Edmund White’s new play Terre Haute, which I posted about in May, is said to be based on an imagined series of conversations between Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and writer Gore Vidal.
Vidal is apparently not happy about it. He told The Observer: “Edmund White will yet be feeling the wrath of my lawyers. It’s unethical and vicious to make it very clear that this old faggot writer is based on me, and that I’m madly in love with Timothy McVeigh, who I never met. [I don’t want to be] lumped together with Mailer and Capote. They both went for murderers, and I don’t go for murderers.”
In May, White told The Telegraph about the play’s origins: “‘I thought, ‘How can I do that? I can’t imagine writing lines from McVeigh’s point of view.’ Then I remembered Gore Vidal had been in correspondence with him. I thought: ‘Well, they never met, but wouldn’t it be interesting if you changed the names and let them meet?’ I’ve known Gore. We’re roughly the same age group, we’re both Europeanised Americans, we’re both gay. I was presumptuous enough to write things from his point of view but as I went on writing the play, it became much more about me. Gore later told me: ‘I would never have been attracted to someone like that.’ But I would have been.”
White told the New York Post‘s Page Six that Vidal signed off on the portrayal: “I still have the fax saying it was OK by him. Maybe he forgot it, since he went into surgery the very next day. I changed the names of the characters . . . I invented all the dialogue and actions, [and] the character of James ended up being closer to my experience and politics than to Mr. Vidal’s…[White also insists that nobody who has reviewed the show] made the mistake of confounding the character James with Gore Vidal. I hope upon reflection Mr. Vidal will withdraw his intention to sue me for libel.”
The paper notes: “In one sexually charged scene, James comes on to Harrison during a prison visit, gushing: ‘If I thought you’d never know, I’d unzip that orange jumpsuit just a bit so I could see your chest. Touch it.’ The McVeigh character opens his shirt to show off his torso as a ‘gift’ to the Vidal character.
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Edmund White’s New Play Terre Haute Gazes on Timothy McVeigh [tr]