Quips and Gravitas: Gore Vidal Remembered as Vital Mind at Broadway Memorial

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23 Aug 2012

Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal's friends and colleagues — including Dennis Kucinich, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Moore, Elaine May and others — toasted the late essayist-novelist-playwright-screenwriter from the Broadway stage where his political drama The Best Man is playing.

Given that Gore Vidal was not just a playwright, but during his 86 years dwelled in many spheres, both literary and political, the list of speakers at an Aug. 23 celebration of his life was unusual for a memorial held in a Broadway house. There was a good share of actors found on the Schoenfeld Theatre stage, including James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, Elizabeth Ashley, Candice Bergen, Jefferson Mays and Cybill Shepherd (all of whom star, or have starred, in the current Broadway revival of Vidal's The Best Man), as well as Susan Sarandon, Richard Belzer, Christine Ebersole, Alan Cumming and Angelica Huston. (Vidal died on Aug. 6. Here's the Playbill.com obituary.)

But there was also the documentary maker Michael Moore, the playwright Elaine May, the gossip columnist Liz Smith, the politician Dennis Kucinich and talk show host Dick Cavett, who acted as host. In addition, letters from filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were read.

Kucinich, who praised Vidal as "brilliantly impolitic" and "a connoisseur of foreboding," told how, when he decided to run for President in 2003, his first call for advice was to Vidal. Expecting some sage political counsel from the writer, who was famously a student of American history and politics, he instead got a grooming tip. "He said, 'You've got to do something about your hair.' 'My hair,' I said, 'what's wrong with my hair?' 'It's horrible. I can't stand to look at it.'"

Many commented on Vidal's capacious wit and ability to produce an elegant phrase out of thin air, or quote famous writers and statesmen at great length. Cavett called him "possibly the best talker since Oscar Wilde." Belzer, who enjoyed a "five-hour lunch" with the author at his home in Italy, called him "the only person who could make 'pass the salt' sound interesting."


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