Gore Vidal's elegance and gloom

Mike Wallace's provocative 1975 interview with literary icon Gore Vidal, who died this week at the age of 86

To some, Gore Vidal will be remembered as a superlative writer, essayist, playwright and critic, but to others, he will be known as "an intellectual vaudevillian."

That's how Mike Wallace put it back in 1975 after interviewing Vidal for a provocative 60 Minutes profile. The piece is Wallace and Vidal at their best, going head to head on everything from sex to politics to celebrity.

Wallace and the 60 Minutes crew followed Vidal for several weeks, trailing him at parties, at home in Italy, and on the lecture circuit in the United States. The profile, which aired on July 27, 1975, begins in Rome at Vidal's penthouse apartment, a salon for an assortment of aristocrats, artists, film stars, politicians, and writers. True to form, Vidal is overheard gossiping about literary rival Norman Mailer in the opening shot: "Mailer, I think, is absolutely an atrocious personality..."

Tuesday marked the death of the 86-year-old, so 60 Minutes Overtime unearthed this rare footage in memory of the late author. Here he is, fielding Wallace questions on love and sex:

WALLACE: You've lived with a man for 23-24 years?

VIDAL: Yes.

WALLACE: You have never been in love with him, nor are now? You are simply good companions? I'm not sure that I understand.

VIDAL: Well, haven't I proved it by living with somebody for 24 years? That's obviously not being in love....

WALLACE: You have sexual congress, if you will, with an assortment of friends?

VIDAL: If you will. Oh, well, certainly, I'm devoted to promiscuity, and always have been. I believe the more you do, the better it is for you. I'm a great health nut, and sex is, I think, absolutely marvelous for the whole system; tones you up.

On politics, Vidal refers to Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon as "pathological types," impersonates Presidents Roosevelt, and calls Jackie Kennedy a "very bad" first lady ("she had no interest in anything but herself").

At one point, Wallace is skeptical of Vidal's views on American affairs since Vidal had been living in far-off Italy. Vidal shoots back, "Mike, I am so in touch with reality and you are so far off-base that I cannot begin to save your soul."

During his nearly 70-year career, Vidal ran for political office twice and was a well-known commentator, author, and television personality. A prolific essayist, playwright, and novelist, he published more than 20 novels, including the best-selling "Burr," "Myra Breckenridge," and "The City and the Pillar." Alongside Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, Vidal was among the last generation of literary writers who were also genuine celebrities.

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