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Literary Feuds – Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer

December 10, 2009

Literary feuds, like pseudonyms or author campaigns are usually devised as a calculated career move. If one writer is in a dispute with another, it can sometimes be beneficial for both of their careers. The warring writers Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer had other sources of publicity besides their feud. Gore Vidal wrote mystery novels in the early 50’s under the pseudonym Edgar Box. He would not confess to the pseudonym until 1978 as he felt being associated with the mystery genre would damage his reputation. Norman Mailer received significant publicity for his campaign to secure the release of convicted murderer Jack Abbott. The campaign backfired when Abbott stabbed a man to death only six weeks after being paroled.

Vidal and Mailer were often in feuds with other writers, and there is nothing to suggest this did their profile any harm. It is fitting, then, that for many years there was some genuine animosity between the two novelists. Their relationship reached its nadir on a now legendary episode of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. A drunken Mailer confronted Vidal about an article he had written for the New York Review of Books. Vidal had compared Mailer to Charles Manson in a not so subtle hint concerning the infamous incident in which Mailer stabbed and seriously injured his second wife Adele Morales. Mailer’s obnoxious behaviour on the set of the show turned Vidal, Cavett, fellow guest Janet Flanner and the entire audience against him.

Below is a clip of the most memorable moment of the episode:

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