Literary giant Gore Vidal, who passed away two years ago at age 86, was usually the smartest person in any room he entered. During his lifetime, mostly due to his staggering achievement as a writer and essayist, but partly due to his legendary and spirited televised debates with conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr., Vidal’s name was synonymous with American culture at its most elegant and intellectual — and sometimes most prickly. So there’s some endlessly amusing irony that the man who authored some of the most highly-regarded novels of the twentieth century is today best known for penning the source material for Myra Breckinridge, which many film buffs consider to be “the worst movie ever made.”
To be fair, Vidal’s 1968 novel about a trans heroine was quite the cause celebre, even landing him on the covers of numerous national magazines, and he had nothing to do with the widely-ridiculed 1970 film adaptation, starring sex bomb Raquel Welch as the MTF titular heroine, an embalmed Mae West in her penultimate screen appearance and dewy Farrah Fawcett in one of her earliest, that made a complete “bad movie we love”-mess of his witty, erudite prose.
If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and seek it out because it should be a gay viewing rite-of-passage. Just don’t, however, expect Valley of the Dolls-style unintentional hilarity. Myra is utterly, jaw-droppingly awful in every conceivable way — from the performances of its leading ladies (who reportedly feuded in real life, culminating in Welch perpetuating a rumor that West was really a man) to its misguided use of clips from classic Hollywood films to punctuate scenes — a bizarre decision which led to numerous lawsuits. But, hey, it was the late 1960s and LSD was all the rage so draw your own conclusions on why this thing went south.
Anyway, in Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, a new and exceptional doc that’s currently playing in New York and opening this weekend in Los Angeles, we learn how the author came to write the controversial best-seller. Watch a clip from it below.