Gore Vidal is (still) smarter than you: at 81, the great American curmudgeon is sharper than ever. Which is good, because we've never needed him more. Gore Vidal dishes Bush, Garbo, Jesus, Hillary, and his own new memoir.
You've been the nemesis of the right wing for years. Are you subversive?
Depends who's doing the looking. But I do the factual work first. I was trained as a historian. I try to be accurate, so I don't get many rebuttals. An American bad habit is to focus on feelings. Feeling is not a fact. Which is why I'm also in argument with many conspiracy people. Yes, I'd love to think Bush was responsible for 9/11. He's perfectly capable of it. But that's just my feeling. I'm not going to peddle that as a fact. It isn't one.
So who do you respect the most in politics? Who tells the truth?
[U.S. senator from Wisconsin Russell] Feingold. He tells the truth in a country where lying has now become systemic. Everything is lied about. And everybody knows everything is lied about.
Who else do you like?
I like poor Hillary, but she's been so demonized. It all started with no deed goes unpunished, when she came up with the health care initiative, which was noble and virtuous, and the pharmaceuticals and the AMA and the insurance companies spent millions against it. We were not ever to have what every First World country has, which is single-payer health care. No, we're Americans! We stand tall! We don't want socialism!
Other than in politics, who are the truth tellers?
Not many. When I was younger there were a lot of them. Dwight Macdonald. What a great critic he was. He had a shit detector like no other.
You obviously have your own detector. You've been against Bush since the start.
What I often get is, How did you know about Bush? When he first became president, I said, "He will end his days as the most hated president in the history of the United States." I knew some of the things he stood for, and he was into wars, into money, and perhaps major corruption.
Who would you like to be president after Bush?
There may be no president after Bush. In '04 they were already talking, the Justice Department, about--because of terrorism attacks--God knows we're vulnerable, because of those attacks, it would be divisive to have a presidential election this year. They really talked seriously about how to call it off.
Why is the American public so ignorant?
The god-awful public educational system. They don't really learn much of anything and they seem to have built-in resistance to finding out. People graduate from high school and don't know about the New Deal, don't know about the Depression. The teachers are underpaid, terrorized by school boards, by public opinion, spied upon [to see if they are] distributing ideas that are "not acceptable" to the far right wing and to Lord Jesus. Come on. This is the most ignorant public of any First World country.
So why do you think Americans voted for Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections?
I don't think they did in either. I think both elections were stolen. That is a feeling; I can't prove it, but I'm pretty close to proving it.
So when was America at its best--its finest hour? And its weakest hour?
I don't think it could be any weaker than now. You have a bought and paid-for Congress. Corruption has always been here. Tendencies toward totalitarian government have always been there. Now it looks like the republic could fade away.
And the finest?
The Depression. The educational system was never better. Well-motivated people. That's where Eugene McCarthy and I have worked out that once together--the Depression was the only time that everything in the country worked.
You were a regular on Carson and Paar, in the golden era of talk shows. They both asked you to be their sub host. How would you rate the current generation, like Jay Leno?
Dim, to put it politely. It's just jokes, for God's sake.
Even though you took homosexuality out of the closet 50 years ago by putting it openly in your work and personal life, you still don't consider yourself a gay activist or spokesman.
I always said that sex is a continuum; it is not an identity. Homosexual is not a noun. It's an adjective describing an activity. I didn't like the former head of The Advocate, in '82 when I was running for the [U.S.] Senate out here [in California]. I was supposed to come out on a white horse in the name of gaydom. Well, I didn't, obviously. And why should I? What is it to me? I don't feel I'm part of a community; do you?
Your social circle is a who's who: bicycling with Paul Newman, walking your dog with Greta Garbo, hanging out with Tennessee Williams, Princess Margaret, Orson Welles. What was the common denominator for you, with all your famous friends?
In my case, the people I can laugh with. Tennessee above all. He was thought of as a tragic self-hating homosexual tragedian. But he was a great comic writer like Chekhov. Americans couldn't pick up on it because he was a sexual degenerate. He surely must suffer every day from hellfire.
Jack Kennedy. He knew what a comedy all this was.
Did you like Bette Davis?
I adored her. The first movie I ever wrote, The Catered Affair, she was the star of. She was paranoid beyond belief. If the grips were off in the corner looking at the racing results or something, she thought they were all talking about what a bad actress she is. Richard Brooks was the director, an ex-marine, tough, shouted at everybody, was insulting, but he was all ass-kissing with Bette, and she picked up on this immediately. She didn't like his behavior to others. There was a scene in the kitchen where she's making coffee; he comes over to her on the set and whispers in her ear how to pour the coffee. [Imitating Davis] "Mr. Brooks, I may be a very bad actress, but I'm wonderful with props."
What about Greta Garbo?
Really funny, and interesting. In the book, I tell the Jeanette MacDonald story she liked to tell. When Jeanette thought it was her husband in the shower, but it was a tennis pro, and she reaches in and grabs his genitals and trills, "Ding dong, Daddy, don't be late for lunch." All in that Swedish accent, "Ding dong, Daddy, don't be late for lunch."
Rothman, founder of FYI, has written for Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and other publications.
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|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Nov 7, 2006|
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