With Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Norman Mailer gone, Gore Vidal, 82, is the last truly legendary figure from a golden age of American literature.
Like Oscar Wilde, he is celebrated for his epigrams, most famously: "Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies." Asked whether his first romantic encounter was homosexual or heterosexual, Vidal replied that he had been "too polite to ask". His conversation is precise and mannered to a point that you suspect this is a man who may still crook a finger when he drinks champagne. He speaks with an archaic, aesthetic tone that can be contagious: there's hardly an interview in his cuttings file where he doesn't elicit the word "exquisite".
There's an episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa holds up a book entitled Tome, with Vidal's name on the spine. "These are my only friends," she complains. "Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he's kissed more boys than I ever will."
"Girls, Lisa, girls," her mother says, and it's probable that a majority of viewers were, like Marge, unaware both of the writer's name, and romantic reputation.
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