Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Gore Vidal

Early one Sunday afternoon some years ago, I was fiddling with the remote, looking for something to look at before I had to get ready to go to work at the newspaper.

I noticed that one of the public-affairs channels was showing an interview with Gore Vidal, who died this week.

It was three-hour, live interview. And this was a channel that did not have commercial breaks.

I'd seen Vidal on TV many times, though I hadn't read his work much. I'd read his essay on Edgar Rice Burroughs in a special anniversary issue of Esquire, which also featured one or two essays by Nora Ephron.

I'd also once bought a paperback copy of one of Vidal's historical novels, "Lincoln," I think. I read some of it, liked what I read, put it down somewhere and never quite got back into it.

I'd also read two of the three mystery novels Vidal wrote under the name Edgar Box. The hero and narrator was a PR guy whose attitudes and style made it clear that he was a stand-in for Vidal. The mysteries were quick reads and amusing enough, but with a humor that was brittle and distancing. The plots weren't much, either; the mysteries seemed to be resolved not so much by clever deductive reasoning as by inertia.

And I'd also enjoyed the movie version of Vidal's play, "The Best Man." I've seen it several times and will do so several times more if I get the chance, partly because of the writing but mostly because of the performance of veteran character actor Lee Tracy as a former president.

So on this Sunday afternoon I figured I'd kill some time by watching the Vidal interview, just to see what the old gadfly was going on about now.

Little did I suspect that I was about to witness one of live TV's most embarrassing moments.

I tuned in about 20 minutes into the interview -- the live, three-hour, no-commercial-interruption interview.

Vidal was, not surprisingly, in the midst of saying something or other.

When he finally stopped, the woman who was interviewing him had a sly look on her face.

She said something like this:

"Before we went on the air, you were telling me about this plan you found out about, a plan that practically nobody knows about, but involves this great conspiracy, and I think our viewers would really like to know about it!"

I'll never forget the look on his face.

Or what he said. Or how he said it.

"I ... just ... told ... you!"

The director mercifully did not cut to her reaction.

All I could do was feel sorry for her, knowing that she had about two hours and 40 minutes of air time to fill with this guy.

On live TV.

With no commercial interruptions.

And surely there would be a post-show meeting in the producer's office.

I switched to something else soon after.

Perhaps the interview eventually got back on track, and perhaps Vidal and the interviewer established some kind of rapport.

And perhaps the next time one of the cats in our household captures a mouse, he'll set it free without killing it or even toying with it for half an hour.

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