Posted by: cassymuronaka | April 2, 2010

And you thought Glenn Beck and Chris Matthews were emotional

In 1968, writers/pundits Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley, both products of high born, blue blood stock, nearly came to blows on television during a brief but memorable television exchange over U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. At one point, Vidal drawled that Buckley was a “crypto-Nazi” and told him to “shut up a minute.” Buckley then threatened, through gritted patrician teeth, to “sock” the novelist in the face, further noting that “you’ll stay plastered.”

Both men had run and would run for political office, neither of them ever winning. Vidal lost a youthful race for Congress in New York and, later, a U.S. Senate contest in California. Buckley was defeated in his bid to be governor of New York.

Because I was living in California at the time of Gore Vidal’s senate run, I easily obtained a couple of his bumper stickers, which have always amused me greatly. The idea of a novelist running for the senate has always seemed so much more incongruous than say, a B-movie actor running for governor of California … or, say, president.

No less puzzling than Gore Vidal’s quest for power was that of William F. Buckley, columnist and founder of the magazine The National Review, who woke up one day and decided he wanted to be governor of New York.

And because I was a witness to the furious exchange between the two famous writers on television, I have always craved a William F. Buckley bumper sticker, pin, or poster that I could frame and mount in tandem with Gore Vidal’s. Alas, none of them have ever turned up on eBay, though I look occasionally.

For years, I thought about writing William F. Buckley and asking if perhaps he had one, or a few thousand, leftover bumper stickers lying around from his losing campaign of 1965 (My mother was mayor of South Pasadena twice and I still have a couple of her city council lawn posters in my garage).

I thought perhaps that Buckley he might be sentimental and as big a procrastinator about cleaning out his garage out as the rest of us non-blue bloods. Especially since his was probably a lot bigger.

But I never could figure out quite how to word the request without telling him why I wanted the political memorabilia and with whom I planned to frame him.

Buckley died in 2008 and it now has occurred to me that I could now write Buckley’s son Christopher, another writer, and a man with a good sense of humor, who might be considerably less offended by the request. Meanwhile, if any of you grew up in New York during the 1960s and are cleaning out your garages…..

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Responses

  1. Sorry, I can’t help you on this one. They were pretty angry at each other, which kind of summed up how lousy the political climate was, thanks to the war. Things are acrimonious now but not to the degree they were in 1968.

    I would say that 1968 was one of the most depressing years I’ve ever seen so it’s to your credit that you found something entertaining and insightful to say about it.

  2. I was working up a canned obit on Vidal recently and revisited that encounter w/ Buckley, who also called him a ‘queer’ during the exchange.

    In another bout, Norman Mailer head-butted Vidal in the green room of some TV show and punched him at a party. While still on the ground Vidal delivered one of all-time withering comebacks: “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”

    • I think the unflappable Gore Vidal always comes out on top in these exchanges.

      And this brings to mind Norman Mailer’s own failed run for mayor of New York, with Jimmy Breslin running for city council. I believe they ran on a secessionist platform to make NYC the 51st state.

  3. “Words fail Norman Mailer again.” Ouch


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