Gore Vidal


Gore Vidal looks up, yawns, tells me to strip, and I do.

I arrived at Ravello on the Naples night-train, wrapped up in couchette-gauze like a thin corpse, fazed by speed-dreams of the Kingdom of Gore, not certain if I had slept or if I was still dreaming.

Goredom lies behind a solid iron gate, down a long dirt footpath – a nine-acre slice of Paradise chipped into a ring of mountains which shimmer all around you like blue shadows against a Klein-blue sky which drips into a Klein-blue sea. Past his vine terraces, olive orchards and lemon trees and the neighbours’ crumbling Kane-like mansion, his white villa clings to the cliff looking down a sheer 200 foot drop, looking out over Salerno and Amalfi, a suffocating haze of blue bay, where the yachts sunbathe in the hounding 40 degree heat and the specks of speedboats appear to crawl across the vast view. Lizards flit between my toes, thumb-sized locusts menace my phobia. The horizon has gone, sucked into the blue.

Late and lost, I find Gore Vidal by a purple swimming pool – a fat cat on a sun-lounger, white towel wrapped around a white-haired ball of belly. He looks up, yawns, tells me to strip and I do. Wearing an old man’s pair of Yves Saint Laurent shorts, I slip into the purple pool and slip away into Goredom, where the only conflict is the force of boredom against the lap of luxury, it hasn’t rained for two months and every form of pain has been removed.

“Do you ever get tired of this ?” I ask him – the stupidest question of my, and Gore Vidal’s, life. No reply. No need. We’ve all done it. When he heard that his good friend Paul Newman was doing a coffee commercial in Japan for two and a half million dollars, Gore Vidal asked him why. Newman replied, succinctly: “I’d have to think up a damned good reason not to.”

Vidal is gracious enough to let me lie on his lounger, soak up his sun, but on this sleepy Sunday he greets my first question with sighs of supreme weariness and utter indifference.

Livening up later, his conversation (perhaps his real Art) is, like his writing, a stylish, subtle triumph of blending gossip with ideas, intellect with facetious provocation, flirting with theory, all spiked with his elegant malice and mordant irony.

But then he has no shortage of material, for Gore Vidal is or has been: the grandson of the founder of Oklahoma; step-brother and Arts Adviser to the Kennedys; Congress Candidate; chat show ligger; author of 25 novels and plays; MGM screenwriter; pansexual polymath and self-appointed biographer of America.

He ran for Mayor of New York; put the homoeroticism into ‘Ben Hur’; stepped out with Anais Nin; created Myra Breckinridge, Richard Nixon and Caligula; and after 20 years of clever controversy remains the spiteful, playful scourge of the American Right, and America’s most consistently serious best-selling novelist.

He can talk (try and stop him) about his ideas for the next Constitution of The United States (abolishing the Presidency, the CIA and the legal right to have children, legalising all drugs and pornography, that type of thing), gossip about Gorbachev and Oliver North, tell stories about his friends Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joan Collins and Tennessee Williams, whom Vidal once took to meet John F. Kennedy. “Nice ass,” leered Tennessee. When Vidal told JFK Tennessee’s assessment, Kennedy enthused, “Now that’s exciting.” “One could weep for what might have been,” screams Vidal now.

When he wrote ‘An Evening With Richard Nixon’, he got death threats (“well-written death threats too”) and fan mail from President Markos. He recently discovered his novel ‘Duluth’ (when the people of Duluth die, they go into a television series called Duluth) was quite overwhelmingly the most popular book in the Women’s Penitentiary of Lima, Peru.
“I thought, now we know who the fans are, what my true audience consists of !”

A bore, they say, is someone who talks when you want him to listen. Vidal does not care to be interrupted but he does not particularly care if I’m listening, or if I tell him I’ve read the story before. He figures the words were so good when he wrote them they’re worth repeating. An interview, he expounds, no doubt with a future essay or chat show anecdote in mind “should introduce a new thought to the reader. Like the fact that since 1949 England has been an occupied country by the United States’ Military. We do not allow you any form of Government of which we might not approve and if ever you asked us to remove our air bases, we would refuse.”
Clearly this is to be our subject. I am to listen. With the lull of his aristocratic American burr, quietly camp English irony and the cicadas’ relentless, shrill violins, I shut my eyes and lightly dream.

