Memo From Gore Vidal's Memorial Service (continued)
Cybill Shepherd, who is appearing in the Broadway revival of Vidal's "The Best Man" at the Schoenfeld, read a letter from Peter Bogdanovich about Vidal and their friendship. Then Allan Cumming read a selection from Vidal's infamous essay, "A Distasteful Encounter with William F. Buckley." It was originally published in Esquire in September of 1969. "We are all bisexual to begin with," Cummings began. "That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. Certain societies at certain times, usually in the interest of maintaining the baby supply, have discouraged homosexuality. Other societies, particularly militaristic ones, have exalted it. But regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime . . . despite the best efforts of our puritan tribe to make it all three. Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word 'natural,' not normal. Buckley likes the word normal. It conjures up vigorous Minute Men with rifles shooting Commies, while their wives and little ones stay home stitching hoods. But what is the sexual norm? By definition it is what most people do most frequently. Therefore, the norm is neither homosexual nor heterosexual. The most frequent (if not most preferred!) sexual outlet of most people most of the time is masturbation, making onanism the statistical norm from which all else is deviation. Yet I don’t think even Mrs. Portnoy’s son would want to make a case for that particular normality.
"As for being an 'evangelist of bisexuality,' I am not an evangelist of anything in sexual matters except a decent withdrawal of the state from the bedroom. There will, of course, always be morbid twisted men like Buckley sniggering and giggling and speculating on the sexual lives of others, and nothing’s to be done about them. But the sex laws must be changed. It was Dr. Kinsey who pointed out that if all the laws were enforced, ninety percent of the men in the United States would be in jail. One final point: Buckley quotes an American reviewer who was horrified at my explicit description of a male body (as usual, no mention of the equally explicit description of a female body). To me this reviewer’s objection perfectly reflects the sickness of the society we live in. On the one hand, such critics hold that we are made in the very image of God, a bit of proud, primitive lunacy still obtaining in certain Christian sects, and yet, without any awareness of paradox, they also hold nudity to be obscene, the body disgusting, and certain parts of it horrifying. Yet if we are made in God’s image, the body must be divine. Conversely, if the body is vile, then its maker must be vile. Unfortunately, our primitives are beyond mere logic. They have their tribal prejudices and find both comfort and glory in their confusion."
Next up Richard Beltzer read from another prescient 1958 VIdal essay, "The Unrocked Boat." Then Cavett introduced "The best quartet since the Mills Brothers -- Elizabeth Ashley, Candice Bergen, Christine Ebersole, and Anjelica Houston," who proceeded to read in a kind of verbal roundelay the best of Vidal's one-liners. My favorite: "What can one say about a culture that creates an Ernest Hemingway and then isn't in on the joke?"
Ashley stayed behind to talk about the night "Tennessee Williams and I were loose and free range on the streets of New York. He said we should go see Gore who was hanging out with some of his fancy friends at the bar at the Carlyle Hotel. When critics and pundits were trashing Tennessee only two people always stood up for him -- Gore and Edward Albee. Gore and Tennessee adored each other. When Tenn and I made quite an entrance, let's say, into the Carlyle bar Gore exclaimed 'Bird is here!' He always called Tennessee that: Bird. He and Tenn kissed full on the mouth much to the open-mouthed consternation of those fancy folks Gore was hanging with. He dumped them the minute Tennessee and I arrived and for about four hours they sat around talking and I sat around drinking and listening to them. When Gore poured Tennessee and me into a car later, Tenn turned to me and asked why I didn't talk more during our visit. 'He intimidates me,' I said. 'Gore?' Tennessee said, giggling at such a thought. "Oh, 'Lizabuth, he's just an old smarty pants." At that, Ashley reached down into the plants on the stage in front of the podium and pulled out a shot glass of vodka and held it up to Gore's portrait on the stage. "Here's to you, Old Smarty Pants!" she exclaimed and knocked it back in one good-ole-gal gulp.
Dennis Kucinich came out to talk about visiting Vidal to talk about his run for the presidency. "Do you have any advice for me?" he asked Vidal. "Yeah," Vidal said. "Do something about your hair. It's dreadful." "Like what?" asked Kucinich. "Try a guillotine," said Gore.
Michael Moore read a selection from "Requiem for the American Empire" and Liz Smith read a letter from David Mamet who hung with Vidal often at Sue Mengers' dinner parties.
Then James Earl Jones and John Larroquette performed Scene 3 from Act II of "The Best Man" and brought the house down.
Rest in Peace, Gore. Here's to you, Old Smarty Pants.