Gore Vidal (1925–2012) was an American novelist, essayist, and playwright. His many works include the memoirs Point to Point Navigation and Palimpsest, the novels The City and the Pillar, Myra Breckinridge, and Lincoln, and the collection United States: Essays 1952–1992.

The Ashes of Hollywood

Gore Vidal with The New York Review’s founding co-editor Barbara Epstein, 1974
“Shit has its own integrity.” The Wise Hack at the Writers’ Table in the MGM commissary used regularly to affirm this axiom for the benefit of us alien integers from the world of Quality Lit. It was plain to him (if not to the front office) that since we had come to Hollywood only to make money, our pictures would entirely lack the one basic homely ingredient that spells boffo world-wide grosses. The Wise Hack was not far wrong. He knew that the sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked even though, as he was quick to admit, no one ever lost a penny underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

Barbara Epstein (1928–2006)

Barbara Epstein, my friend and fellow editor for forty-three years, died on June 16. She did much to create The New York Review and she brought her remarkable intelligence and editorial skill to bear on everything that appeared in these pages. We publish here memoirs by some of the writers …

‘Everything Is Yesterday’

It was the halcyon spring of 1946. (Increase your word-power! Look up “halcyon” in the dictionary then, while you’re at it, look up “avatar” because, if you are a well-paid journalist, you have been misusing both words for years.) In wintry March of ’46 I was released from the army.

Chaos

Like everyone else at millennium’s end, I keep thinking of how it all began in Europe. Does a day pass that one does not give at least a fleeting thought to the Emperor Otto III and to Pope Sylvester II? I should highly doubt it. After all, they are an …

A Lost World

By 1946 I had spent three years in the army where the name of the daily New York Times book reviewer, Orville Prescott, struck not a bell, while, to the few who were literary-minded, Edmund Wilson meant everything. Wilson was The American Critic whose praise—or even attention—in The New Yorker …

Twain on the Grand Tour

Both Mark Twain and his inventor, Samuel Clemens, continue to give trouble to those guardians of the national mythology to which Twain added so much in his day, often deliberately. The Freudians are still on his case even though Dr. Freud and his followers are themselves somewhat occluded these days.

Queen of the Golden Age

On November 5, 1987, after a year of reading the published works of Dawn Powell (1897–1965), I published my findings in these pages.[^1] There is now a somewhat blurred perception that she was always very much on the minds of such exciting critics and taste-makers as James Wolcott and John …

Dah

Much of the first ten years of my life was spent on a hill above Broad Branch Road—the branch being Rock Creek itself, a clear, pure stream that rushed shallowly over rocks between wooded hills, a haven for salamanders and all sorts of fresh water life. Senator Gore owned three …

Love on the Hudson

For nearly twenty years I lived at Barrytown on the east bank of the Hudson, upriver from the villages of Hyde Park, Rhinebeck, and Rhinecliff. Technically, I was a River person, since I lived in a River house built in 1820 for a Livingston daughter; actually, I was an outsider …

A Nineteenth-Century Man

“Old age is a shipwreck.” Like many a ground soldier, General de Gaulle was drawn to maritime metaphors. Of course shipwrecks are not like happy families. There is the Titanic-swift departure in the presence of a floating mountain of ice, as the orchestra plays the overture from Tales of Hoffmann.

The Romance of Sinclair Lewis

Elmer Gantry. It Can’t Happen Here. Babbitt. Main Street. Dodsworth. Arrowsmith. Sinclair Lewis. The first four references are part of the language; the next two are known to many, while the last name has a certain Trivial Pursuit resonance; yet how many know it is the name of the writer …

Lincoln Up Close

Once, at the Library of Congress in Washington, I was shown the contents of Lincoln’s pockets on the night that he was shot at Ford’s Theater. There was a Confederate bank note, perhaps acquired during the President’s recent excursion to the fallen capital, Richmond; a pocket knife; a couple of …

Maugham’s Half & Half

Mr. Robert Calder has written a biography of W. Somerset Maugham in order to redress, nicely, I think, some recent studies of the man who was probably our century’s most popular novelist as well as the most successful of Edwardian playwrights. Maugham’s last biographer, Mr. Ted Morgan, concentrated morbidly on …

Remembering Orson Welles

Although Orson Welles was only ten years my senior, he had been famous for most of my life. I was thirteen when he made his famous Martians-are-coming radio broadcast. Then, three years later, when Welles was twenty-six, there was, suddenly, Citizen Kane. I was particularly susceptible to Citizen Kane because …

Every Eckermann His Own Man

Eckermann: I’m delighted that The New York Review of Books is still going strong after—what is it now? Fifty years? Visitor: Twenty-five, actually. Eckermann: It seems a lot longer. Visitor: You appeared in one of the first issues, didn’t you, Mr. Eckermann? Eckermann: Ja, as Goethe would say. Zwei Seelen …

Dawn Powell, the American Writer

Once upon a time, New York City was as delightful a place to live in as to visit. There were many amenities, as they say in brochures. One was something called Broadway, where dozens of plays opened each season, and thousands of people came to see them in an area …

Obsession

I saw them coming, an army of two with banners. He was tall, pale, eyes narrowed from cigarette smoke of his own making (an eighty-a-day man for years); she was small, round faced, somewhat bloated. In the gracious plywood-paneled room, the hard stuff was flowing, and the flower of British …

Lessons of the Master

On the evening of January 12, 1905, President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt held a reception for the Diplomatic Corps. After the reception, a limited number of grandees were given a dinner; among those so distinguished was Henry James, who was staying across the street at the house of Henry Adams.