“Jim Shelley meet Lauren Hutton.”
Goredom is a fine place to live. Vidal has lived a life of subversive American Socialism and merry Socialite-ism.

The mildly divine Lauren Hutton dances in, bright eyes, see-through silk shirt and no shoes, all energy and grace, to advise Vidal on a photo session for ‘Gioa’ Magazine.
“That’s a fine name for a boy like you !” Hutton sings. Gulp. “Have you heard him tell the story about the Duke & Duchess of Windsor ?” Not yet.

For the photo-shoot, Vidal potters about like an honourable Headmaster, made up and stuffed into a suit, holding in his stomach, repeating his two photo poses: his author’s nasty smug-sneer and his Presidential dignity-air. Blake Carrington or Larry Grayson would play him in the mini-series. It’s a Bunuel setting. I am to play the part of the poor relation, between Vidal and Hutton.
Vidal is right to say he’d make a perfect plastic TV President.
“I feel an intimacy with the camera I never feel with a live audience. It’s the only time I totally relaxed,” he has said. He insists on being shot from his best side.
“Are you shaded ?” hisses his companion-secretary-friend of 30 years or more, Howard Austen. Gore gives him a cold sneer straight out of ‘Earthly Powers’. Hutton changes and tells me she’s going into the grounds to do the weeding. I rub my eyes.

“The last time I saw Dorothy Parker, Los Angeles was on fire,” Vidal declares, announcing one of his favourite anecdotes approaches. “She lived in one of those funny little streets off the Strip. All the hills were aflame and smoke filled the sky… Dot was standing out in the front yard, huge whiskey in one hand and a long comb in the other…staring at the flames…slowly combing her hair… I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “I am combing Los Angeles out of my hair…”

Gore’s version of Dorothy Parker’s wide-eyed distraction drops from lipstick-stained lips.
“She had lethal delivery. ‘Oh, wonderful to see you’ (Vidal sings in a voice of sweetest Southern innocence). ‘The play I went to see was wonderful… If it’s not the worst play ever written in America I just don’t know what is…’ This was to the author ! Hahaha, she really was wonderful.”

Later, he reflects: “I’ve practically seen everything, yes. You do do less as you get older. You want to do less. One does find one sleeps quite a lot here.”
Gore’s eyes are open but he’s talking in his sleep. Boredom haunts us, hounds us, the boredom of idyllic idleness conquers us. The burden of boredom. I could pretend otherwise of course but to be honest Gore was bored – with his stories, his life. I bored him to death, to tears. I bored Gore stiff. I have none of the gossip about ‘Little Martin Amis’ he eagerly asks for. I am ignorant and vain. I keep agreeing when he wants me to argue.

But then Gore was always bored by the idea of life; he knew in advance: he was right all along. He never wanted to be born, let alone (thank God) Born Again.
“I dreamt quite regularly about going through a tunnel, a rocky sort of place, very claustrophobic with a light at the end that I can never get to. I asked my mother and she said it was a terrible delivery. Her pelvis was too small. My head was too big.”

No comment.

His story ‘The Ladies In The Library’ was entirely a dream, he tells me, yawning. ‘Dreams’ leads to Dallas and The Colby’s. Apparently, Fallon has been swept away to space.
“She’s been in space ever since,” he purrs, noting the ‘Duluth’-ian element, “with Shirley Maclaine. (Smirking suavely). Shirley had 8 hours on television proving she was God… I’ve always known, but I didn’t know it was official.”
He watches my laughter and forgets he’s bored.

Dragged into living on October 3rd 1925, Vidal has had a lucky life, so much so he’s tiring slightly from the luxury of his luck. His only hardship has been the criticism that he cannot recreate pain in his fiction.

