Gore Vidal / Jonathan Ned Katz Correspondence: 1982-2001

Originally published on OutHistory in 2012; last edit March 4, 2022.

In 1982 historian Jonathan Ned Katz initiated a correspondence with Gore Vidal that lasted, intermittently, until 2001.

To mark the death of Vidal on July 31, 2012, OutHistory reproduced the transcribed texts of Vidal’s brief, humorous thirteen letters to Katz, often on the theme of heterosexuality and, sometimes, homosexuality.

The publication also includes descriptions of Katz's thirteen letters and his accounts of a telephone call from Vidal, and one meeting with him. Commenting on Katz's efforts to recover the history of same-sex and different-sex intimate relations, in one late letter Vidal exhorts: "Keep the war going" (Vidal to Katz, postmarked ?-18-1996).

Katz to Vidal, April 28, 1982:

Sends Katz’s essay "Melville's Secret Sex Text," published in the Village Voice Literary Supplement, April 1982: 10-12. The article analyzes the many coded sexual references in Melville's novel Redburn.

#1  Vidal to Katz, postmarked Los Angeles, May 21, 1982:

Envelope with printed inscription: “Gore Vidal for U.S. Senate”. Letter on stationery of same group.
Dear Mr. Katz, / I’d read with delight yr. piece before yr. letter arrived – I think an excellent counter-strategy in Academe is to prove that all the known fag writers (precious, marginal) were really totally hetero – Emphasize the uxoriousness [fondness for his wife] of Oscar Wilde, father of two; show how he was railroaded into “Somdomy” because of his socialism -- /Proust? Cunt in a cork-lined room—Albertine? Aubergine – I think the possibilities are endless -- / Best G Vidal

Katz to Vidal, surmised letter, 1983:

Asks if Katz’s publisher could send Vidal a copy of Katz's book Gay/Lesbian Almanac: A New Documentary (Harper & Row, 1983), saying that it historically interrogates the "invention" of the categories “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality”.

# 2  Vidal to Katz, postmark illegible, 1983:

Dear Mr. Katz – I can’t guarantee that I’ll read yr. Almanac but if they want to risk sending me a copy – Anything on the invention of the two crazed categories is always of interest – Best G. Vidal

# 3  Vidal to Katz, postmarked July 21, 1983:

Dear Mr. Katz, / Surely, I wrote you about yr. book [Gay/Lesbian Almanac] which I thought splendid. The very words – or signs, as they say now – like “sterile” [used about homosexuality in the early-20th-century] – You should study the reviews of Duluth for new insights – I am not just disliked but deeply hated -- / I thought the Baldwin ’49 piece brilliant[1]; I never knew it existed, which explains Jimmy’s nervousness with me at the time – “his panic” is an excellent description of a state of mind which my characters [in The City and the Pillar][2], perhaps, shared though the author not. But I was a realist back then – if you succeed in driving a stake through those false nouns ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual,’ statues will be built in yr, honor – or perhaps just a large stake to burn you at. / Best wishes / G. Vidal
1 James Baldwin's "Preservation of Innocence: Studies for a New Morality", published in 1949, in Tangier, Morocco, in a small-circulation journal, Zero. Baldwin criticizes all the sexual and gender categories socially imposed to divide, conquer, and trivialize. He names a panic . . . close to madness" caused by terror at "sexual activity between men." See: Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay/Lesbian Almanac (NY: Harper & Row, 1983), pages 647-651.
2 The City and the Pillar is the third published novel by Gore Vidal, written in 1946 and published on January 10, 1948. The story is about a young man who is coming of age and discovers his own homosexuality.

Katz to Vidal, July 29, 1988:

Sends advance draft of Katz’s essay for The Advocate about Lucien Price, a friend of Vidal's, asking for Vidal’s reminiscence of Price. See: Jonathan Ned Katz: Rediscovering Lucien Price, Advocate, November 7, 1988.

Katz to Vidal, August 29, 1988:

Sends first published column for The Advocate on Abe Lincoln and Joshua Speed and another of his Advocate columns titled “Alexander Hamilton’s Nose.” Katz earlier asked Vidal about his acquaintance with Lucien Price, a journalist and pioneering, unknown, homosexual emancipation author about whom Katz was writing an Advocate column.

Gore Vidal. At Home: Essays 1982-1988. Hardback: November 12, 1988. Paperback: January 16, 1990.


