We were just supposed to talk about his play Terre Haute—a production of which plays now through June 15 at ACT Theatre—but earlier this week I called up White and we ended up talking about all kinds of things. Lust, Susan Sontag, the treachery of writing, Grindr, the death penalty, Paris... At one point he said, "You know, this is the play Gore Vidal sued me for." Here's the portion of our conversation that came right after that:
Yeah, why did Gore Vidal sue you?
Well, I mean, I talked to him about it originally, and he was very helpful and nice. And then I showed him the play, and I told him he had to approve of it in writing because the BBC wanted to put it on the radio but wouldn’t put it on if he disapproved of it. So he sent a fax that said it was fine with him. And then the next day, he went into hip surgery, and was on all these drugs, plus the fact that he was drunk every day by noon, and he’d forgotten he’d said all this. Then suddenly, I get a call from a journalist in Canada who said, “I’m sitting here with Gore Vidal, who says he’s gonna sue you.” So my first remark was “That’s silly—he’s already given me permission.” But it dragged on and on. I wrote a long letter in which I reminded him we’d met in 1974, and he’d blurbed [my book] Nocturnes for the King of Naples in 1978, and I made it almost sound like he was a mentor, which he never was. But I wanted to appeal to his humanity. So after that, he never bothered me again. Do you think his reputation will last?
Gore Vidal’s? Well, he said some saucy things, and we all love an insult.
That’s true. And some of his essays are very clever, but I think the novels are like taxidermy—those big, fat historical novels. I think he was bitter because he could sense his novels wouldn’t be ranked very high.
As for what he said about Sontag and lust and Grindr and McVeigh, you've got to read the rest of the interview.