He was born Eugene Luther Vidal Jnr. at the prestigious West Point Military Academy where he was educated and where his father (an early aviation pioneer and first-ever Director of Aeronautics) was an officer and, his son has written, “the finest all-round athlete in the history of the Academy.” He married Nina Gore, the beautiful daughter of Senator T.P. Gore of Oklahoma, from whom Vidal took his name at the age of 14, also inheriting his grandfather’s belligerence and opposition to American Imperialism.
“He was blind from the age of 10. Totally self-invented, unlike myself. He learnt to memorise a page that was read to him, invented the state of Oklahoma and wrote the only Socialist constitution in the United States.”

As a boy, Vidal would collect his grandfather from the floor of the Capitol, usually barefoot, often in just a bathing costume, and read him the Congressional Record, poetry and Economics books: “He tutored me.”

He worshipped his grandfather, adored his father and despised his mother.
“I hated my mother. She was quite a character – she had great charm – but she was a shit. She was also an alcoholic. It didn’t affect me, no. I was protected by servants, brought up at Boarding schools. I didn’t see that much of her. When I did, I didn’t much care for what I saw. My life has not been very filled with emotion.”

His mother’s family fought for the Confederacy, his father’s for the Union: they divorced when he was 10 and his mother married Hugh Auchincloss, whose next wife was Janet Bouvier, the mother of Jackie Kennedy-Onassis; Vidal became a Kennedy step-brother. (Vidal will make a brilliant mini-series.)

Was the child like the man ?
“I was never a successful child, but being a human being I had to pass through that stage. I couldn’t bear to be a victim. I hate being dependent. I had a fair complement of friends, yes. I only liked people who make me laugh, still do. Most of my friends have been women. I don’t have that competitiveness I have with men. As a boy, I wanted to be a movie star but I blew it.”

Vidal recalls his “demented leer” as he landed a Flivver plane he was demonstrating for his father when he was 10 and was being filmed by Pathe.

Boredom reclaims the conversation.
“God, I was bored ! I can remember sitting in class – I went to quite a good school, perfectly good teachers – thinking, HOW CAN THIS GO ON ANOTHER MINUTE !? WHY IS NOTHING INTERESTING? ! God, the boredom.”
The sigh, so decadent and dramatic, is so stylish I almost applaud.
“I was already writing. I’d read all of Shakespeare by the time I was 15. I said, ‘Why don’t you teach the Roman Empire?’ That fascinated me. We did lethally dull American History – they make it deliberately boring so that you won’t find out what the country’s about. Because of this, I’m trapped as a writer of American History. I’d rather read it than write it, that’s all,” he says, slyly summing up and condemning his fictitious biography of America better than any academic could.

Asking Vidal about himself, his invented self, incites the sort of yawns you yourself might give if repeatedly quizzed about which shoe you put on first. For someone whose wilful narcissism and immodesty are legendary, he has never been his own subject.
“It bores the life out of me. America’s my subject. I was never introspective. I can be very boring about other things but not myself: it’s the way I was brought up. I was never encouraged to talk about myself. I was so busy passing judgement on others, it never occurred to me to judge myself. I never took seriously the world I was in. I still don’t. Mind you, having my biography has made me more reflective, although I fear I felt a bit ill when I heard Walter Clemence (from ‘Newsweek’) was receiving such a vast amount of money – even though I wouldn’t have done it for all the money in the world.”

Are you that kind of person ?
“My instinct is to say no, I am not. I’m everywhere in the books but I don’t use what happened to me last summer. I could not be more UNlike Myra Breckinridge (sodomist, subversive and film-critic). I deeply admire her but where she came from, I don’t know. I hate the movies she loves.”

Would you like to have been a woman, or been like Myra ?
“Good heavens, no. I like reading about her, they’re a joy to write. She’s into mega-low sex. Doesn’t coincide with my fancies at all, no.”

Sex ? So soon ? Alright. Vidal will not – intriguingly-resolutely – talk about his sex life. In America he’s been widely branded as a fag and a Commie fag at that, but “It doesn’t hurt at all,” he says, preferring to be hurt when his clever, calculated comments are misquoted or mistimed by journalists. Talking about sex, you guessed it, bores him, almost as much as reading about it.
“We have fiction to satisfy our prurience. I’ve just done Oscar Wilde’s biography for the T.L.S. I said how deeply boring it was to read about he and Bosie again. Totally non-sexy. ‘Adam Meade’ is very erotic. The Orton diaries were really sexy – a sexual tension you get from Art, seldom from life.”