# 4   Vidal to Katz, September 2, 1988:

Dear Mr. Katz -- / Did you write that piece I liked on Melville? Lucien Price admired Messiah (’54) in the Boston Globe—This was a time when I was either not reviewed or sternly attacked – I got to know him during the decade (his last) when I could no longer publish novels so turned to theater, TV, etc – I read his book on [the philosopher Alfred North] Whitehead* with fascination. He was also splendid to talk to, an old-fashioned Platonist in his questioning style not in his ideas about the state – He read Julian in galleys (I had dedicated to him my return to the novel) – He told a friend, “Now they can no longer ignore him”— I’m not so sure he was right –- anyway, we were as one in our detestation of Christianity & the moral mess that accompanies it like acid rain – He used to speak of the pre-civil war world – “Look at their faces,” he once said to me at Harvard, I think, [looking at] class pictures from 1850, early 60s – “That was the way they looked when I was young; and they were so open –“ The novels proceed to develop this idealization. He could not bear what the Irish had done to his Boston; but it was [crossed out: not the race but] the religion, not the race that he deplored – He had a view of Arcadia – well, Thebes – that he had imposed upon the Western Reserve – True or false, he was a consistent philosopher, and lived in a glowing nativist past – On the modern world, he was shrewd & tough as nails in his Globe columns – Best G Vidal
  • Lucien Price, The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead as Recorded by Lucien Price (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, Little, Brown & Co., 1st edition May 1954).

Katz to Vidal, November 15, 1988:

Katz publishes, "Glimpses of Gay Arcacdia: Rediscovering the Works of Lucien Price, Unknown Homosexual Emancipation Pioneer", Advocate, November 7, 1988, including Vidal's reminiscences of Price. Thanks Vidal for comments on Price.

Katz to Vidal, January 24, 1989:

Sends Katz’s gay history columns published in The Advocate: “Alexander Hamilton’s Nose,” “The President’s Sister and the Bishop’s Wife” (about Rose Cleveland, Grover Cleveland's sister and Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple, married to a bishop), and another column on the novel Roderick Random.


Gore Vidal, writer, Billy the Kid (film, May 10, 1989).

As a sidelight to Vidal's letters to Katz, Vidal's interest in American history is evident in many of his works: His 1955 TV play and 1958 film The Left-Handed Gun discreetly explored the hitherto untapped homosexual subtext in the saga of gunslinger Billy the Kid. Vidal's 1989 reworking of the same material, the made-for-cable Gore Vidal's Billy the Kid, is just as discreet, but no less top-heavy with 20th-century psychoanalysis. In relating the tale of New Mexico Territory outlaw William H. Bonney, Vidal once again postulates that Billy was a misunderstood kid who fell in with bad company.

# 5  Vidal to Katz, postmark illegible, received February 11, 1989:

Dear Katz – What Joy yr. researches bring me! There is something going on between Abe & Speed but it’s hard to say what – You know that David Herbert Donald is devoting his last years to writing the Lincoln biog. – Should you share yr. findings/hunches with him? He’s very open for a professional academic -- / Miss Cleveland is a Joy too – I knew Miss Arthur [?] – or was she Mrs? in Paris in the 40s – What about Pierce & Hawthorne? / Best G Vidal

Katz to Vidal, August 21, 1989:

Sends Katz’s latest columns in The Advocate, "A Tale of Resistance: Recalling Bayard Rustin's Heroic Stand for Civil Rights", Advocate, March 28, 1989, pages 24, 35; and "The First Gay Revolutionary: Karl Heinrich Ulrichs: A Daring Pioneer of Sexual Emancipation," Advocate, April 25, 1989, pages ??. The essay on Rustin mentions FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's instigating Senator Strom Thurmond's public attack on Rustin, a main organizer of the 1963 march on Washington for black civil rights, fifteen days before that historic event.

# 6  Vidal to Katz, postmarked September 15, 1989:

Dear Katz, Do you not fear the FBI? Such vileness as you reveal, as you lift the flat rocks of the republic from the temple floor, may yet cause a hetero backlash – It is not enough that you include Abe & Josh in Sodom’s column but Buchanan as well[1] – Did you know that the great American novelist Speed Tomkin [?] (Capote’s Capote) is a direct descendent of JS [Joshua Speed]? Keep up the good work. Best, G. Vidal
[1] Katz never wrote about President James Buchanan and his intimate companion William Rufus King. But The Advocate did print a fascinating essay by another writer about the pair. CITATION? For a later Advocate column on Buchanan see "Was James Buchanan the First Gay President?", The Advocate, November 26, 2019. 

