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Gore Vidal discusses his book “Myra Breckinridge”

BROADCAST: Apr. 3, 1968 | DURATION: 00:57:51


Writer Gore Vidal discusses his book “Myra Breckinridge,” the central characters of the book, and some of his previous work. Vidal reads excerpts from “Myra Breckinridge.” The songs “Crucifixion” by Jim & Jean and “Prisoner Numero 9” by Volutia are played. Additionally, Lily Kraus performs the 3rd Movement from Mozart’s Allegro number 15.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel You might call Myra Breckinridge a reluctant best seller. There it is topping the list, and yet somehow effort in the usual sense doesn't even -- it might be sort of a Ferdinand the Bull among best sellers-- it's a, it's a terrible animal image to use in this instance, though. Gore Vidal, I think, is one of the most sparkling and wittiest of observers of the social scene, playwright, as well as, as well as novelist, commentator, recent play, Weekend, it's been a long way since Williwaw.

Gore Vidal Well, my gosh, Williwaw, that was 1945, my first book when I was 19 years old. And I must say I have a feeling at times that I've been writing since Chaucer. After a while, when you look around there's hardly anybody left except Norman Mailer and me from that period.

Studs Terkel Now I'm thinking, Gore Vidal, boy wonder, the boy is no longer there, the man through the years. And here, here is Myra Breckinridge, and obviously it's a marvelous takeoff, it seems to me, on the seriousness of, in which some critics obvi -- you, you were taken off on Parker Tyler here 'cause some critics use -- it's a, it's a book about fantasy, the fantasy life we live, in a way, isn't it? You see.

Gore Vidal I think so. Myra is a, an absolute nut, in a way. She, she has a very passionate prose style, it's done in the first person, and it's somebody who's absolutely hung up on 1940's movies. She's seen every movie ever made and as she says, between 1937 and 1944, no irrelevant film was made in Hollywood. And she saw them all. And then she was dissatisfied with the sexual roles as now being played, so she's a man who becomes a woman, who becomes a man, who becomes something else [phone rings]. She has a difficult time making up her mind.

Studs Terkel I think it's that part of it, too, that fascinated me about Myra Breckinridge, talking to Gore Vidal, our guest, and we can talk later on about his, his view of morality, particularly in conjunction with the play The Best Man several years ago. We're hung up on the matter of the body and narcissism, I guess, is also part of the scene, isn't it?

Gore Vidal I think we're fascinated by bodies and I think one of the things that people objected to in Myra, I've got an awful lot of moralizing twaddle reviews, which I was somewhat expecting and really why I didn't want any reviews at all, because I just, just, just seemed it wouldn't be helpful. But that I go into great detail, 2 bodies, a male body and a female body. But it's all done I, sort of like, like an autopsy. You know, it's without, it's certainly not prurient. In fact, my approach to sex is sort of rather like Julia Child, you know [laughter], on television, doing, doing one of her exhibitions, you know. Now you take this flounder and you, and you fee -- [laughing] you know, you take the bones out. And that's really rather my approach, which is all spoofing the thing. I find sex has a very funny side to it. Particularly hung-up sex as it were. And Myra is nothing if not hung-up.

Studs Terkel Isn't, isn't this one of the aspects, too, that we again -- the, the, the Puritan ethic still applies, doesn't it? Hate to be fancy, but the fact is, it is still sinful. That even though, and the prurient of course love the idea of reading of the scandals, and you-- you're pointing out the whole humor of the whole thing. We, we can't treat sex humorously in this society.

Gore Vidal Oh, and the result you see all, all around you and what I can't bear in this society-- well, there's so many things I can't bear-- but just to start in one direction, I was, I was on arguing with that Jesuit, Father Hill, who's a great anti-pornography man. Clean up this, clean up that. And, and he kept muddling sex and violence. And I finally, I practically grabbed him by his cassock or whatever it is he wears, and right on camera and I said, "What on earth are you doing? You are muddling sexuality, which you only approve of man plus woman in a married state equals baby, which," I says, "I regard that as an eccentric view of sex but it's your church's view, and then you are muddling this with people, with rapists, with people going out and killing each other and watching horror, reading horror comics or what have you which deal in sadism." I said, "Only in America could we have so made a botch of morality that to murder somebody is exactly equal to having an affair with somebody." And I said, "No other country--" and I said, "And you wonder, really, why we are laughed at from one end of the world to the other and about our sexual code. And why people find us so alarming".

Studs Terkel Of course, doesn't-- isn't this connected? Since you've mentioned the subject of murder and violence, that the fact that it is considered sinful, therefore makes it equated to the other, and we become, indeed, far more horrified by a sexual act that may be advertised than by the murder of thousands and millions.

