Elegant and Acerbic

Gore Vidal’s Greatest Feuds: Norman Mailer, Truman Capote and More

From taking a Norman Mailer punch to accusing his country, there were few people or subjects that Gore Vidal wouldn’t take on.

AP Photo (3) ; Corbis (2)

AP Photo (3) ; Corbis (2)

In Gore Vidal’s 86 years on this planet he wrote 8 plays, 26 novels, 14 screenplays, and countless magnificent essays. The most of the rest of his time was spent arguing—and he was expert at it. Here are the writer’s 8 most notorious feuds, ripostes, and witticisms. Plus, read some of Vidal's best quotes on sex, politics, and more.

AP Photo (2)

Norman Mailer

In a 1971 Vidal compared the writer Norman Mailer to Charles Manson, and that December saw the two of them booked for The Dick Cavett Show. On set their feud boiled over in a series of increasingly nasty exchanges that made for great television.

Mailer: Are you ready to apologize [for the comparison]?

Vidal: “I will apologize if it hurts your feelings, of course I will.”

Mailer:  “No, it hurts my sense of intellectual pollution.”

Vidal: “Well, as an expert, you should know about that.”

On another encounter at a dinner party, Mailer punched Vidal, who, knocked to the ground, retorted. “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”

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William F. Buckley

Buckley and Vidal were far apart on the political spectrum but had much in common when it came to outspoken aversion to each other. In 1968 the two of them took to ABC as part of the Democratic convention in Chicago. Immediately the discussion on Vietnam turned sour:

Vidal: As far as I’m concerned the only pro- or crypto-Nazi I know of is yourself.

Buckley: Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face.

After Buckley’s death, Vidal wrote an attack on his Newsweek obituary, referring to his rival as the “late dishonourable American.”

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Truman Capote

In June 1979 Vidal set in motion a libel lawsuit against Capote for the claim that he was thrown out of the White House for drunken behavior. Afterward he was quoted as saying, “Truman made lying an artform—a minor artform.” There followed a most eloquent of feuds, which saw both men repeatedly attack each other’s work. In a recent interview with The Independent, Vidal said, "Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house."

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Richard Adams

Vidal was notoriously difficult to interview, and even masked compliments were sought out and dispatched by the emphatic wordsmith. Just as British writer Richard Adams found out on That Was the Week That Was, when he referred to Vidal’s work as “meretricious.”

“Pardon?” Came the reply.

“Meretricious …”

“Meretricious to you too, and a happy new year.”

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Ayn Rand

Though Miss Rand’s grasp of logic is uncertain, she does realize that to make even a modicum of sense she must change all the terms. Both Marx and Christ agree that in this life a right action is consideration for the welfare of others. In the one case, through a state which was to wither away, in the other through the private exercise of the moral sense. Miss Rand now tells us that what we have thought was right is really wrong. The lesson should have read: One for one and none for all.”

-Gore Vidal, Esquire, July 1961

Jim Smeal, WireImage / Getty Images ; AP Photo

Andy Warhol

“Warhol is the only genius I know of with an I.Q. of 60,” is the kind of vintage Vidal many of his followers had come to expect. He criticized Warhol for his social climbing and in an interview with Vanity Fair in 2009 recalled that the artist “always saw to it that he’d get invited anywhere.” In this same interview, he brought his estimation of Warhol’s I.Q. down to 20.

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Christopher Hitchens

Vidal crowned Hitchens as his “successor, inheritor, dauphin or delfino.” But after supporting the Iraq War, Vidal withdrew this support. In February 2012, Hitch took him to task on adopting the conspiracy theories of 9/11. In his Vanity Fair column, titled “Vidal Loco” Hitchens said Vidal’s notions "accentuated a crackpot strain" in him. And then when Hitchens’s memoir, Hitch-22, was published, Vidal’s praise for his former protégé was crossed out on the book jacket.

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The United States of America

Not satisfied with individuals, Vidal took to criticizing America—calling it "the land of the dull and the home of the literal." In 2008 he interviewed at The New Statesman where he told Melvyn Bragg to “remember, this is a racist country. It’s like South Africa, I suppose, after the first changes in their great upheavals.” Frequently Vidal also advocated the impeachment of George W. Bush.