More Classical Gore Vidal

Scoop has an interesting reprise of an interview with Gore Vidal by our long-time correspondent (in the ‘original’ sense that we have corresponded by email, not that she works for us) Susan Mazur … here’s the part that pertains to us:

[…] My chat with Gore Vidal follows:

Suzan Mazur: Did you eventually see the film Caligula?

Gore Vidal: I have never seen the film. I had no connection with the film that was made. I did read the dubbing script and that is all I have to say about the movie. Period.

Suzan Mazur: A good bit of the film was supposedly historically accurate.

Gore Vidal: You must discuss that with the people who made it. I didn’t.

Suzan Mazur: One subject that was not discussed were the years in exile of Caligula’s family — many of whom were sent to the Pontine Islands off the coast of Rome. Do you know what those islands were like then other than that they were probably very barren in 25 BC?

Gore Vidal: They’re still very barren. Capri’s marvelous. Capri had the villas of the Emperor Augustus, the villas that had been added to by Tiberius, who moved the government there pretty much during his last years. It was all very much built up.

Suzan Mazur: What about Ponza, Ventotene? You’ve been to these islands in recent years?

Gore Vidal: Rather barren. Was on a boat offshore once.

Suzan Mazur: The women of Caligula’s family seem to have gotten the short end of the stick. Scribonia, wife of Augustus, on down the Julio-Claudian tree to Nero’s first wife, Octavia, were exiled on Ventotene and Ponza. Why were the women always being sent into exile? Nero was born on Ponza These islands were where the imperial women were banished.

Gore Vidal: My period is 4th century AD. I wrote a book called Julian and of the 5th century BC, a book called Creation. The rest you can get from Suetonius and Tacitus, the only authorities we have on this period.

Suzan Mazur: But in researching the script for Caligula. .

Gore Vidal: Suetonius and Tacitus will tell you all you need to know. I’ve not read either book in quite some time. This movie was a mild footnote to my life and the period is not mine.

Suzan Mazur: Can you remember anything about Julia, daughter of Augustus? Her years of exile on the island of Pandataria, now called Ventotene?

Gore Vidal: I’ve read about it and forgotten it.

Suzan Mazur: Julia brought the cult of Venus-Isis to the island.

Gore Vidal: I would doubt that very much. The cult of Isis arrived in Rome about the 3rd century BC — long before she was born.

Suzan Mazur: Julia called it Venus-Isis, an adaptation.

Gore Vidal: Well Isis-Cibele was the one that came in the 3rd century BC. The temple can still be seen on Palatine Hill. This was perhaps a variation of it. I don’t know.

Suzan Mazur: Do you know what went on in these cults?

Gore Vidal: Mystery cults. We don’t know.

Suzan Mazur: Julia, who acquired a reputation as an adulteress, seems to have been a victim. Her first two husbands died. She then married Tiberius who was extremely cold to her and moved himself into his splended villa on Capri to get away from her, joined by scholars, slaves, etc. Julia was abandoned in Rome, then imprisoned on Ventotene. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Gore Vidal: Imperial women ladies had actually never read Betty Freidan or Gloria Steinem or Masters & Phillips or whatever they’re called. The world was a very different place. They got married for entirely political reasons because of who they were born. To expect them to have a happy, warm, mature relationship is, I think, too much to demand — nor do I think they would have demanded it. It was quite a different world and you have to think your way into it.

To apply any of today’s standards of — Was this a happy marriage or an unhappy marriage? — would never have crossed their minds. Is this a great marriage? — is what they would be thinking about.

Suzan Mazur: Do you recall Agrippina the elder, mother of Caligula? Was she too powerful for Tiberius? Is that basically why she was banished to Ventotene?

Gore Vidal: Suetonius. What little we know he will tell us.

Suzan Mazur: There were a series of exiles — Caligula even sent his sisters away — and there were many other banishments and deaths by starvation in the family. […]

… see the original for the context (Vidal seems to have had a late night previously) …
… if you missed yesterday’s post: ‘Classical’ Gore Vidal

‘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):