Gore Vidal Well, because we were a violent country to begin with and we've always honored violence. I mean, the idea of a man is somebody who can go into a bar and knock somebody down. That is our idea of perfect manhood. And--

Studs Terkel John Wayne, rather than Mahatma Gandhi, is more of a man to us.

Gore Vidal Yes, indeed. And I must say, Mr. Wayne sort of proves it as a kind of Stone Age figure on the scene. But the idea of sex being repellent is, is a very sad thing. And I think much of the violence you find in American life, you can't walk down a street anymore without feeling the tensions in people, partly due to these awful cities we live in. But partly due to the times and that much of it comes out of, of sexuality which is blocked, which is unsatisfactory. We're all bisexual by nature. We are all accessible to all kinds of stimuli. And I would say the ideal behavior, if you were aiming for an ideal, would somebody who would respond to almost anything at many different levels, men, women, children, what have you.

Studs Terkel Come back to repression, again. This is, I guess, coming back to the original Freud. I mean, the idea that repression can be the source of so much brutality and violence.

Gore Vidal And I'm certain, without, without having to, you know, quote yards of Freud, it is certainly true that if your sexual life is particularly blocked in any way, you are, you, you know, you are going to beat your wife, you are going to pick a fight in a bar, you are going to get drunk. And I must say, like in this case Myra Breckinridge, poor Myra discovers after she goes through all these sex changes that what was missing in her childhood, her youth, was the Dionysian. Which is something that our ancestors knew that you had, that group sexuality really is an enormous release to people and our ancestors practiced it and, as in fact as a form of religion. Now of course it's considered, you know, rather bad form and when Americans do indulge in it, they usually get drunk first, which makes it rather sloppy and competitive.

Studs Terkel What's also fun -- [laughing] We come to competition. I suppose, another aspect of the acquisitive society.

Gore Vidal Yes, I must say. People, sort of, [laughter] giving each other side and side, side glances, you know, who-- who is behaving better in

Studs Terkel Talking about Myra, what also made me laugh a great deal of ti -- a number of times here, is the movie references throughout, that movies do play a role in our lives, as fantasy plays a role. And every time you have Myra talking, either she's Jean-- if she's a career woman, she's Jean Arthur, or if she's a good, kindly, unapproachable one--

Gore Vidal She's Loretta Young, she's Frances Dee. She sees herself, in terms of movies, and I think most people do. And the younger generation might have changed this slightly to include the Beatles and television figures, but by and large people do see themselves in terms of movies and since very few people have any sense of reality about themselves or anybody else, they tend to use mythic figures like movie stars and pattern themselves on it.

Studs Terkel I have, I have something marked to read, I wish that Gore Vidal would read this, as he reads this open course. I think the style too, tells it, about your being born, Myra being born to be a star. And it's the whole matter of -- oh, and we're so celebrity conscious too. That's part of it

Gore Vidal "I was born to be a star and looked like one today. A false hairpiece gives body to my hair while the light Max Factor base, favored by Merle Oberon among other screen lovelies, makes luminous my face, even in the harsh light of a sound stage where I shall soon be standing watching a take." She's on her way, by the way, to Culver City to MGM. "Then when the director says, 'Okay, print it,' and the grips prepare for another set up, the director will notice me and ask my name, and then take me into the commissary and there, over a green goddess salad a favorite of the stars, talk to me at length about my face, wondering whether or not it is photogenic until I stop him with a smile and say, 'There's only one way to find out, a screen test.' To be a film star is my dearest daydream. After all, I've had some practical experience in New York, Myron and I both appeared in a number of underground movies. Of course they were experimental films and like most experiments in the laboratory and out, they failed. But even had they succeeded, they could never been truly Hollywood, truly mythic. Nevertheless, they give me a sense of what it must be like to be a star. I hate buses--" Oh, you like this part, here, about Hollywood. "I hate buses, I must rent or buy a car." She's writing this while she's traveling out to Culver City. "The distances are unbelievable out here, and to hire a taxi costs a fortune, and this particular section of town is definitely ratty looking with dingy bungalows and smog-filled air. My eyes burn and water. Fortunately, electric neon signs and occasional eccentrically-shaped building make magic of the usual. We are now passing a diner in the shape of an enormous brown doughnut. I feel better already. Fantasy has that effect on me."

Studs Terkel That's what I meant. I mean, that here, also the description of Hollywood, the horrible aspect, but the idea of fantasy and reality, exactly the opposite. So we live in the reality of something pretty grubby, yet the fantasy, that is kind

Gore Vidal Oh, well the fascinating thing, too, that, that nobody believes anything until they've seen it on television or in the movies. People who live in neighborhoods never look at anything until suddenly their neighborhood appears on television, and then it suddenly becomes real to them. Or something appears in the movies as a background. And then they start -- of course the famous thing was when they had the eclipse of the sun out in California. I, I guess, we had it everywhere else, too, but out in California, everybody went inside to watch it on television, instead of standing outside and watching in the sun.

