He was one of the 20th century's most estemmed authors, playwrights and commentators, but Gore Vidal, who died yesterday at the age of 86, will also be remembered for his contribution to cinema. Bringing both diligence and passion to the films he worked on, he tackled subjects other writers were afraid to touch and broke cinematic boundaries.
Vidal was born into a powerful family closely connected with the cinema. His mother, Nina Vidal, had a protracted affair with Clark Gable whilst he was growing up and he was often in the company of film stars. In his early thirties he contributed to the script of Ben Hur and went on to adapt Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer for the big screen, a venture given added depth by his willingness to talk openly about the then taboo subject of same sex attraction. Though he never identified as gay or bisexual, Vidal was outspoken on the subject of sexuality and gender in both personal and political terms. His novel Myra Breckinridge had a transsexual movie star heroine played in the 1970 film adaptation (which he hated) by Raquel Welch. He also wrote the screenplay for the controversial 1979 film Caligula, which featured Malcolm McDowell as the debauched Roman emperor, and he was working on a remake of the film in the years before his death.
Vidal also took on the subject of the Nazi occupation of France in Is Paris Burning?, bringing a challenging degree of moral complexity to characters on all sides of the conflict. He contributed to troubled but interesting independence struggle epic The Sicilian, with Christopher Lambert and Terence Stamp.
Less well known was Vidal's acting career. It began in 1960 with a small role in Federico Fellini's Roma and persisted over five decades. Unwilling to eat into the time he had for writing, Vidal took only small roles but chose them well, appearing in the likes of Gattaca, Igby Goes Down, and Tim Robbins' political satire Bob Roberts.
For a man who argued that you could never make anything out of a movie but the money to sustain you whilst writing books, Vidal has left a cinematic legacy that will echo long after his passing. A diabetic for many years, he was 86 when he died of complications related to a bout of pneumonia. He is survived by his half brother and half sister.