and if a more accurate definition of his view on things were required, it is neatly summed up in the tongue-in-cheek assertion from a magazine interview: "There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise."
In August 2004, the New York Times reported that Vidal, now 79, was selling his 5,000-square-foot cliff-side villa in Italy, which had been his principal residence for 30 years, for health reasons and was moving permanently to his other home in Los Angeles.
Views on September 11, 2001
Vidal is critical of the Bush administration, as he has been of previous U.S. administrations that he considers to have either an explicit or implicit expansionist agenda. He has frequently made the point in interviews, essays, and in a recent book that Americans "are now governed by a junta of oil-Pentagon men ... both Bushes, Cheney, Rumsfeld and so on". He makes the case that for several years this group and their associates have aimed to control the oil of central Asia (after gaining effective control of the oil of the Persian Gulf in 1991). Specifically regarding the September 11, 2001 attacks, Vidal writes how such an attack, which American intelligence warned was coming, politically justified the plans the administration already had in August 2001 for invading Afghanistan the following October.
He discusses the lack of defence, among them the ninety-minute delay in getting fighter planes into the air to intercept the hijacked airliners, compared with the five minutes or so one would expect after a hijacking report. If these huge failures were incompetence, they would deserve "a number of courts martial with an impeachment or two thrown in". Instead there is to be only a limited inquiry into how the "potential breakdowns among federal agencies ... could have allowed the terrorist attacks to occur". This, concludes Vidal, in the denouement of his conspiracy theory, proves that the administration in fact let the attack happen, in order to allow just about all options for domination in world oil supplies under the banner of noble war against an Axis of Evil.
- Rocking the Boat
- Screening History ISBN 0233988033
- United States: essays 1952–1992 ISBN 0767908066
- The Last Empire: essays 1992–2000 ISBN 037572639X
- Palimpsest: a memoir ISBN 0679440380
- Decline and Fall of the American Empire ISBN 1878825003
- The American Presidency ISBN 1878825151
- Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace or How We Came To Be so Hated, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 156025405X
- Dreaming War: blood for oil and the Cheney-Bush junta, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002, ISBN 1560255021
- Inventing a Nation: Washington, Adams, Jefferson ISBN 0300101716
- Jewish History, Jewish Religion: the weight of 3000 years (with Israel Shahak) ISBN 0745308198
- The Invention of Heterosexuality (with Jonathan Ned Katz ) ISBN 0525938451
- Out of This Century: confessions of an art addict (With Peggy Guggenheim) ISBN 0233976019
- America First!: its history, culture, and politics (with Bill Kauffman ) ISBN 0879759569
- (1946) Williwaw ISBN 0226855856
- (1947) In a Yellow Wood
- (1948) The City and the Pillar ISBN 1400030374
- (1949) The Season of Comfort ISBN 0233989714
- (1950) A Search for the King ISBN 0345254554
- (1950) Dark Green, Bright Red (1950) ISBN 0233989137 (pseudoprophecy of the Guatemala coup of 1954, see "In the Lair of the Octopus" Dreaming War)
- (1953) The Judgment of Paris ISBN 0345334582
- (1955) Messiah ISBN 0141180390
- (1964) Julian ISBN 037572706X
- (1967) Washington, DC ISBN 0316902578
- (1968) Myra Breckinridge
- (1970) Two Sisters ISBN 0434829587
- (1974) Burr ISBN 0375708731
- (1974) Myron ISBN 0586043004
- (1976) 1876 ISBN 0375708723
- (1978) Kalki ISBN 0141180374
- (1980) Creation ISBN 0375727051
- (1983) Duluth ISBN 0394527380
- (1984) Lincoln ISBN 0375708766
- (1987) Empire ISBN 037570874X
- (1989) Hollywood ISBN 0375708758
- (1992) Live from Golgotha: the Gospel according to Gore Vidal ISBN 0140231196
- (1997) Myra Breckinridge / Myron ISBN 0394553764
- (1998) The Smithsonian Institution ISBN 0375501215
- (2000) The Golden Age ISBN 0375724818
As Edgar Box
- Interview in Salon, January 1998
- C-SPAN Book TV In Depth 3 Hour Interview - October 1, 2000; RealVideo format.
- Interview in LA Weekly, July 2002
- Interview in LA Weekly, November 2003
- Cooperative Research on the failure to defend the skies