Studs Terkel I'd love to have you take off on this, I'll just tell you a very brief story and it's connected with Myra Breckenridge and what, what just talked about-- about the only reality is the mass medium that does it, that tells us what it's about, not the reality. Richard Speck, who killed the eight student nurses, was out of his mind, had no idea. One day he's in a bar, and he looks at television, and it's announced, they found the man, his name is Richard Speck. And he's at the bar drinking, and then suddenly he realized that he must have done it because it was announced on TV that he did it by the sheriff.

Gore Vidal That is gruesome and I must say yes, that, that's what we call an -- the identity crisis. Who am I, until I am defined by television, or anything else?

Studs Terkel In the case of Myra Breckinridge, throughout, there's always the reference to a certain movie actress of that period whom she is like.

Gore Vidal And I think, and I think everybody's like this, you know, people say, "Well, what are the influences on the contemporary novelists from Saul Bellow or Norman Mailer, and this one, and that one". And I've always said, you know, the main influence on all of us, though we-- you know, we'll say, well, whether it was Henry James or Dostoyevsky, which would be your literary influences, the main influence on us were the movies we saw. And if you really want to understand any contemporary writer, any contemporary person, ask, find out what films he saw from about 6 to 15 and then you'll suddenly find out just what he's based his life on. I mean, there's definite evidence Norman Mailer is playing Humphrey Bogart. I've certainly done George Arliss for a number of years [Studs laughing] and we all have some inner image of ourselves, first discovered when we were watching the

Studs Terkel Green goddess salad has more reference than to a salad here.

Gore Vidal By heaven, what a good-- you are, I must say, Myra would approve of your, [Studs laughing] of your movie lore. Watch out, there's a Myra Breckinridge in your future.

Studs Terkel Gore Vidal, guest, and of course we can take any number of directions in this conversation because interests indeed are small "c" Catholic, and so we come to your thoughts about morality, were touching on it earlier. If I could go back to Best Man even though it's years ago, nonetheless it's definitive to me as an adult you have-- how we define morality. The, the venal figure was faithful to his wife. When you don't name the political figure on who it's modeled he, he'll be running for high office, again, I take it. He was faithful to his wife, a good church goer, gave to charities. But the more enlightened figure, your hero, had committed acts of, he was unfaithful to his wife, and who is the moral man of the two.

Gore Vidal Well I thought it was interesting contrast, yes, in, in the movie which they just showed on television a few nights ago. We had Henry Fonda versus, who was the good politician, versus Cliff Robertson, who was the bad one, and Cliff Robertson was the good husband and believed in God and morality and was an absolute scoundrel in public life. Where the other one was a noble man in public life, but was, was promiscuous, and absolutely not what we would call a model husband. And this startled people, they said, "But the good guy, doesn't cheat on his wife." I've just gone through the same thing with this new play of mine, Weekend, which has had an extraordinarily bad press, and it's quite a good play, he said, thoughtfully. But it's terribly funny. For one thing they laughed 72 times, which is quite a lot for 2 hours, and the audience enjoys it. It's quite funny, and yet they cannot bear what I've done. It's a political play. Everybody in it is acting out of total self-interest. And what I have-- and my convention is that everybody expresses himself, I think, with some wit, some humor, but with absolute brutal candor. I mean to prevail. This is the, everybody's line in it, whether it's the wife, and I have him, he lives with his wife and his secretary, who's also his mistress, a lovely menage a trois. I never go into it, we never discuss it. The wife knows about it and she's obviously, they're all three quite happy together. Or they can't bear it. You see, people who go to plays, and, unfortunately, people who write about plays, never compare anything to life, only to other plays. And since this is, was lacking in cliche characters, lacking in that awful moralizing that, that Americans do to quite spontaneously to cover up, I suppose, a great moral vacuum. And as well, I, I must say, I've come to despise the American press, from Time magazine right down to your own boring Chicago Tribune. This terrible, moralizing, empty, inaccurate, hypocritical-- they can't face any fact about anything. And you read these newspaper men, half of them alcoholic adulterers, and they all write as though they were widows of army officers living in the suburbs, you know, debating whether or not to join the John Birch Society. And there they are, absolutely some of them are pleasant men, some of them are not, but when they feel they sit down and write, "We're writing for a family newspaper, and we have to stand up for those virtues, and we're for monogamy and going to church on Sunday and so on." And they don't believe a word of it and it's just, you -- after 25 years now of being a writer and in the public view and much written about, I can only say that I have just had it. And I can hardly read the press here anymore, and I really tricked them with Myra Breckenridge. I brought this book out and I said, I can see the reviews now. They're going to say, "Oh, how horrible, how pornographic, how Gore Vidal, he must need the money to be writing a dirty book." And I said, they won't discuss what it's really about. They're either not competent or they're frightened to. So I said, "We won't have any reviews at all." So we brought it up for 5 weeks there were none. No advertising. And the thing, absolutely, people bought it, people read it, people thought it was amusing. Then finally, they did start reviewing it. Now, it's the number one best seller. What I've just said, we give no review copies, and I don't want to hear another word from any of you out there.

