Vidal vs Mailer
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Vidal vs. Mailer

With an introduction by Dick Cavett

Commencing at about the point where they’d become the two most famous writers in the world, Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal engaged in a vicious and oh-so-public feud that went on for decades. Their 1971 confrontation on the Dick Cavett show is probably the most famous literary encounter ever captured by television. The on-air badinage between the two was shockingly
nasty, but some reports say it was even worse backstage, where Mailer reportedly “headbutted” Vidal in Cavett’s greenroom.

The feud, from a time when writers really mattered in American public life, is the stuff of literary legend, and Vidal vs. Mailer collects the exchanges, transcripts and interviews that document the historic rivalry.

As we learn, it was a feud from the very start. Mailer recounts in a joint Esquire interview—published here in full here for the first time—that during their first meeting Vidal promised a rivalry to the death and swore that he’d surely out-live Mailer.

Mailer preferred more combative and physical exchanges. At the climax of the feud in the late 1970s, Mailer encountered Vidal at a party thrown by Lally Weymouth and promptly flattened him with a punch. At which point Vidal, still on the floor, uttered what is perhaps the most immortally apt literary criticism ever: “Once again, words have failed Norman Mailer.”

GORE VIDAL (1925-2012) was the author of numerous novels, short stories, plays, screenplays and essays. A winner of the National Book Award, he was also a tireless political activist and, running as Democratic candidate for Congress in upstate New York, received more votes for that district than any Democrat in a half-century.

NORMAN MAILER (1923-2007) was the author of more than thirty books, including The Naked and the DeadThe Armies of the Night, for which he won a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; The Executioner’s Song, for which he won his second Pulitzer Prize; and The Castle in the Forest.

The host of “The Dick Cavett Show”—which aired on ABC from 1968 to 1975 and on public television from 1977 to 1982—DICK CAVETT is the author, most recently, of Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets. The co-author of Cavett (1974) and Eye on Cavett (1983), he has also appeared on Broadway in Otherwise Engaged, Into the Woods and as narrator in The Rocky Horror Show, and has made guest appearances in movies and on TV shows including Forrest Gump and The Simpsons. Mr. Cavett lives in New York City and Montauk, N.Y.