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Famously imperious, Gore Vidal (pictured) was once asked by a magazine to interview the then Prime Minister John Major, only to complain that Major should be interviewing him. But for all his vanity, he could be very funny – when a New York taxi driver once told him to “Have a nice day”, Vidal shot back: “No, thank you. I’ve made other plans.”
Vidal boasted that he’d had 1 000 sexual partners by the time he was 25. In private – surrounded by his coterie of celebrity friends such as Paul Newman, Audrey Hepburn and his step-sister, Jacqueline Kennedy – he loved to brag about his rapacious homosexuality.
Now, however, it has emerged there was one area the late Vidal spent much of his life – and fortune – trying to conceal. His half-sister and nephew have revealed they suspect he was a paedophile who preyed on underage boys.
The accusations are contained in a new book about the writer that also reveals how he worked his way through the gay fraternity of Fifties Hollywood, sleeping with Rock Hudson, Fred Astaire and Noel Coward.
Speaking to Tim Teeman, author of In Bed With Gore Vidal, Nina Straight suggested her half-brother had committed “Jerry Sandusky acts” – a reference to a US college football coach who was found guilty of sexually abusing young boys.
She said the conservative commentator William Buckley – Vidal’s nemesis, who had a long-running feud with him – had kept a file on his sex secrets. Vidal believed he had “incriminating” evidence proving he liked to have sex with young boys, and he was “terrified” it would come out, she told Teeman.
Buckley and Vidal exchanged insults publicly, which led to both suing for libel. Straight believes Vidal spent $1 million fighting to keep Buckley from revealing his dealings with underage boys.
Straight’s son, Burr Steers, said: “Buckley had something over him. It would make sense if that material was about him having underage sex.” And he added: “Gore spent a lot of time in Bangkok, after all.”
The Thai capital is infamous for child prostitution and Gore would visit every year.
In the Seventies, Vidal even spoke out in support of paedo- philes who formed a group set up to campaign for legalised sex between adults and children called Nambla, the North-American Man/Boy Love Association.
Some friends told Teeman they doubted Vidal had sex with under-age boys, among them Scotty Bowers, a Hollywood prostitute and close friend of the writer.
Some have cast doubt on Bowers’s veracity, but Teeman, a British journalist who was for years a US correspondent for The Times, believes that where Vidal’s gay affairs are concerned, Bowers’ account is credible.
He says insiders like Hepburn, biographer William Mann, writer Dominick Dunne and director John Schlesinger had attested to his reliability as a source.
Vidal appeared at the launch of Bowers’s tell-all memoirs two years ago and said he had “never caught Bowers in a lie”. Bowers told Teeman he would frequently arrange for “hustlers” to visit Gore.
Vidal was a Hollywood screenwriter in the Fifties, boasting that he once inserted a gay-love sub- plot into the film Ben-Hur. Bowers used his Hollywood connections to introduce him to many of his famous clients and contacts.
Astaire may have married twice and had children, but Vidal told Steers he seduced the dancer and actor in Hollywood.
This was just the start of a succession of star conquests Vidal’s friends say he chalked up in Tinseltown.
Matinee idol Tyrone Power had affairs with Judy Garland and Lana Turner – as well as Vidal, it turns out. “I fixed him up with Tyrone Power, which Gore asked me as a favour…” said Bowers.
Bowers says he also introduced Vidal to a young Hudson. And British writer John Bowen, a friend of Vidal, recalled how he described having sex with Coward: “Coward said to him: ‘Let’s have a roll in the hay.’ And they did. Gore said it was quite enjoyable, but nothing new.”
According to Bowers, Vidal was desperate to go to bed with James Dean, but took against him when they met.
Tennessee Williams lusted after Vidal. Although Vidal didn’t reciprocate, they became friends and “cruising” partners, sharing male prostitutes in France, Italy and Egypt. In London, Vidal picked up male prostitutes in Piccadilly Circus.
Vidal had an even darker side, his half-sister told Teeman. In 1957, he and a group of men, including the British poet Stephen Spender, beat up a male prostitute under a bridge. Steers says the incident happened in England.
Perhaps this violence was because, in the words of a close friend, Vidal was a “self-hating gay” who always claimed he was capable of being attracted to both sexes.
He boasted of having girlfriends including the British actress Claire Bloom and US erotic author Anais Nin, and even claiming he had a “little dalliance” with actress Debbie Reynolds. But close friends and family insist they were a front.
In later life, Vidal would hold court in a grand villa on Italy’s Amalfi coast. By his bedside was a picture of a 17-year-old youth who was his first and possibly only true love. He was Gore’s boarding school friend, Jimmie Trimble, who died in World War II. Vidal never fell in love again, he said, settling for “a thousand brief anonymous adhesions”.
Whether those “adhesions” included underage boys may be something we will never learn for certain. In 2012, several years after Buckley’s death, his son, Christopher, said he had thrown away the file his father kept on Vidal. “Into the dumpster it went, and I still remember the sigh of relief upon heaving it in,” he said.
Gore Vidal’s devoted admirers, anxious to preserve pleasant memories of the man, will no doubt be very relieved, too. – Daily Mail
• In Bed With Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman is published by Riverdale Avenue Books.