Studs Terkel That just leads to any number of subjects, listening to Gore Vidal talking right now. The whole subject of reviewers. I don't think that for a moment, you don't think reviewers aren't needed, not reviewers, so much as critics.

Gore Vidal Oh, we need critics and

Studs Terkel But you're talking about the overwhelming impact that many who review for papers say

Gore Vidal Well, they just -- well they, they don't have much impact. As a matter of fact, book reviewing, book reviews, don't affect sales and they certainly don't affect literary reputations.

Studs Terkel The New York Times Play Review would affect a play.

Gore Vidal Ah alas, it does, yes. But as far as books go, it doesn't make any difference what anybody -- first of all American, the American people do not like to read books to begin with. So, whether the review is good or bad, it is probably not going to stimulate them in, into making the awful error of having a book in the house. But for those few who do read books they, they will find what they like on their own. No, I'm I, I'm certainly pro critic. My heavens, I've been a critic all my life.

Studs Terkel But you're really asking for people to, at a time when someone is always judging for them, like the TV set is telling Speck he did the murder, or the bleacher fan who has the transistor to his ear to be sure he is, what he sees is true because the announcer is telling it, you're asking the reader to judge for

Gore Vidal Yeah and what I'm, actually, in an ideal world, what I'm speaking for are really good critics, rather than having journalists write about the arts, because journalists, by definition, are corrupt men. They work for newspapers which are written for particular wealthy interests. I hate to sound like a crypto Marxist, but, by and large, the capitalist press is pretty lousy, to give equal time the Marxist press is equally lousy [Studs laughing]. But they are writing for special interests. They are not free men, and they are not honest men, and their opinion of anything isn't worth taking.

Studs Terkel You know, Gore Vidal, it's not -- I sound like that character in that comic strip, Mary Worth -- Oh, yeah-- no-- someone in Rex-- Rex-- I forget-- comic strip and she always speaks the full names, I say, "Well, Gore Vidal" [laughing]

Gore Vidal "Gore Vidal, what is your name?" is my favorite interviewer's question.

Studs Terkel You, you're, you're bloody

Gore Vidal Yes, that's it.

Studs Terkel Your, your, your whole politics excites and interests you, your -- two of your plays, well more were about politics. Of course this deals again with your childhood, your background, your family, too. Was, it was Senator Gore, the blind Senator, was it not, who was an influence on you?

Gore Vidal He was my grandfather, yes, and a great influence on me, and I was very fond of him. Poor Albert Gore, from, the senator from Tennessee, the distant cousin, and he said he's getting very tired of being referred to as Gore Vidal's grandfather since I'm getting slightly long in the tooth and his tooth is not that much longer than mine. But, I've been immersed in politics all my life, and politicians excite me. It's almost sexual, there's just something about politicians, the phonier they are, I mean, just, Richard Nixon, all he has to do is just open his mouth and say, "Good morning" and I have-- I'm absolutely in a state of [French], as the French say [Studs laughing]. He just, he overwhelms me. And you, they just can't be phony enough for me [laughter]. And, luckily, my, I am much requited, particularly this year, when we have a lovely gallery of hypocrites out there. But, I just, I just like politicians, some people like ballet dancers, baseball, they're my kick.

Studs Terkel Well of politics who I suppose we, let's stick with this theme, pol -- if we may, even though Myra Breckinridge keeps her diary, we'll come, we return to this. It, it, let this be free wheeling

Gore Vidal Oh, yes. Myra doesn't believe in politics,

Studs Terkel Myra believes in getting that property. Wow, this deals with acquisition too which, we should point out this not only deals with sex and vanity, but deals with acquisitiveness, too. She has a battle with--

Gore Vidal Actually, act-actually Myra deals with power, which is my theme always, and it's Myra's theme. She just maintains that sexuality is nothing but the desire to gain power over other people. And she tries to do it over a boy and a girl, and outfoxes herself. But, I think, this is the main, the main human drive and the happy people are those who can, more or less, fulfill it. I mean, look at these people who become presidents of countries at 80, you know. Absolute power preserves, absolutely. The Adenauer's and the deGaulle's and the Churchill's, they never die, as long as they're in--

Studs Terkel Power preserves, absolutely. Very, that need not -- corruption need not corrupt, absolutely, but power preserves, absolutely.

