Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Gore Vidal - 1925 - 2012

William Wyler, Christopher Fry, Gore Vidal and Charlton Heston on the set of BEN-HUR (1959)

While on vacation, Gore Vidal passed away at the age of 86. Gore wrote several books on Ancient Rome, loved the history and actually lived in Rome. He also helped with writing part of the screenplay for BEN-HUR, adding the now infamous gay subtext to the storyline: that Ben-Hur and his friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) were one time lovers. Studios fought with Vidal but in the end he won; Wyler told Stephen Boyd about this new angle while keeping Heston in the dark about it. 

Vidal's incredible knowledge of Rome was also sought after by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione for his infamous CALIGULA project in the late 1970s. At first Vidal was told that the film would be respectable but things quickly changed and the film project turned into a full blown x-rated epic and Vidal left the production, demanding Guccione to remove his name from the super sleazy production.

Gore Vidal was as beloved as he was hated, certainly with folks on the right. Like him or not, his passing marks a big loss to the world of literature, politics and certainly to the PEPLUM world.


Michael O'Sullivan said...

Thanks for posting that terrific photo from the set of BEN HUR, which proves at least that Gore was involved with the production, seeing as since then Heston and others have downplayed his involvement or that he did tinker with the script. It may not only be Massala who lusted after Ben, I am sure it was intended that Quintus Arrius did too - he practically slavers when he see our muscly hero at the oars ... and of course laster adopts him!

Anonymous said...

Oh, our age...! Is it no longer possible that pure friendship - or or even love, such as that of between [step] father and son) - can exist between men?! Or these kind of honourable feelings (such as devotion, admiration and gratitude) have gone out of fashion - or at least no longer seem to be believable upon their own merit?

Besides, what is not in the film is not in the film (simple logic - and no Gore could do anything about that).

PEPLUM cinema said...

I agree Michael. I think the Quintus Arrius part is more obvious than the Messala one even though it's still strong there. It was made pretty obvious when Jack Hawkins kept on staring at Heston in the galleys.

I also agree with the anonymous poster's point but such deep friendship or love between men at the movies (and in real life?) is not that often visible and I don't see many men in general complaining there's not enough of it and wanting to see more of it. It's one of those nebulous things that's there but it's seldom demonstrated, which is why I believe William Wyler, who's totally straight, agreed with the idea of the two being former lovers: the story needed passion, somewhere and it's difficult to form such devoted passion between two beings, regardless of gender, if it didn't involve deep love. Without that deep love the story would have been a story of egos between two men and BEN-HUR is not a story about egos. Quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Regardless if someone is "pro" or "con" in this matter (and I am not taking sides here), which bothers me is the sexual thing being (rather forcefully and unnecessarily) attached to certain feelings.

It is beyond me why any man can not have pure friendship/admiration/respect/devotion towards another man - without any sexual motivation. I am a perfectly straight male, but I too admire Charlton Heston's character - and if he had saved my life, I would have loved him for life. Ben Hur was not an ordinary character - so even I would have looked upon him (and even his perfect body) with admiration. The same could go to Messala and Ben Hur; IN THE MOVIE, they are/were friends, that's it - no mater what Mr. Vidal intended, or what was in his mind. (If building an airplane is in my mind, but I assemble a car instead, this thing would still not fly.)

Messala, Juda or Quintus Arius are imaginary persons - they exist only on the screen. So it is totally absurd to use someone's thoughts about a film character as proof of some (assumed) sexual orientation.

Again, which is not in the film is not being in the film - and nope, there is no indication whatsoever of Arius' or Messala's (past or present) sexual devotion towards Ben Hur. Therefore, those matters do not exist.

As for passion: how about true friendship, a son's love towards his parents? - they are no longer enough? or they have ceased to exist? At the time Ben Hur was made, they did exist for sure - and it can not be changed now just because we are living a (very) different era.