Past and present members of the cast of “The Best Man” also participated, including Elizabeth Ashley, Candice Bergen, Kristin Davis, James Earl Jones, John Larroquette and Cybill Shepherd.
Carol Blue, the widow of Christopher Hitchens, also attended, as did Vidal’s friend, Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Here is a sampling of excerpts from coverage of the event:
- New York Times:
[Vidal] was shown in several clips from a PBS documentary being his usual acerbic, witty and elegant self: taking America to task for needless wars, a bloated military-industrial complex and political hypocrisy…
Richard Belzer, who before turning to his text, a 1958 essay in praise of satire, briefly intoned a Hebrew blessing and pretended to take a cellphone call from Mr. Vidal. Gathered around a pair of lecterns, a chorus of sharp-tongued actresses — Ms. Ashley, Ms. Bergen, Ms. Ebersole and Ms. Huston — traded vintage Vidal one-liners: “Envy is the central fact of American life”; “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little”; and “There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.” Cybill Shepherd read a tribute from Peter Bogdanovich, who recalled working with Mr. Vidal on an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play. Ms. Smith, who said she and Mr. Vidal shared a love of gossip, read a message from David Mamet. And Mr. Cavett read some remarks sent by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who called Mr. Vidal “one of a kind” and “a true American original.”
But the oddest speaker at the event, and probably the one Mr. Vidal would have relished most, was an impassioned Dennis J. Kucinich, the congressman from Ohio and two-time presidential candidate, who in tribute to Mr. Vidal’s verbal gifts, read a long and somewhat mystifying passage from Act IV of Shelley’s “Prometheus Unbound”: “Language is a perpetual Orphic song/ Which rules with daedal harmony a throng/Of thoughts and forms, which else senseless and shapeless were.”
He also recalled that he first met Mr. Vidal in March 2003, when he was contemplating a run for the presidency, and asked for advice. “You’ve got to do something about your hair,” Mr. Vidal told him. “It’s dreadful. I can’t bear to look at it.”
- Wall St. Journal:
Actress Elizabeth Ashley recalled meeting Vidal in 1974, when she and playwright Tennessee Williams sought him out at the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. When they left after hours of conversation, she told Williams that she felt so stupid, but Williams replied, “He’s just an old smartypants.”
Ashley said conversations with Vidal often sent people in search of a dictionary, and she read the definition of “heretic” aloud, calling Vidal “the great heretic of our time.”
…Cavett described asking Vidal the source of the term “the silent majority,” which gained popularity after President Nixon used it in a 1969 speech. Vidal quoted the ancient Greek historian Herodotus about a man who “gravely wounded in battle lost much of his blood and joined the silent majority.” He added that it was nice that the Nixon administration knew who its constituency was…
Film maker Michael Moore described a lunch in March 2003 where Vidal and others offered suggestions for his acceptance speech should his movie “Bowling for Columbine” win the Academy Award the next evening. Vidal said he must quote Thomas Jefferson — because the third U.S. president had never been quoted in an Oscar speech — and when asked what to say, went on for four to five minutes uninterrupted, Moore said.
Former newspaper gossip columnist Liz Smith said Vidal had not liked her at first but he loved gossip and offered items for her column. “He made all of us better than we were.”
- New York Daily News:
The always wry Cavett began by saying, “This could be fun.” And judging by frequent laughter rising up from the audience that nearly filled the orchestra section, it was…
Patrick McGregor, 39, visiting from Italy, told The News that Vidal was his “intellectual hero,” while Helen Eisenbach, a copy editor who lives in Manhattan, called “Myra Breckinridge” a “brilliant black-hearted satire.”
On stage, Shepherd read a note by Peter Bogdanovich, who observed that Vidal’s grasp of the world was “intense” and “all-encompassing.”
…After reading from the play “Romulus,” Sarandon shared Vidal’s sly advice as she strived to be the perfect mother. “Inevitably you’re going give your child neuroses,” he told her. “Just make sure they’re productive ones.”
Vidal famously wielded his expansive wit like a weapon, and at times took aim at himself.”I am exactly as I appear,” he noted. “Beneath my cold exterior once you break the ice, you find cold water.”
…To conclude the event, “Best Man” stars James Earl Jones, who plays a former President, and John Larroquette, who portrays an Oval Office hopeful, acted out a pivotal scene from the show. “If you don’t start to fight,” Jones’ character rails, “you’re finished.”
The Times noted that Vidal “as usual, had the last word. On the back page of the program was a remark he once made about death: ‘The only good thing I find is that the rest of you sons of bitches are going to join me.’”
- Aug. 24, 2012