Friday, September 28, 2007

A Visit with Gore Vidal: That Old Hollywood Magic

Gore Vidal with beloved cat Baby Brown.

My motto: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing. Hence in addition to giving a Book Promotion 101 workshop tomorrow and appearing on a panel at Sunday's West Hollywood Book Fair, while I'm in LA this weekend I'm also interviewing some of my father's old friends.

So after a fabu lunch at Joan's on Third (their burrata is an epiphany), I took a cab high up into the Hollywood Hills. There I spent an enchanted afternoon with writer Gore Vidal, who knew my father in Rome in the late 1960s.

The thick stone and adobe walls of Mr. Vidal's home, built in 1920, block out the sounds of the modern world. Its sights are kept at bay thanks to views of the lush, enclosed grounds outside and the impressive collection of old art and antiques displayed inside.

"Let's see Caspar," he said shortly after I sat down. I thought he was referring to a friendly ghost, but then he switched on a light behind a stained-glass miniature hanging on a wall. Pictured was one Caspar Vidall, a Viennese (I think) apothecary, dated 1589. And here I'd been excited that I'd traced a Stander forebear to late 18th-century Lithuania.

Vidal regaled me with a wide-ranging array of stories. Seems my dad used to sit in a big chair on the terrace outside his apartment on the Via Veneto. He'd espy Vidal on his way home from the gym and invite him upstairs for a drink. "I just had one now, in memory of Lionel," Vidal said to me, raising his whiskey and soda.

My host told me the legend illustrated by a 4th century B.C. Etruscan stone funeral urn that sits atop a massive coffee table, itself a work of art with a gold mosaic patterned after one in a church in Ravello, his home for many years.

I had to promise not to repeat any salacious tales Vidal shared about living people. But he related a marvelous story--with appropriate accent--that he'd heard from actress Judith Anderson (best known as Mrs Danvers in "Rebecca"; she was in at least one play and a movie, "Spectre of the Rose," with my dad). Anderson drove home drunk from a party and woke up the next morning with a crashing hangover, caressing the smooth head of a strange man. When she finally got up the courage to see who her bald bedmate was, she discovered she was lying on the bathroom floor with her arm around the toilet.

I said, "That's when I'd say to myself that it's time to give up drinking."

"Oh," replied Vidal. "She probably just had another drink to steady her nerves."

He also told how he used to go horseback riding every week with Paul Newman in the hills above the Warner studio. One time, in the late 1950s, they were joined by Eartha Kitt, who was mounted on Linda, a "nasty" thoroughbred. Linda bolted and galloped off, with Vidal and Newman in hot pursuit. When the two men caught up on their horses, Vidal told me admiringly, Linda was all in a lather but Kitt, ever the graceful dancer, had kept her seat in style. Better still, she did her stage show as usual that night.

Vidal will be signing books at the Book Soup table at the book fair at 2pm on Sunday. I'll be first in line.


Lisa said...

What a wonderful opportunity to spend time with a legend. The Judith Anderson story is priceless!

Sustenance Scout said...

What fun, Bella! Thanks so much for sharing. Best wishes for a successful outcome from Wednesday's surgery, and a speedy recovery. K.

Gayle Trent said...

Wow, your dad was Max on Hart to Hart! I LOVED him in that show. He was terrific. Of course, you knew that. :-)

Take care,