The “startling sexual escapades and orgies” referred to by “little Martin Amis” in his ‘Observer’ interview were “plainly a spoof.” But looking at ‘Myra’, ‘Myron’, ‘Julian’ and ‘Caligula’, it all seems fairly evident. He believes “everything should be available to everyone,” including pornography amongst the things he finds erotic. He’ll install screening facilities for Italian porn cassettes when he can be bothered.
“Certainly masturbation’s going to be pretty big in the next few years, with AIDS,” he ponders. “I have a friend who’s mad for Mrs T. I find her rather pretty. He wants her body. In the 50s, a Borstal survey found the objects for masturbation were often the Royal Ladies. They’re maternal and power figures. Ken Tynan and I discussed this. I said, ‘Well, it’s the face on the money, they’re wanking and thinking about money at the same time.’ Sooner or later everyone’s going to realise AIDS is like ‘The Russians are coming’ – just scare tactics from governments trying to keep us in our cages. I cannot read the British Press anymore. By my calculation according to the Daily Mail everyone in England has been dead of AIDS for two years. It’s a sad place now. I’m always amazed at how little my friends earn there. The idea that intelligence is a liability could only have been invented by a Brit. ‘Too clever by half’ is the worst curse you can deliver. To which I usually reply: ‘And too stupid by two-thirds’.”

He sighs, with the weariness of always being right.
“Still, at least Mrs T. is of above average intelligence by any standards. Reagan is below by any standard. Armageddon will take place 55 miles north of Tel Aviv, between the Russians and the Americans, using nuclear weapons, God will come down, played by Charlton Heston… Our President actually believes that.”

We move into the cool white house, decked in art, paintings, statues. He shows me a large First Century painting, his loyal typewriter, his grandfather’s chair, the framed magazine covers showing the (mild) decline of his spectacular cheekbones.
“I don’t like possessions. I never wanted a house.” He has one in L.A., a small penthouse in a 17th Century Palace in Old Rome, and this one in Ravello for his 10,000 books.

Are there any houses down there ? I ask, looking down the cliff.
“Oh, there’s a small village down there somewhere,” he sighs. Huge rugs cover the floors. In the corner, a lonely pile of dog shit hides behind the cream sofa-set. Vidal sees it, sighs and leaves it.

“The war saved my life,” Vidal tells me, without irony. (He can also persuade you that war and famine are mankind’s only hope.) “I don’t know what would have become of me otherwise. The war was less boring than school.”

He left school at 17, ended up in an army boat off the Aleutian Islands writing his first novel ‘Willilaw’ and nearly dying from hepatitis (“I’m interested in anything to do with the liver”).

At 22 he published ‘The City & The Pillar’, the first serious and sympathetic American novel about homosexuality, scuppering his literary reputation and then going to work for MGM on ‘Ben Hur’, ‘Suddenly Last Summer’, ‘The Best Man’ and ‘The Left-Handed Gun’.
Returning to fiction after 10 years, ‘Julian’ (the story of the Roman Emperor), ‘Washington D.C.’ and ‘Myra Breckinridge’ were all top of the bestseller lists in Britain and the U.S. This month sees the publication of three books – a neat summation of his prodigiousness, range and literary brilliance, proof that he’s clever & contrived enough to be able to provide a novel to any taste These are: his fourth collection of essays, ‘Armageddon ?’; a double edition of ‘Myra Breckinridge’ and ‘Myron’; and ‘Empire’, another part of his absorbing re-assessment of the creation of “Amnesia The Beautiful”, mixing trenchant biography, ‘Dynasty’ and scholarly historical narrative, re-writing history, putting lies in the mouths of Presidents and predicting the Russian Revolution. Fictional characters blend with the likes of Roosevelt, Hearst and his hero Henry Adams, further evidence that his motives are as much political as literary.

‘Myra’ and ‘Myron’ (in which he replaces the swear words with the surnames of the judges on a Censorship Committee) are hilarious, scurrilous, erotic hardcore parodies of obscenity, absurdity, Hollywood and Pop intellectualism.