# 7  Vidal to Katz, received April 11, 1990:

Quote whatever you like – [I] Enjoy as always yr Polemicals –In “Sex is Political” (Matters of Fact and Fiction)* I do the same job that you’re doing but without yr marvelous data – “Son of Kinsey”? [Katz had called Vidal a "son of Kinsey" in "The Invention of Heterosexuality".] I came first with the C & P [The City and the Pillar, 1948] whose theme under the romantic agony of my Romeo & Tybalt was the naturalness of the love that has no name because the noun is enough & no category is required etc --
  • Vidal’s essay on sex was actually published in his collection The Second American Revolution.

Katz to Vidal, April 16, 1990:

Thanks Vidal for his positive note in response to Katz’s article “The Invention of Heterosexuality”, published in Socialist Review. Asks if Vidal will agree to say he will write a preface to a book Katz is trying to obtain a contract to write on “The Invention of Heterosexuality”.

# 8  Vidal to Katz, postmark illegible, 1990:

Dear K – Yes, you can say I’ll do a preface & maybe I actually will – / If the tit people suffer a collective breakdown, so be it. Best, GV

Katz to Vidal, May 3, 1990:

Reports that Katz has procured a contract for a book version of The Invention of Heterosexuality.

# 9  Vidal to Katz, postmarked May 13, 1991:

Walter Clemons* will never get the book [a biography of Vidal] done -- a nice man but diabetic, vague -- four years of interviews (suspiciously, mostly with movie stars I have known) & still no text -- He does not need a helper; he needs a ghost -- But try him anyway [to see if he could use Katz's research help]. Tel - [followed by telephone number].
Yes, I'll write the preface [to Katz's book The Invention of Heterosexuality] but Mailer, say, would be better. Road to Damascus stuff, take yr . first left at Sodom. . . . You must also collect all those tributes to how gutsy real guys are to go near pussy -- Back of it is my theory that nature only intends a few of either sex to breed & the others are off the hook & supposed to have fun -- But fun causes envy etc -- / GV
  • Literary critic and editor, who died in 1994.

Katz to Vidal, October 5, 1993:

Planning to send Vidal the manuscript for The Invention of Heterosexuality about October 19th. Asks if it should be sent to Ravello or Rome or elsewhere. Says that Katz and his partner will be in Rome starting November 1, renting an apartment. Suggests having a drink if Vidal is in Rome. (This never happened.)

#10 Vidal to Katz, undated, no envelope [1993]:

Says that Vidal is in Ravello.

Katz to Vidal, December 10, 1993:

Sending manuscript of The Invention of Heterosexuality.

Vidal to Katz, telephone call from Bangkok, December 22, 1993:

On the afternoon of December 22, 1993, the phone rang and I nearly fainted when a voice said: "This is Gore Vidal, can I speak to Jonathan Katz." We had never spoken before and I was not anticipating his call. As we talked I made scribbled notes, and immediately after our talk I typed up what I remembered as the most salient points of our conversation.
My typed notes say, in excerpted parts:
Gore Vidal just called from Bangkok. [When I asked "What are you doing there?" he answered, "For the boys, who are marvelous in bed." He had been to a Tai bar before he called and he sounded a bit drunk.]
He likes the book very much and thinks it's of universal interest, and witty, and that I should mop up with it. He'd like to see it be a success. He had very few objections to the book. He would like to see me make it funnier. Take things that people accept as facts and question them.
He thinks I should do more with the debunking of Freud -- Freud was a fraud. He thinks I take Freud too seriously. He was charming but a fraud. Oedipus didn't know Jocasta was his mother.
And I should go more into Protestantism and other ancient superstitions.
In Thailand, for example, the boys are marvelous in bed but then they get married and have families -- I should make more [of how different the world is from America].
My section on Baldwin and his criticism of homosexual panic is good but he thinks I overdid Baldwin and underdid him. [He said:] Jimmy and I were great friends. Jimmy thought of himself as a combination of Martin Luther King and Bette Davis. But he's wrong [in his essay "Preservation of Innocence" (see above July 21, 1983)] about the end of The City and the Pillar. The murder is not because of homosexual panic, but it's the normal end of romantic obsession. And, besides, he [Vidal] was only 20 or 21 when he wrote it. And then [later] he felt the pressure to be PC and to change the end [in a revised version]. But now he's gone back to the original.
There's a yearning theme in The City of P -- Thomas Mann talks about it, and then thinks he'll write Felix Krull. But then, in the old days of gay life, love affairs did end badly, especially if boy and boy. Vidal thinks he was cheating in changing the ending [of City before he changed it back ]. There were a lot of murders. Vidal was thrilled that in Thomas Mann's diary, in German, he has several pages of entries on reading The CIty and the Pillar, and he thinks it's great and he's inspired by it. So Vidal is reissuing City with the old ending.
Vidal said: We may be in total conflict on this. He thinks there's no such thing as heterosexuality. He says only a people as stupid as the Americans could think there is.

