‘Classical’ Gore Vidal

As we note the obituaries piling up for the acclaimed author, it seems appropriate to note an item in the Guardian which touches upon Vidal’s life in Rome and are within our purview … I was unaware of Vidal’s connection with Ben Hur:

Gore Vidal’s memoir Palimpsest was written mostly in Ravello around 1994. It hasn’t much to say about about Gore’s life in Rome, where he and Howard Austen had moved into a penthouse apartment 30 years earlier, except for the observation: “I had never had a proper human-scale village life anywhere on earth until I settled into that old Roman street.” Rather than the dolce vita crowd, Gore liked to mix with the “villagers”. Among the Italians he enjoyed meeting was Italo Calvino, whom he admired greatly.

When Kenneth Tynan came to Rome, Gore enlisted me to help him and Howard prepare a guest list for a party in his honour. Among the many Italian celebrities who showed up was Federico Fellini, whom Gore had met when they were both working at Cinecittà studios – Gore on Ben-Hur and Fellini (whom Gore called “Fred”) on La Dolce Vita.

Ben-Hur was one of several movie mishaps for Gore in Hollywood-on-the-Tiber. His attempt to hint in the script at a previous gay attachment between Ben (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd) did not convince the director, William Wyler, or Heston. Years later, after Vidal recounted the story for the gay documentary The Celluloid Closet (1995), Heston wrote an indignant letter saying that Gore’s revision of the script had been rejected by them all. Even so, much of Gore’s uncredited interpretation seeps through into the film.

A more disastrous Roman film adventure for Gore came when Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine commissioned him to write what was to be called Gore Vidal’s Caligula. Director Tinto Brass turned it into something of a porn movie, and after it had been re-edited it became more “Bob Guccione’s Caligula”, as Vidal and Brass were both unhappy with the outcome.

In 1971, Gore had the satisfaction of contributing to Fellini’s Roma. In the final sequence, dining at a table in a noisy street trattoria with Roman friends, including myself, Gore invited us to toast with him: “What better place than Rome in which to await the end of the world!” Later that year, he flew back from New York to Rome, at his own expense, to personally post-synch his line.

If you want to see Vidal’s cameo in Roma, ecce (starts around the 3.50 mark):

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