Gore Vidal Oh, it preserves, it's, there's nothing in this world more pleasant. And nothing in this world more depressing than somebody who has a great power drive who's thwarted. This is what all these coronary thromboses are about, and all the ulcers and I, I would suspect, even cancer probably comes out of some inner frustration. My will to prevail is being thwarted by my wife, or by my, my co-workers, or what have you. I'm not, I'm not making it.

Studs Terkel But then we have, thanks to mass media, thanks to the small but, to use, not that I'm a McLuhan man at all, use the global village idea that single people, individual men, more and more, never have so, to paraphrase, to never have so many been controlled by so few. Don't you feel that too?

Gore Vidal Well, I think it's the global village idea of McLuhan, I mean that we're all going to end up just sitting, staring at that box, I don't think it's going to come true. But let us say I'm more optimistic about the human race, but it is quite true that there are too many people in the world and is not enough for them to do. And everything in this society tends to narcotize them, whether it's keeping them high on pot, or slightly drunk on beer, or staring at the set, it's just to cool them. In fact, he even keeps using that image, you know, of, of, of cool versus hot media.

Gore Vidal Use an anomaly too, incidentally.

Gore Vidal Yeah, and I think that that our masters do want us to be quiet and not fuss too much and sort of accept their zoning regulations and their taxes and their wars. So I, I do think that television, in that sense, is sort, sort of to make us stupid. Not the most difficult task, if I may say so for the majority.

Studs Terkel Aren't there possibilities, say if I could be the, the Pollyanna for the moment, and I'll ask you this, Gore Vidal.

Gore Vidal Yes, Pollyander-- [laughter]

Studs Terkel The, the fact that man, or there is automation with all the horrors, there is cybernetics with all the horrors -- with all, and with all the advances, wouldn't this, you know you've heard the Triple Revolution Committee, three things popping at the same time, the Cybernetic Revolution of human rights, and the weaponry revolution, we'd all be knocked off and yet, for the first time in the history of man, he need not work. It's quite possible that things can make things. Therefore man is in a great spot to, whatever it is, to rediscover the untapped possibilities within him.

Gore Vidal Oh we have the means at hand, and only a lunatic country could, would be conducting an expensive war like this one when we have the means of providing everybody in the country with a living, with putting a, a floor under them, I believe the expression is, which I think is coming, that everybody will start off with all the basics in their lives provided for. And with all the education that, for which they are suited. I find this just, just a super idea. It, of course, everybody, you know, people who have money always think it's good for others to work, and people who inherit money are always extremely stern about keeping the lower orders out there hewing the wood as it were and carrying the water. But I think that we're all about the same, none of us likes hard physical labor very much. So, if -- we'll get into a position, I, hopefully, one day when automation takes over, that you'll then be able to see, well, what's it all about? Why was I born? What am I going to do with myself? I have 70 years, let us say, and I'm so much tissue and sinew and so much functioning brain, which is probably not functioning as well as it ought to. How are you going to spend your time? Because I think what's wrong today, and your book Division Street certainly, your conversation certainly demonstrated that they have no sense of reality about themselves, because they're doing jobs for which they have total contempt. They have a leisure time which they don't know how to fill, and so there's a whole question, well, really, is this all there is to it? Because we have a built in sense that it's got to be worthwhile, whether it's just winning at poker, or building a birdhouse. We are monkeys and we're monkeys who're curious. The way the schools kill curiosity in children is just genius. Any six year old starts out so much brighter than he is by the time he finishes high school, you just wonder, what did they do? He knows it all. He's cool. He doesn't want to ask a question and he has no more interest in anything.

Studs Terkel This is A.S Neill's approach too, to free the child from all the crap to which he is heir, you know.

Gore Vidal Yes and, and he comes out of it and absolutely I'm sure he fits in very nicely and you'll just, we, we turn him not into a man, but into a consumer.

Studs Terkel Well don't you find it interesting since, we talked about the contemporary scene for a moment, that many of the young dissenters, those who really thoughtful, challenging all the values, do come from fairly affluent families that, because they did not have that need to grub and dig deep to make a life, they had that time maybe to think about who they are.

Gore Vidal Oh, there's a great deal to be said for money, and there's a great deal to be said for, for having that pressure, the pressure of making a living removed from you.