“For a real writer, writing is inevitable. Whenever I hear someone say they’ve got writer’s block, I say, ‘Wonderful, don’t do it. There’s quite enough writing in the world already.’ I’ve never stopped. The two books I’d leave as my legacy ? ‘Myra’ and ‘Duluth’. Nobody else could have written them. Somebody else could have written ‘Julian’ or ‘Creation’.”

The reviewers’ accolades have showered down on his essays: entertaining, funny, instructive, brutal, witty, vicious, caustic, frank, snobbish, bitchy, erudite, superbly argued. Of course they are. He is.

In ‘Armageddon ?’ he continues to seriously attack those he claims not to take seriously: Israel, Jewish intolerance and fag-baiting, ‘God-hungry Americans’, teasingly describing Jesus’ birth in the Middle East as “a bad career move.”
Reagan is “The Ancient Acting President”, the latest in “that long cavalcade of mediocrity,” attacking the Space Programme and the “rightly stuffed men with nothing much to say who lurch about the moon” and causing fury in America by suggesting an American-Russian alliance to counteract the Sino-Japanese domination of the world’s economies. He is also the first serious author to be in love with the bracket: “(Oh as it were! A challenge to the reader to say, as it were not)”.

Another constant cause for grief is the state of “Lit” as he caustically calls it. He bitterly despises the Right-Wing-Controlled American University system, “experimental literature that can only be taught and not read”, writers who pass from Creative Studies courses to teaching Creative Studies courses with no real life in-between, “squirrel scholars” and “Literary Theory which has replaced Books and Reading”.
“There’s real rage that I didn’t become a schoolteacher like 90% of other writers, that I’m a bestseller who has supported himself by writing without University grants or writing books about How To Be A Good Person. If you are A Bad Person, you must be A Bad Writer. Most people can only do one thing well. Like Anthony Burgess, I can do several things pretty well.”
His advice to any young writer would be: “Go straight into television. Forget literature. Universities have killed it on one hand and television on the other. People will stop reading altogether soon.”

Gore will go down in the quotations encyclopaedias as the man who said: “Whenever I hear the word ‘love’ I reach for my revolver”; “I’m all for bringing back the birch but only between consenting adults”; (of Truman Capote) “He will lie even when it is inconvenient – the sign of a true artist”; “Whenever a friend succeeds, something in me dies”; and my own favourite: “Never miss an opportunity to have sex or appear on television.”
“Diane Saunders on CBS mentioned that to me on ‘The Morning Show’. I said, ‘Well, we have seven minutes… It’s just the right length of time for me. I hate foreplay.’ The whole place fell apart.”

Exile is not being to live in or leave your home country. Vidal reads, rests, writes in Ravello, returning to America for the political fray.
“I almost never write there.”
His tragedy, he says, only half-jokingly, is that he wanted to be President but “was born to be a writer.” Besides, he points out, “no-one who has written ‘City & The Pillar’ or ‘Myra Breckinridge’ will ever be President.”

A strange mix of political sophisticate and ideological naïf, his career has been incredibly successful but never victorious. In 1960 he ran for Congress, winning 20,000 votes more than JFK (“as I never ceased to remind him”) and in his last run for the Senate he came in second with half a million votes.
“I spent 100,000 dollars. The winner spent 700,000. The Republicans would have spent 100 million dollars to keep me out. Gary Coglin made a 90 minute documentary, ‘Gore Vidal: The Man Who Said No.’ They will NOT show it on any channel in the country. You see the reaction when someone quite radical starts speaking.”

Quite radical ? When 2/3rds of the population doesn’t vote (it’s now 1/2), there will be a new Constitutional Convention. Vidal wants to: cut the defence budget by 2/3rds; nationalise National resources like coal, oil, water; legislate against inheritances of over 1/2m dollars; restrict political advertising; cut the election period from 4 years to 4 weeks; abolish the drug agencies and legalise all drugs (he’s done everything without needles): “It would abolish all crime, the Mafia, corrupt police, playground pushers, old ladies being mugged for drug money. Of course it’s too much for our Jesus Christers to comprehend.”

