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If you like Gore Vidal's story, you might also like:
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Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
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Gore Vidal Interview (page: 6 / 8)

National Book Award

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  Gore Vidal

What was your purpose in writing?

Gore Vidal: You try to get it down, what it is you see, what it is you think. When I was writing my first play, my producer was a very popular playwright called George Axelrod, a very bright guy. I was changing a TV play into a Broadway play, Visit to a Small Planet, and I would just knock out a couple of scenes in 20, 30 minutes. He said, "Think. Don't write." I said, "George, I only think when I write. I have no idea what I think about anything until I have written it," and then sometimes I am quite surprised and sometimes I am quite appalled, but anyway, this is how you get it done.

As a writer, you have also been an advocate. Is a novelist, per force, a political player, a provocateur?

Gore Vidal: Some are, some are not, it depends on the novelist. I am pretty much engaged, as they say, in politics, a view of the world, which I like to express. That's all temperament. I would have been that if I had been a baker.

If you hadn't been a writer, what would you have become? Where would you be?

Gore Vidal: Pennsylvania Avenue probably.

You did try politics. You ran for Congress in 1960, and you ran for the Senate in 1982. So you never really abandoned that idea.

Gore Vidal: Well, it depends on how seriously you run.

Why did you run for Congress in 1960, and in Upstate New York at that?

Gore Vidal: I wanted to be elected, and a friend of mine, Jack Kennedy, was running for President. It seemed like the thing to do that year, and I had a play on Broadway. It was a political play called The Best Man. Where it's fascinating for a political activist, like myself -- forget a novelist, I don't think in terms of people's occupations -- I wanted to see how much strength my ideas had out there. You can only do that if you run. You can't do it by reading newspapers and listening to journalists. So I introduced all sorts of things in 1960 that shocked even my friend Eleanor Roosevelt, who was very much behind my race, and I came out openly, in Dutchess County of all places, which is very right wing, for the recognition of Red China at the United Nations. "Oh. Well, they must first agree." Even she was getting nervous at what I was doing. I said, "Look, I have been talking to these people for nearly two years." It was five counties. It's the biggest district in New York. I said, "I have been talking for years with all sorts of different people. None of them can understand why Red China has been excluded from the United Nations since they have got a billion people," or whatever it was then. It did me no harm, and of course, you learned a lot from them, because they do know their own interests.

I remember in the '70s, the first oil crisis, we were just talking to businessmen up in San José, up in the northern part of the state, explaining to me how oil worked. I even got some early word, I think, on Enron. You learn a lot.

Did you expect to win that election?

Gore Vidal: In '82, no. In '60, yes, I was winning as of August according to the polls.

Were you surprised at how well you did in a Republican area? You got more votes that JFK did, and you got more votes than any Democrat had gotten there in 50 years.

Gore Vidal Interview Photo
Gore Vidal: Since 1910, yeah. Well, I wasn't surprised, because of television. Everybody knew me. I probably was the guest most seen on Johnny Carson's Tonight show. All of that can add up, you know, building an audience for yourself. I think that played a part in it, but also, I found that if you speak in a candid way to people, they quite like it. Most politicians are dreadfully boring because they don't dare tell the truth. Telling lies, which is my little sermon this morning, is not good for character, and in the end, they catch you.

What would have become of you if you had won that election?

Gore Vidal: Oh, another old boring drunk senator from New York State, like Pat Moynihan. Plenty more where that one came from.

Why did you run in California against Jerry Brown? Why did you want to be a senator?

Gore Vidal: Well, he could be beat. He was easy to beat as it proved in the general election, and it was a good year in theory, at least when I started into it.

But this was not a lark. You were a serious candidate.

Gore Vidal: I don't go in for larks. It is too much work. No, I was quite serious about it. The press is only interested in how much money you have raised. I would say, "Practically nothing," which was true. I couldn't tell them I had quite enough to pay for the election myself. For a Party of the People man, this didn't sound quite right, so I could never say that.

Jerry was very weak, as he proved to be in the general, which he lost. He beat me in the primary. There were nine candidates. I came in number two with half a million votes. The understanding at that time was that Barry Goldwater, Jr. would be the Republican candidate for the Senate. Well, he would be easily taken care of. So I said, "Oh well, Jerry is weak, Barry Goldwater Jr. isn't ever going to get elected. Then Barry dropped out! Meanwhile...

I was told the facts of life by Senator Cranston, a very nice guy. He said, "Do you know what you are getting in for?" I said, "Of course I do. " He said, "Okay. Say by some miracle you get elected to a first term in the Senate and you want a second term. Most of us do." He said, "You have to raise $10,000 a week for your entire first term of six years." You can do the math, six times 52 is a lot of money. It means you are on the phone every day begging people for money, and I have never asked anybody for any money that I can think of in my life. I have never had a bank loan or a mortgage. Well, I did have one mortgage, which I paid off as quickly as I could.

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This page last revised on Apr 04, 2011 09:00 EDT
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