Meeting in Vidal's Suite in The Plaza Hotel, January 18, 1994.

On the afternoon of January 18, 1994, the phone rang and it was, again, completely unexpectedly, Gore Vidal. He asked whether I wanted to send a messenger for his preface to The Invention of Heterosexuality, or did I want to come and pick it up from him, in his suite at The Plaza? I said, casually, "I don't mind picking it up." Ha! That was an understatement. A chance to meet the great Gore! Excited, I changed into a jacket and slacks and left a note for my partner to find when he returned home from work. It said: "At the Plaza with Gore and the Preface. Back soon."
Vidal spent several hours talking with me, and answering phone calls from Hollywood, as I imagined it. Most everything he said made me laugh and giggle. It was political, iconoclastic and cleverly phrased. It was like meeting Oscar Wilde. When he had to leave to go to dinner at the home of Harold Evans, head of Random House, I accompanied Vidal downstairs as he waited for a limo to pick him up. Referring to his biting critiques of the U.S. political-economy, on the steps of The Plaza, I said: "You sound like a Marxist!" He responded: "No, it was just growing up in Washington, D.C."
The original photocopy of Vidal’s Introduction to The Invention of Heterosexuality has Vidal’s minor edits in pencil:

Katz to Vidal, January 19, 1994:

Thanks Vidal for the "amusing preface". Katz says "I treasure your reference to . . . my questioning 'heterosexuality as the grail, the ultimate in human maturity and happiness'."

Katz to Vidal, July 11, 1994:

Sends the copy editor's comments on Vidal's Foreword and thanks Vidal "for your support of this project, it means much to me."

# 11  Vidal to Katz, postmarked ?-18-1996:

Dear Ned, / [Commenting on the reception of The Invention of Heterosexuality published in 1995:] Sorry it was not a better outing, but had you [not?] let slip the dogs of ridicule, you would have been serious, & in our flat-earth society solemnity is all-important -- One can't be stupid enough for our few dull readers as for the rest -- French horns, the triumph of the will, really courtesy of Mike Isner* -- Keep the war going / Best Gore
  • Michael Dammann Eisner (born March 7, 1942), an American businessman, and the chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company from 1984 until 2005.

Gore Vidal. Ravello, Italy, May 9, 2001.


# 12  Vidal to Katz, postmark illegible, 2001:

Written before the imminent publication of Katz’s book Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality by the University of Chicago Press, December 14, 2001:

Dear Jonathan, Good to hear the book is imminent – I don’t appear in Newtland [Newt Gingrich land--the U.S.] until May though I may have to go to Hollywood before in which case I’ll do what I can to pitch -- / Just read a book on “bisexuality” – a late-comer – by a woman called Gabler or something close* – Not bad – I suspect the word “sexual” may yet be taken off its shelf in the Museum of Dumb American Notions & allowed to fill in all round – Yours G
  • Marjorie Garber, Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life (Routledge, 1st edition February 2000)

#13  Vidal to Katz, postmark illegible, 2001:

Katz’s book Love Stories is published on December 14, 2001, and contains a chapter on the intimacy between Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed. Vidal is sent a copy and responds:

Dear J N K, I’m reading at yr book with pleasure – Think you’ve got AL-JS [Lincoln-Speed] about right but I don’t want to enter that can of worms at the moment –- Can’t yr. editor take a line or two from my preface, was it?*
  • The University of Chicago Press was planning to reprint Katz’s The Invention of Heterosexuality and Katz had probably asked Vidal for a blurb.