He’d replace the Presidency with a Parliamentary system: “I don’t know how we get political parties. We’ve never had any. Our owners (what he calls “The old money”) don’t want us to have them. I’m one of the leaders of the Party that doesn’t vote. The other party is the Property Party… Our economy’s wrecked. We don’t know how to get the markets back from Tokyo, Taiwan. We’ve gone from the greatest creditor nation in the world to the greatest debtor in 10 years. We’re 2 trillion dollars in debt. Even in Quality of Life we’re down to number 27. That’s known as fucking up on a major scale.”

His dreams are endless.
“I would like to see some sort of Confucianism grafted onto the American stem. I think it might not be easy. There’s no God nonsense, but we can still have the Little Lord Jesus somewhere. I learnt that the system’s corrupt, the problem’s systemic. It’s gonna blow up. There’s a lot of poverty (he yawns). Downtown New York is like Calcutta now. East Los Angeles is depraved.”

Pessimism is boring. His weariness is shown when I ask him if there are any decent politicians coming through. “It wouldn’t matter if there were: to be a Senator in California costs 10-20 million dollars. Either he’s born with the money, or he’s given it or he’s made it, in which case I’d look out.”

From ‘City & The Pillar’, ‘Myra’ and recent Newsweek articles on the Ollie North trial, Vidal has charted the state of American Right hostility for over 40 years. He says it hasn’t changed, has accepted the risk of being shot and will occasionally deal with “Crazed Jesus Christers” with a neatly typed postcard: “’Dear Madam, the book you requested, ‘Brutal Dykes’, is out of print. We here at Sapphic Stores have some wonderful lesbian videos like the ones you ordered last month.’ Hahaha. Highly gratifying.”

Vidal’s laconic swagger conceals the polished, poisonous wit, revealed with the sardonic raising of one eyebrow as he says, “We hate Communism because we’re such Good People,” positively choking on irony, and the smirk of satisfaction. He learnt a lot from Dorothy Parker.
“I’ll say one thing for Martin Amis… He’s not as afraid of being interesting as he used to be.”

“Anecdotes ? I just don’t have them” despaired Andrew Eldritch recently. Anecdotes ? The food of life says Gore. Tennessee was “the best company in the world”; Capote “a bad writer. I’m nowhere on record as having liked him”. Mailer, Isherwood, Gide, Santanyana, Burgess, Calvino, Huxley, he met them all. “Or did they meet
me ?” he purrs. “I was with Graham (Greene) in Moscow. He got through a bottle of vodka at lunch. But like Hemmingway used to say, ‘How else are you gonna end the day ?’ Neither Greene nor I fuss about the extraordinary difficulty of our ART as much as Hemingway. That’s a very strenuous approach to art I don’t suffer from… I told Gorbachev’s Second-in-Command that Gorbachev reminds me of Roosevelt: ‘The new deal’ saved Capitalism to the horror of certain Capitalists. Gorbachev’s saving Communism is the horror of certain Communists.”

Politicians fare little better.
“Gary Hart never learnt to make a speech or appear on television. Very eerie. I put it down to the fact that he’s not very clear who he is. Like Nixon, he was always trying to remember who he was that day. I haven’t met Ciccolina. I’ve seen her in photographs, which is the equivalent. I don’t see why a porn star in politics is any more ridiculous than a TV pitcher for General Electrics.”

“What the Marcoses did not steal the Aquinos will. Mrs Marcos is actually quite nice. They had a very nice daughter, whom I used to know. She got an autographed copy of ‘Julian’ for the President. I’ve never been a star-fucker but I am a power-groupie. I never say no to a President. I got this two-page letter saying ‘The City & The Pillar’ had changed his life. I can’t imagine President Reagan writing such a letter, even though it might have changed his life. ‘Myra Breckinridge’ had proved too much for Mr Marcos, however. ‘Lincoln’ was found on the President’s night table after he’d been ousted. Will Kory continue ? Who cares ? It’s the most unimportant country on earth !”

