Author and thinker Gore Vidal died yesterday in the Hollywood Hills. He was 82. That he died during the uproars, scandals and triumphs of the London Olympics ought to be noted. Though he shunned sports for himself as a young man (possibly because of bad eyesight), Vidal’s writings helped establish his fascination with the beautiful athlete that has marked so much of emerging LGBT culture and media today.
Born in 1925, Vidal fell in love at 13 with a baseball player, Jimmie Trimble, that he met at a boys boarding school in Washington D.C.. “He had pale blue eyes; mine were pale brown,” Vidal wrote later in his memoirs, Palimpsest. “He had the hunter-athlete’s farsightedness; I had the writer-reader’s myopic vision.”
Vidal was haunted by an afternoon that the two spent on a favorite rock by the nearby river, not long before leaving school. “He was already becoming famous in Washington as a baseball player, and I was busy writing, and thinking of a political career … Every now and then, in idle moments, I start to hear snatches of the conversation of those two boys on the rock that afternoon. ‘could play ball as a pro …’;’can’t be a politician without a state and I don’t come from anywhere, maybe Virginia…’.”
Instead, as World War II broke out, the boys went their separate ways -- into the armed forces. Vidal wound up in the army, as an officer on a supply ship in the Aleutians, while rugged Jimmie joined the Marines and was shipped off to combat in the South Pacific. Jimmie’s incandescent personality was noticed by his commanding officers. In February 1945, at age 19, he was killed during the fighting on Iwo Jima. Having been noticed, Jimmie found a kind of sports immortality -- later the Marines named their Guam baseball park after him -- Trimble Field.
Vidal spent the rest of his life trying to disentangle his feelings for the unforgettable baseball player. “In due course,” Gore told The Advocate in an interview, “I wrote a novel in which I described what might have happened had we met again years later.” That novel was The City and the Pillar, written in 1946 and published in 1948, as the world was digging itself out of the ruins and mass graves of war. He dedicated the controversial book to “JT.” Some critics consider this novel his finest work.
Eventually Vidal settled into a devoted partnership with ad executive Howard Austen. But he admitted publicly that it was not a sexual relationship. Jimmie would not be replaced.
As a thinker, Vidal forewent belief in Christianity for a more questioning and classical vein of thought. He cherished the culture of ancient Greece, which gave us the Olympic Games in their original form, along with countless expressions in its arts of the physical and spiritual power that sports can develop in a human.
That we gather at Outsports today, that we continue to celebrate the gay athlete -- and the lesbian, bisexual and transgender athlete too -- is a tribute to Gore Vidal, as one of the pioneers of expressing those feelings in modern times in America. I certainly acknowledge him as one of my own literary ancestors.
I would like to think -- as Vidal crosses over that great river called Styx by the ancients -- that the shade of his beloved Jimmy is waiting on the other side.