Gore Vidal, Palimpsest: A Memoir
“I have often been asked what family and friends thought of The City and the Pillar. The Gores did not finish the book; and the Senator never mentioned it to me. But our relations were unchanged. After he died in 1949, my grandmother used to come and stay in my house on the Hudson; we would also go to Key West together in the winter. The most she ever said was, ‘You mustn’t stir up more snakes than you can kill.’ When I asked her if this was an old [Southern] saying, she said, 'No, I think I just made it up.'"
Gore Vidal, Palimpsest: A Memoir
“The famous hairdresser Vidal Sassoon had his own TV show and became used to being confused with Gore Vidal. Once, at a health farm, Sassoon was given the writer’s enema by mistake, while Vidal, perhaps even more hilariously, was told to stop sexually harassing the female guests.”
Tim Teeman, In Bed with Gore Vidal
When he assumed the presidency, John F. Kennedy hoped to tamp down the Cold War rhetoric between the United States and the Soviet Union. He quickly learned how difficult this would be after a summit with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev. JFK sought common ground by stating the obvious, that “a nuclear exchange would kill seventy million people in ten minutes.” Khrushchev just looked at him blankly “as if to say, ‘So what?’ … as if he didn’t give a damn if it came to that.” Lamented JFK, “I never met a man like this.”
According to Gore Vidal in Palimpsest, A Memoir, Kennedy did know someone like this, someone much closer to home. Per Vidal, “during Jack’s thousand days as president, he discussed” this person “almost as much as he did Khrushchev, and in much the same manner.” Whom did Kennedy believe to be the moral equivalent of Nikita Khrushchev?
Hint: The answer is not the person banned from the White House for kicking JFK’s daughter Caroline (according to Michael Smith).
The answer is after the JUMP.
In a back-handed compliment (front-handed insult?), Gore Vidal once wrote that Norman Mailer’s “faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.” His diametrical opposite was Margaret, Duchess of Argyll (a.k.a. Marg of Arg), whose faults ultimately got the better of her. He was a New Journalism writer based in New York. She was an old-school socialite based in London. Seemingly, they had nothing in common, but there was a link between them. What was it?
“My entire life is now devoted to appearing on television: a pleasant alternative to real life.”
Gore Vidal, In Bed with Gore Vidal
“Everything’ll be all right, desolation is desolation everywhere and desolation is all we got and desolation aint so bad.”
Jack Kerouac, Desolation Angels
American and English editions are rarely identical. Obviously the English add the letter U to words like "color" and "labor." The titles might also diverge. For example, Craig Brown's inventive and magnificent biography of Queen Elizabeth II's tragic (but haughty) sister was published in the United Kingdom as Ma'am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. The American edition was shortened to Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret. Nearly always the dust jackets are different, as it is the publisher that commissions the art on the cover.
Jack Kerouac's Desolation Angels was no exception to the rule. The dust jackets were strikingly (and thematically) different. This semi-autobiographical novel, an installment in Kerouac's Duluoz Legend series, was written around the time of the publication of Kerouac's most iconic novel, On the Road, in 1957. It languished as an underground title for nearly a decade until finally published in the United States in 1965 by Coward-McGann and in the United Kingdom in 1966 by Andre Deutsch. Which publisher designed the better jacket?
This is an easy call. The Pop Art design by the Irish artist Michael Farrell for the English edition is not only eye-catching; it is magnificent. How fun a poster-size version would be hanging on the wall of a midcentury home. Its design was very much of that moment. The realistic etching depicting scenes from the book in the American edition is also of that time period, but in a manner that does not translate in 2019, unlike the "retro" English edition. Part of the problem is that the style of the American edition became overdone, frequently imitated in cheaply produced movie tie-in mass paperbacks.
The only issue with the English edition is that it is not precisely of its time. Kerouac's Desolation Angels is set in the mid-1950s, and the Andy Warhol-inspired soup cans in the illustration did not explode onto the art scene until the early 1960s when they were exhibited at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.
PURCHASE GORE VIDAL'S COPY OF "DESOLATION ANGELS"
The copy of Desolation Angels (English Edition) from the library of Gore Vidal (stamped "From the Library of GORE VIDAL), is available via the Nick Harvill Libraries website. Though Jack Kerouac was straight, he did have a minor dalliance with Vidal. Moreover, a character based upon Gore Vidal appears in Kerouac's Duluoz Legend series (though not this particular installment).
MORE DUST JACKET DUST-UPS
Enjoy this dust jacket dust-up? Check out others here.
“A long friendship with many hiatuses. Few quarrels. I am sharp; he is oblique; we complement one another as friends ought.”
Gore Vidal, on Tennessee Williams, Double Exposure
Image Credit: Double Exposure
“It is a lucky thing for the American moralist that our country has always existed in a kind of time-vacuum: we have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday.”
Gore Vidal, Gore Vidal’s United States, Essays 1952-1992
Sidebar: Check out Jonathan Raban's fascinating review of Gore Vidal's United States, Essays 1952-1992 that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. There is a lot to unpack. The opening paragraph is either a dig or a tribute (but perhaps both?):
"Gore Vidal the novelist's best character is Gore Vidal the essayist. Beside him even Myra Breckenridge seems a pale creation, and this great fat book, chronicling 40 years of the essayist's adventures, is like a lively picaresque novel in reverse."
Image Credit: Clifford Coffin, Photographs from Vogue, 1945 to 1955
“I’m working on a novel and it’s acting like most such creatures—insists on being a wife. You poets don’t know how lucky you are with your one-night stands.”
Norman Mailer, Hockney’s Alphabet
Jay Parini: If you could change anything about your life, what would it be?
Gore Vidal: My mother!
Jay Parini: Whose mother do you want?
Gore Vidal: I’ll take Whistler’s. I’ll take anybody else’s.
--Gore Vidal, via Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia
Nina Vidal Auchincloss Olds, an alcoholic, was no one's idea of a perfect mother. She came with baggage (albeit Louis Vuitton).
After Nina's marriage to Gore's father ended, she married Hugh D. Auchincloss. It was through Auchincloss that Gore became stepbrother (once removed) to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a connection that gave him entree to Camelot and that he would dine out on for the remainder of his life.
Just as importantly, Nina's frequent absences meant Gore was practically raised by her book-loving parents, U.S. Senator Thomas and Nina Belle Gore, whom Gore recalls with great affection in his memoir, Palimpsest. He spent much his childhood among the books in their well-stocked library, and in the end, a good library triumphed over a negligent mother.