Friday, February 24, 2012

Gore Vidal on Norman Mailer

I LOL'ed:

Mailer is forever shouting at us that he is about to tell us something we must know or has just told us something revelatory and we failed to hear him or that he will, God grant his poor abused brain and body just one more chance, get through to us so that we will know. Actually, when he does approach a point he shifts into a swelling, throbbing rhetoric which is not easy to read but usually has something to do with love and sex and the horror of our age and the connection which must be made between time and sex (the image this bit of rhetoric suggests to me is a limitless gray sea of time with a human phallus desperately poking at a corner of it).


  1. Long ago, ca late 1960's or early 1970's, on the Dick Cavett show of those years, Vidal and Mailer were both on the show on one occasion. I saw the show, it left indelible memories. The verbal fencing between Mailer and Vidal, with Cavett trying to referee and sometimes merrily joining the fray, took the expression "rapier-like-wit" to new heights. (There was another guest on the show, a woman whose name is escaping me at the time, who put her two cents in once or twice too.)

    At one point when Cavett said something to Mailer that Mailer didn't much care for, Mailer tried to blow it off and said something like, "Why don't you just ask another one of your questions." And Cavett snapped back, "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?"

    Cavett himself wrote about the show, decades later, in his NY Times online column Talk Show -- I don't have a link handy, but should be there if you Google it (and there may be an online video snippet though I'm not sure).

    The column about it is included in Cavett's book Talk Show, a collection of a bunch of his NY Times columns.

  2. I will look for this. Sounds terribly fun. Hope there's a clip on YouTube!

  3. Mailer had an interesting conversation with Buckley on Firing Line, too. That's on You Tube. As is some scary footage of (a stoned?) Rip Torn attacking Mailer with a hammer and Mailer biting Torn's ear. The screaming is for real.

    Torn's an evil cat. I wouldn't be surprised if he actually did pull a knife on Dennis Hopper. And of course he broke into a bank with a loaded gun.

    The argument in which Buckley threatened to punch Vidal "in the goddamned face" is on You Tube.

    Cavett had some fascinating conversations with rockers like Frank Zappa and David Bowie (who's continually sniffing like a cokehead and drawing something on the floor with his cane). You can find those on You Tube.

  4. I Googled the words "vidal mailer cavett youtube" (without the quote marks) and came up at least two links to video of the Vidal-Mailer encounter. It also brought up the link to Cavett's NY Times online column about the episode.

    The Wikipedia article about Dick Cavett includes brief descriptions of a number of the more memorable shows he did, and controversies surrounding certain episodes, including a brief description of the Vidal-Mailer encounter. (The woman on the show, whose name I didn't recall previously, was Janet Flanner.)

    At one point during the show, after Flanner told Mailer that the argument he was having with Vidal and Cavett was boring her, Mailer moved his chair noticeably away from the other people on the stage. Cavett then said to Mailer, "Perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?"

    The Wikipedia article about Cavett's show (in general, not just the Mailer-Vidal episode) is exceptional.

    I really liked Cavett's show when it was on back then (I was in junior high and high school, mostly), and I watched it whenever I could.

    There are several DVD's of the show, one of episodes featuring rock musicians: an episode featuring Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, and Stephen Stills, just days after the Woodstock music festival; episodes that included Janis Joplin (weeks before she died), Paul Simon, I forget who else; and a separate DVD box of Cavett episodes featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They include the entire episode in each case, not just the "highlights," so you get to see the other people who were on the shows, actors, writers, whoever else. One small charming moment I remember was the long-ago actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., gracefully leaning forward to light Janis Joplin's cigarette for her. When Joplin performed she tore up the stage.

    Cavett's NY Times column about the show is here. It doesn't, unfortunately, have embedded video, but it's totally worth reading.

  5. Column was great too. Thanks for the link.


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