In his prime, writer Gore Vidal didn't have much nice to say about people, and he enjoyed sharing his opinions. On live television in 1968, he referred to fellow commentator William F. Buckley as a "crypto-Nazi" (Buckley responded by calling Vidal "queer" and threatening to punch him in the face). He dubbed Truman Capote "a full-fledged housewife from Kansas." Andy Warhol was "the only genius I've ever known with an I.Q. of 60."
After he compared Norman Mailer to Charles Manson, Mailer headbutted Vidal backstage at "The Dick Cavett Show" and weeks later punched him at a dinner party; a prone Vidal declared, "Words fail Norman Mailer yet again."
Quips like that -- as well as "I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television" and "every time a friend succeeds, I die a little" -- were what made Vidal's intellectual sparring so delicious. Yet in the February issue of Vanity Fair, the magazine will run a story that seems to soften Vidal's sharp tongue by sharing his kind thoughts about the women in his life (and their kind thoughts about him). Vidal died in July 2012 at age 86.
“Men are so limited. They’re always thinking about their weenies or their alimony. I make it a rule not to discuss their husbands or lovers with my women friends,” Vidal told Judy Balaban, the author of "Gore's Girls." Gore also told her he “almost never” fought with his female friends. “It’s men who start arguments with me — often because they’re jealous of me — not women.”
In the piece, Joanne Woodward recalls pretending to have an affair with Vidal, who was gay, as a way of placating his family and perhaps as cover for her relationship with the not-quite-divorced Paul Newman. "We got a kick out of it," she tells Balaban. "I couldn’t see Gore and me getting married — oh, heavens — but we did have a great time together." Susan Sarandon also fondly remembers the author.
Although thinking of a kinder, gentler Vidal may be a little unsettling -- he apparently even had nice words for Nancy Reagan -- the photographs of his high-flying literary life make up for it. All can be seen in the February issue of Vanity Fair, which hits stands this week.