Studs Terkel Thinking about these kids, specifically as, as you, you know you well are well aware, a great many of them do, are the opposite in value from their father. They could make it easily, they need not be make-out artists. They can, they can take over the old man's place and yet they will not.

Gore Vidal No because they feel something's missing, and they look at his life, and they see him stoned on martini's, and they think, "Well," and in the middle of his third marriage, and they wonder, "Well, that maybe isn't the way to live." No, I don't know. The thing of what to do about money, after you sort of provide for everybody basically, there's still going to be problems, not to put pressure. I know, Bertrand Russell made a fascinating remark, talking about the welfare state in England, and as a socialist he'd approved of it. But he said, in a way, he said, he didn't like the utilitarian side of it, that whatever you did you had to be serving the state and society, because he said, "Only the fact that I was Bertrand Russell, the son of a, of an English peer and had money, I was able at the age of 25 to say there is something wrong with mathematics. I want 10 years to think about it and maybe I'll come up with something." And he spent 10 years thinking about it and he changed mathematics. Well, you couldn't go to the Ford Foundation at the age of 25 and say, "I think there's something wrong with math." And they'd say, "Well, why aren't you working on a project, some teamwork, you know, to make better nylon." So there, there is a danger and this country produces very few first rate inquisitive and creative minds. I mean, all the great advances in science have come from Europe, from radar to that.

Studs Terkel The aspect of play, the aspect of play and wasting time, seemingly wasting time, would make and-- you saw so much creativity.

Gore Vidal Is our idea of total immorality, I mean look

Studs Terkel Yet this has been the source of so much, you know.

Gore Vidal Well, look at the books they give children. I'm fascinated by children's books, any of the ones the librarians discourage, all books about magic. I mean we were brought up on the Oz books and E. Nesbit, a marvelous English writer who dealt in magic. They don't give them to the kids. They want to tell them how to, how to build a locomotive. And, you know, all, all, all -- just useful things and because magic isn't true. Well magic is how you get your mind going. "Wouldn't it be interesting if", that's how we've made every scientific advance we've ev-we've ever had, and we, we, we, we kill it.

Studs Terkel And yet Tolkien is popular among many of the kids. Tremendous [growth?] isn't it, as though they seem to sense, you know--

Gore Vidal They did it on their own, too. They got, they got no help from anybody to read Tolkien, whom I rather like, though they're, E. Nesbit's better.

Studs Terkel But doesn't this connect too with the young? Can we, if we could touch politics and all that, New Hampshire came about, the New Hampshire discovery or surprise, because of the young primarily,

Gore Vidal Yes, and I think it's, I think it's the most hopeful thing since the appearance of Adlai Stevenson in 1952. That suddenly they've been galvanized, and I've been scared to death of the New Left, with whom I sympathize at many different levels. But, I am alarmed because they say the power structure in the country is so hopelessly corrupt. There's nothing to be done with it, so we must replace it. But they haven't got around to naming what's the replacement. Until they come up with an alternative, I'm shying away from the revolution. What has happened with McCarthy is he's galvanized the young people, he has shown that within the power structure, maybe you don't make any dramatic change, but at least you begin to talk about things in an intelligent, direct way and I think he's so, so refreshing, particularly after Bobby Kennedy who's just a sly, little professional politician, and Johnson, who, to whom, truth is foreign, and the others who are just all slick operators in the old style. That McCarthy at least is talking about the war, he's talking about the ghettos, he's talking about problems and, and he's plausible and I, I, I wish him well.

Studs Terkel And Gore Vidal is a plausible talker. And I know that you have a number of, a number of engagements, I don't want, I don't wanna take too much of your time, and if we could turn to Myra Breckinridge again. We haven't even named the publishers, it's Farrar -- no it isn't, Little Brown, the staid old, Boston publishing house.

Gore Vidal Well, I feel that into every staid old Boston publishing house should stride one day a Myra Breckenridge, who no man shall ever possess. I think there were a few pale faces around Little Brown when Myra came in. But they've been very plucky about the whole

Studs Terkel I assume that color's returned now to the faces, in view of the response, as far

Gore Vidal Yes, the fact it is now the number one best seller in the United States has brought roses to their cheeks.

Studs Terkel We haven't talked about Buck Loner, [unintelligible] this is the business. I'm always fascinated with the actors and performers who also have enterprises, you know. In fact, it's businessman performer, a business. Now Buck Loner, this retired cowboy actor is the antagonist of Myra and he keeps sort of, he does, he re -- he talks into his tape recorder about how he's going to beat her in this lawsuit.

