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Gore Vidal's colorful career behind (and in front of) the camera

August 01, 2012|By Steven Zeitchik
  • Gore Vidal in 1997's "Gattaca"
Gore Vidal in 1997's "Gattaca" (Columbia Pictures )

Gore Vidal was best known as an author, pundit and raconteur. But the writer, who died Tuesday at 86, also had time for movies — both writing for and appearing in them.

His screenwriting career took more than a few notable turns. Most famously was 1979’s “Caligula,” the explicit look at the tyrannical and hedonistic Roman emperor. Wild sex scenes prompted gasps through the film world, as did the drama behind the scenes -- after disagreements with the directors and others on the film, Vidal had only limited control over the final product, as the movie was re-cut (with additional sex scenes) by producer and Penthouse chief Bob Guccione.

There were also plenty of adult themes in Vidal’s New Orleans-set mystery “Suddenly Last Summer,” a 1959 release that trafficked in murder, mental illness and (homo)sexual explicitness. Starring Montgomery Clift, Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor, Vidal adapted the picture from the Tennessee Williams play. Despite (or because) of its racy themes, the movie went on to be a big box-office hit.

PHOTOS: Gore Vidal | 1925-2012

Vidal also looked at homosexuality and politics in 1964's “The Best Man,” a script he adapted form his own play about a presidential candidate who was closeting his past. (A revival of the play recently hit Broadway.) And he co-wrote, with Francis Ford Coppola, the 1966 World War II picture "Is Paris Burning?"

Meanwhile, Vidal’s novel “Myra Breckenridge,” about a transgendered Hollywood actor,  became the basis of a wildly campy 1968 movie starring Tom Selleck and Farrah Fawcett. And all this of course doesn't include a spate of teleplays as well as uncredited screenwriting gigs, with the author working as a contract writer for MGM at one point in his career.

 Vidal had a taste for being in front of the camera too. When the author lived in Italy, he became friends with Federico Fellini and had a bit part as himself in the auteur's 1972 semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale “Roma.” Two decades later, Vidal worked with a decidedly different filmmaker when he co-starred as an incumbent politician in Tim Robbins’ conservative political satire “Bob Roberts.”

PHOTOS: Gore Vidal | 1925-2012 

Vidal’s indie career continued throughout the '90s. He played a stern professor in 1994’s college-set dramedy “With Honors” and a mission director in the icy futurist thriller “Gattaca.” He turned up again in 2002, briefly, as a Catholic priest in the offbeat  coming-of-age story “Igby Goes Down,” which was directed by his nephew Burr Steers.

Vidal’s persona also had a way of popping up in films even when he didn't — in the last few years, actors have portrayed him in historical dramas such as "Amelia" and "Infamous."

ALSO:

Gore Vidal, iconoclastic author, dies at 86

Cultural icon made his mark on Broadway

Gore Vidal's 'The Best Man': What did critics think?

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