Screening History

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Gore Vidal saw his first talking picture in 1929 when he was four years old. At age ten, the film A Midsummer Night's Dream whetted his appetite for all of Shakespeare's plays, and Mickey Rooney's Puck inspired his early fantasy about becoming an actor. Yet it was movies about history, albeit history as brought to life on the silver screen, that he remembers most vividly from his youth. Movies such as Roman Scandals, The Prince and the Pauper, and Fire Over England, in his words, "opened for me that door to the ...
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Overview

Gore Vidal saw his first talking picture in 1929 when he was four years old. At age ten, the film A Midsummer Night's Dream whetted his appetite for all of Shakespeare's plays, and Mickey Rooney's Puck inspired his early fantasy about becoming an actor. Yet it was movies about history, albeit history as brought to life on the silver screen, that he remembers most vividly from his youth. Movies such as Roman Scandals, The Prince and the Pauper, and Fire Over England, in his words, "opened for me that door to the past where I have spent so much of my life-long present." Author of Burr, Lincoln, and other best-selling novels chronicling our experience, Vidal shows how history and fiction blend in the private and public worlds of his generation. In Screening History, he intertwines fond recollections of films savored in the movie palaces of his Washington, D.C., boyhood with strands of autobiography and trenchant observations about American politics. Never before has Vidal--a scion of one of our oldest political families--revealed so much about his own life or written with such marvelous immediacy about the real and imagined forces that have shaped America in the twentieth century. We see Vidal witnessing history as his grandfather is sworn in for a fourth Senate term during the Depression; we see him making history as a young airman of ten flying a Hammond Y-1 under the watchful eye of his father, FDR's Director of Aviation; and we journey back with him to America in the 1930s and 1940s, to theaters with names like the Belasco and the Metropolitan where the history screened for the nation's moviegoers often turned reality into fantasy, or into downright propaganda. Screening History is rich with anecdotes about Vidal's eminent family and shrewd insights about prominent figures known and observed. It captures the hold that movies have had on the American imagination and the mark they left on the mind of a youngster who grew up to become one of our best-known and mo

Vidal intertwines fond recollections of films savored in the movie palaces of his Washington, D.C., boyhood with strands of autobiography and trenchant observations about American politics. Never before has the renowned author revealed so much about his own life or written with such immediacy about the forces shaping America. 26 halftones.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Vidal's loose theme in this short, witty volume is that American movies manipulate us: on a personal level by inventing fictions that replace our own experience, on a political one by shaping our national self-image. Part memoir, part film commentary, his digressive narrative (based on a lecture series) reveals that his major formative influences included Boris Karloff in The Mummy , Errol Flynn in The Prince and the Pauper and Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lin coln. He derides U.S. presidential elections as ``fast-moving fictions . . . empty of content.'' For George Bush, he laments, ``it is always 1939, the year of The Wizard of Oz . . . .'' Illustrated with film clips and family photographs, Vidal's reminiscences include candid vignettes of his entrepreneurial father, who was Franklin Roosevelt's director of air commerce, and his hard-drinking mother, a thrice-married flapper. His scattershot broadside ranges from a vitriolic profile of FDR to an analysis of TV coverage of the Persian Gulf war. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This volume is part of the same series as Eudora Welty's One Writer's Beginnings ( LJ 2/15/84) and contains author Vidal's reminiscences of his childhood and early manhood. Interestingly, Vidal uses the movies of his youth as the key to an examination of his past. Young Gore's first confrontation with the reality of death occurred in his viewing of a poignant scene from The Prince and the Pauper (1937). He is aware that films and other images from the media can be used to manipulate or define an event for its audience, and he realizes that the image often becomes the reality of that event. Vidal has a facile turn of phrase and a markedly pessimistic view of the fuure of American democracy. There is more philosophical rumination here than straight biography, but this reviewer was intrigued by the character of his grandfather, a blind senator from Oklahoma. This book is literate, thoughtful, wry, slightly cynical, and very highly recommended.-- Marianne Cawley, Kingwood Branch Lib., Tex.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal
Unafraid to point fingers and assassinate characters, Gore Vidal has always been provocative, if not universally liked. A prolific essayist and acclaimed author of historical novels such as 1984's Lincoln, his talent for positioning history within a modern context is one thing about Vidal that remains undisputed.

Biography

As a prominent post-WWII novelist, socialite and public figure, Gore Vidal has lived a life of incredible variety. Throughout his career, he has rubbed shoulders and crossed swords with many of the foremost cultural and political figures of our century: from Jack Kennedy to Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote to William F. Buckley.

From his early arrival on the literary scene, Vidal's fascinations with politics, power and public figures have informed his writing. He takes his first name from his maternal grandfather, Thomas Pryor Gore, a populist Senator from Oklahoma for whom neither blindness nor feuds with FDR could prevent a long, distinguished career (Incidentally, T.P. Gore belonged to the same political dynasty into which Al Gore was born). Vidal's best-received historical fictions, like Julian, Burr, and Lincoln, re-imagine the personal and political lives of powerful figures in history. In his essays, he frequently chooses political subjects, as he did with his damaging assessment of Robert Kennedy-for-President in an Esquire article in 1963.

At the same time, Vidal's assets as a writer have made him a dangerous public figure in his own right. His sharp wit has discomposed the unrufflable (William F. Buckley) and the frequently ruffled (Norman Mailer) alike, and did so terrify his congressional campaign opponent J. Ernest Wharton that the latter refused to engage Vidal in debate. Even since he's left his aspirations as a politician behind, Vidal's attraction to controversial political issues continues in his provocative essays and public appearances.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edgar Box (mysteries), Eugene Luther Gore Vidal (full name)
      Gore Vidal
    2. Hometown:
      La Rondinaia, a villa in Ravello, Italy; and Los Angeles, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 3, 1925
    2. Place of Birth:
      West Point, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended St. Albans. Graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, 1943. No college.

Table of Contents

1. The Prince and the Pauper

2. Fire Over England

3. Lincoln

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