Gore lives in Ravello with Howard Austin, 2 scraggy adopted pups (when asked he says they’re called ‘Sweetness’ and ‘Light’, and even though he’s dripping in sarcasm, someone believes him), and a bony white cat that thinks it’s a dog – perhaps the only things he’s fond of.
“She’s not above knowing when she’s being adorable. She has a series of clipped commands she gives when the dogs are to be disciplined.”

He reads 5 hours a day, never watches television (although he chuckles at the memory of ‘Spitting Image’s’ Reagan wrestling with a two-piece jigsaw of the American flag). He’s going back to LA to oversee a new production of his 1959 study of a Candidate Race, ‘The Best Man’ (for which Reagan was originally considered wholly implausible), which he’s re-written for the ’88 election. ‘Lincoln’ is to be a mini-series and he’s just returned to writing for television 25 years after the days of live television plays, with ‘Dressed Grey’ about a homosexual murder at West Point.
“I was deeply satisfied and very excited by it. 25 million people watched it in the States.”

He’s reading up for ‘Harding’, the next installment in the biography of America and his “missionary work” – the essays – has him reading and reviewing 19 books by Dawn Powell (‘America’s Evelyn Waugh’) for the New York Times Review of Books which will take a year and for which we will make just 2,000 dollars.

Just to keep him busy he has just become the first writer to take the Screenwriter’s Guild to Federal Court after losing the credit for Michael Cimino’s ‘The Sicilian’ to a Former President of the Guild. Having sued to take his name off ‘Caligula’ and lost his ‘Ben Hur’ credit, it’s no wonder he’s said, “in middle age I find litigation replaces sex, with many of the same thrills.”
“If somebody doesn’t break them, who will ? They do it all the time. Really, the egos of the untalented are very considerable. Creative book-keeping and stealing credits are Hollywood’s only contributions to the Seven Lively Arts.”

There is nothing more boring than listening to the rich complain about the very rich.
“I think how nice it would be to be very rich. Travel at my age is sheer discomfort. I know the very rich from my movie days. They have their own airplanes. The rich are different from us: They never suffer. I pay full American tax, though I earn nothing in that country and may never set foot in the place. That is the joy and privilege of being an American,” he looks away with contempt.
He puts up as best he can, travelling to Moscow, Mongolia, Brazil – “where they take their literature seriously. They’re committed to the idea that a writer defines the landscape. An idea unheard of in my country or yours. We spend the winters in Asia. I like up-country Thailand, though I now know my way around Hong Kong a little too well. Then back to LA.”
A hard life.

Boredom is as contagious as yawning. Bored people become boring. Pornography is boring, money is boring, pessimism is deeply boring, don’t you agree ?
“What do I want to achieve ? Nothing. I now wait until the boredom becomes unbearable before I start writing.”
Laziness is boring. Gore is a gifted mimic but he can’t be bothered to do better than a gruff Americanised Italian accent. To cheer him up, I let him tell his Joan Collins, one of his best.
“She’s a funny girl, makes me laugh,” he says fondly. “All the others have ended up grumpy or in horror films. We all came to Hollywood together – Paul Newman, Anthony Perkins, Joanne Woodward. We had a lot of fun, after the war, making all that money, re-enacting our adolescence, a little late in life… Anyway, Joan was living with Arthur Lowe junior. We were at a party, she said something to him and he said, “Do you know, you are a fucking bore ?” and she said, “And you are a boring fuck”. Never looked back…”

Day dreams, wet dreams, there is nothing more boring than listening to other people’s dreams. Death dreams ? Gore’s got ‘em.
“You start to see the dead – your father, grandfather, it’s always a signal. They don’t know they’re dead. You always have to remind them, they’re very embarrassed.”

What was the happiest period of your life ? I ask him, crushing him with boredom.
“Oh, the period before birth, I should think. Death will be so nice, back to that again.”

I suppose in between birth and death was the worst.
“It’s the busiest certainly,” he mutters with obvious disinterest.

He leads me back to the real world, past the piles of weeds: “Ah. She’s been here.” Hutton’s hands have been busy.
What would he like on his tombstone ?
“Nothing, no. No instructions.”

Don’t you want the last word ?
“I’ve had that. It was ‘No’. The most beautiful word in the English language.”