Gore Vidal Yeah, well, Buck is her uncle by marriage and he has a, kind of his own, he was the singin' shootin' radio cowboy star of the 30's, and he started a very fraudulent Academy of Drama and Modeling where he takes these young cretins who want to be rock and roll singers and television stars and models, and he keeps them there. And then there are others say he's a crook, but in a very sunny way he brings happiness into their lives because they pretend that they're stars, and they have their own closed circuit television shows, and then they, they always fail in the outside world, so he keeps them there. Some of them been there 14 years. And Myra comes into this, she teaches empathy and posture, and she comes into this, really, paradise. It's, it's, it's almost an allegory of good and evil, and she tells everybody how bad they are. She's, she's the critic, you see. She's the realist and so it does a really contest between good and evil, whereas fraudulent Buck is good and Myra is evil, in that

Studs Terkel Come, come back to the two figures in The Best Man, in, in a way.

Gore Vidal Exactly, I seem to be dealing, always, in that in particular duel.

Studs Terkel And perhaps, you know, there're two passages I wish you could read, they concern this. Myra is talking about the class, you're talking about these kids who want to make it, to be a star, or do anything. And this involves contemporary events today. This is good and, and Buck later on, talking about money.

Gore Vidal Ah well this is Myra Breckenridge on, on well the subject of the students, and she has said naturally the Vietnam exercise appeals enormously to the students, as a matter of fact it's quite interesting that, the very, very young, rather, the, the, the stupid ones, do sort of like the war. They don't want to be in it, but they kind of approve it. "'I mean,' said one of them, 'If we don't stop them there, you know, where they are now, they'll be right here in L.A.' To which I answered, 'This city could not be worse run by the Chinese than it is by the present administration. And, frankly, if the Chinese could be persuaded to take on the job, which is doubtful, I think we should let them.' Since that exchange, Myra Breckenridge has been thought by some to be a "commie." Not the worst thing to be known at, as, at the academy since the students are scared to death of communism, like, 'Man, they make you work,' and so regard any alleged conspirator or sympathizer with awe, which I like. As for the theory of communism, they have not a clue. In fact, the only book any of them has read is something called, The Green Berets, a jingoistic work, written in the spirit of Kipling, with the art of Mickey Spillane. Apparently, this work is a constant source of sadistic reveries. Time and again, have I heard the students speak wistfully of fighting and torturing the Viet Cong. Or rather of other young men fighting and torturing the Viet Cong on their behalf. Not only are the male students drawn to violence, at second-hand, they are also quite totalitarian-minded, even for Americans. And I am convinced that any attractive television personality, who wanted to become our dictator, would have their full support."

Studs Terkel We come again, don't we, to -- here's Myra. Myra's really you, isn't she? Myra's your spokesman, in a way, isn't she?

Gore Vidal Well, Myra, Myra's views are always my views, but they are taken to the absolutely relentless end, which I would never do. Not having Myra's nerve, but she, she is excessive, whereas I try to be moderate but it's quite true. We often think alike on certain grave problems.

Studs Terkel See, and, and because Myra is this way, she is outrageous. It's Gore Vidal's views to an extreme. And yet, the outrageousness is perhaps what we need to sort of open the eyes of the, of the sleeping puppies here in a way.

Gore Vidal Oh you can't, you can't be too strong now. I feel that we're right down to the wire, in every sense, both with the revolution at home and the, the crackup of our world empire abroad, and dissatisfaction with the kind of society that we have. And that's why, in a sense, I was driven to go all the way out with something like Myra, that you can't beat around the bush anymore, you can't disguise what you mean. You're also up against kids who don't know how to read very well, because they've been brought up watching television, and they don't read books voluntarily. So you have to present it in such a way that it is, it will really intrigue them and really get to them. And I happen to do it through comedy, but if I could think of it through some other way, I, I would do it that way.

Studs Terkel Comedy is your strength. You're a serious-- obviously, isn't this true, that the guy who writes comedy is a pretty serious man. This was James Cameron's tribute to Vicky, the cartoonist. He was always with someone who is funny, he was deep, deeply serious.

Gore Vidal Well, I once wrote of evil and war. I said wit is rage made bearable. That when your rage gets to a certain point, wit is the only conceivable outlet, short of murder. And I think you will find all wits are probably axe murderers at heart who have learned how to cool it.

Studs Terkel Cooling it, of course, is one of the, one of the things we have to watch out for. Being hot, perhaps, is something that is need -- I don't know, it's my own thoughts. But Gore Vidal, guest and a very sparkling one indeed, as expected. Any other, I was about to say final thoughts.

Gore Vidal We have nothing but final thoughts today. We, we, we should have some beginning thoughts, prompting thoughts of the world out there. No, I just, I think we're in for a, for a dark time, and we might, we might end with the phrase of T.S. Eliot, the beginning -- "the first sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize a fact". And perhaps that is a good thought for the period. That if you recognize a fact, and don't disguise it to yourself, no matter how unpalatable, wisdom may begin.

