Gore Vidal, Christopher Isherwood and LA

gore-vidal-82-upi.jpgWhen Gore Vidal was 22 and about to publish his novel, "The City and the Pillar," with its depictions of homosexuality leading to violence, he sent it to the gay writer Christopher Isherwood, then 43. James Berg, the dean of liberal arts and sciences at College of the Desert in Palm Desert, writes in a piece for the University of Minnesota Press — timed to Vidal's death last month — that the two men met a few months later in Paris and became longtime friends.

By then "The City and the Pillar" was a best-seller, as was Truman Capote’s "Other Voices, Other Rooms." With Tennesee Williams, whose "A Streetcar Named Desire" was a smash on Broadway, Vidal and his rival Capote formed a trio of controversial writers taking American culture by storm. Isherwood was the wise gay uncle who befriended them all. Isherwood engaged with Vidal, giving serious advice on manuscripts and publications, for more than twenty years. About Vidal’s autobiographical fourth novel, "Season of Comfort" (1949), Isherwood wrote, “I read it in two sittings. What one likes about your work is that one feels you are telling the truth. It is very reliable, the way Maugham is. And this book is better, much better, than the others, in its style. Nice and clean. No mannerisms. No drool.” However, Isherwood did not approve of the characterization of the parents in the novel: “In my capacity of old Uncle Chris, I must tell you that you can do better—oh, very, very, very much better—than [this] sort of thing.”

Isherwood and Vidal formed a mutual support society, encouraging each other in challenging middle-American values of the twentieth century. At the same time as the publication of the Kinsey report (1948), writers and publishers were addressing issues of sexuality in many forms, helped along by the burgeoning trade in pulp paperback novels. "The City and the Pillar" was published in pulp, as was "Other Voices, Other Rooms" and Isherwood’s "The World in the Evening" (1954). Vidal and Isherwood met often, as Vidal frequently visited Los Angeles and worked in movies. They designated pet names for each other derived from "The Wind in the Willows:" Isherwood was Mole, slowly working underground; Vidal was Rat, working productively above ground, engaged with the world.

Berg is editor of "Isherwood on Writing" and co-editor, with Chris Freeman, of "Conversations with Christopher Isherwood, "The Isherwood Century" and a forthcoming book on Isherwood.


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