Studs Terkel So we come with recognition, the need for recognition, the look in the mirror, and this Gore Vidal is consistently telling us that in a very funny way and a, quite a funny book, indeed. Hadn't read that passage, it's about Buck Loner, the cowboy actor who's telling how much he admires Gene Autry, and he could be as good a real estate man as he could too, which has nothing to do with cowboys but again about society.

Gore Vidal A, a cowboy needs a home away from the range.

Studs Terkel Gore Vidal, and the book is Myra Breckinridge for those who may not be aware of it's presence, it's around, it's in the bookstores, and it's Little Brown and a very funny book. Thank you very much.

Gore Vidal Thank you.

Studs Terkel Mr. Vidal [pause in recording]. And thus, conversation with Gore Vidal and-- [pause in recording] A number of visiting artists in town this weekend. The folk singer who has undergone a number of changes in his style and his manner of lyrics too, Phil Ochs, at the, at Orchestra Hall. Then Sunday afternoon the distinguished pianist, Lili Kraus, the interpreter of Mozart. Though perhaps Phil Ochs and Lili Kraus and other events in town, to the number of them -- perhaps I can remember them, we'll find that calendar as we go along, somewhere during the next 20 minutes or so. But one of Ochs's numbers, we're talking about the change in Phil Ochs' style. He, rather than be protest singer, directly, he has undergone changes many young singers today have and becoming more introspective too. A sort of a looking within as well as a looking outside, and some of his more recent numbers are in that vein. His style too as, as far as instrumentation, accompaniment are somewhat different than they were. But I thought perhaps, rather than Phil Ochs himself singing one of his numbers, Jean and Jim, they do it in the more traditional way that I like, his number, "Crucifixion." He does it in his manner, but I prefer others interpreting Ochs's song. This particular one, Jean and Jim's, "Crucifixion." [music playing] Phil Ochs' work, "Crucifixion," Jean and Jim, the singers and Ochs, Phil Ochs, will be singing at Orchestra Hall Friday night, part of a folk song series. Sunday afternoon Lili Kraus will be performing at Orchestra Hall, very distinguished interpreter of Mozart's piano works and perhaps we can hear just a, a movement, the Allegro, a third movement of her, of "Concerto Number 15" of Mozart. She's backed by the Vienna Festival Orchestra and of course it's funny, you think of Mozart and con, concertos which he started to write at the age of 9. And Vienna, by the time he wrote this piece, he was the virtuoso. Vienna he called Klavierland and apparently, apparently he wrote this concerto for himself rather than for audiences, has its own kind of fireworks. The third movement then, it's sort of a fooler, there're fireworks by many of the, I'm sure piano virtuosi at the time, but this is Mozart's own way of delighting himself. So it's the Allegro from "Concerto Number 15," played by Lili Kraus. [music playing] That's Lili Kraus, the third movement, the Allegro from Mozart's "Number 15 Concerto." One he wrote for himself. She'll be at Orchestra Hall Sunday afternoon and perhaps before we hear a Valucha record, a, a song of Valucha's, just some, a word about some community plays in town. The hope for Chicago, certainly for now, are the community theaters. And there's some excellent ones, and the Community Players up on the middle Northside connected with Wellington church are a very exciting group. And they do plays, sort of off-off-Broadway kind of plays that, they're not the Cafe La MaMa plays of young Lanford Wilson, Reimer's of Eldridge that won the Omie -- Obie award, New York will be done there. And the durable, the most durable of all community theatres, Last Stage, have up's and down's and now doing their version of Glass Menagerie, Hull House doing Electra. The Goodman, of course, is doing Brecht's Arms and the Man, very well received indeed with Helena Caroll and Terry Lomax. And there's an astonishingly good production at a supper theater, you wouldn't expect it, but it's astonishingly good, of Macbird! at the Candlelight Players. And a number of other community theaters in Chicago seem to be in ferment, in a very exciting way for getting downtown. And the American Ballet Theatre is coming to the opera house for 6 performances with that flying dane, Erik Bruhn, as a guest artist, and Carla Fracci and Lupe Serrano, Royes Fernandez, and so there some events indeed in town. And here's Valucha, Chicago's own, [laughter] Brazil, Chicago. Her new album, a very excellent one, and this is a song, a prisoner, it's about a prisoner about to be condemned. He has been condemned and he's thinking thoughts, prison or número, number 9, he's called, Valucha. [music playing] Valucha from her recent album, Ports of Pleasure, Volume 2, this program feature was Gore Vidal, conversation with him.