Gore Vidal on Roman Polanski's sexcapades: The media has it all wrong
The Atlantic has just put up a truly bizarre interview that John Meroney did with Gore Vidal, the acerbic literary lion who's out promoting a new memoir, "Snapshots in History's Glare." It offers Vidal's remembrances of various stages of his career, including his lengthy stint as a Hollywood screenwriter. At 83, Vidal isn't much of a novelist anymore, but he's the man to see if you want to hear explosive (some would say crackpot) theories about American politics and social mores.
He doesn't disappoint in this tart-tongued chat with Meroney, dismissing Teddy Kennedy's legislative legacy as "nothing," writing off the New York Times as "a bunch of dull hacks," dubs Louis B. Mayer "the worst anti-Semite of all" and -- how's this for a whopper -- describing Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson as "virgins." That pushed the interview into Roman Polanski territory, the two men knowing each other via a shared friendship with the critic Kenneth Tynan.
Vidal is just as dismissive of Samantha Geimer, Polanski's 13-year-old victim, as he is of Teddy Kennedy, saying: "Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she's been taken advantage of?" When Meroney gently takes issue with this characterization of Polanski's victim, Vidal continues: "There was a totally different story at the time that doesn't resemble anything that we're now being told. The media can't get anything straight... The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polack -- that's what people were calling him -- well, the story is totally different now from what it is then."
That provokes this exchange:
Meroney: You think anti-Semitism is motivating the prosecution of Polanski?
Vidal: Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski. He was also a foreigner. He did not subscribe to American values in the least. To his prosecutors, that seemed vicious and unnatural.
Meroney: So you're saying that a non-Jewish director wouldn't have to worry about getting caught up in a sex crime scandal? Such a thing wouldn't be an issue for Martin Scorsese?
Vidal: Well, he's an absolutely sexless director. Can you think of a sex scene he's ever shot?
You'll have to read the rest on your own dime. But I would defy Vidal to produce evidence that the media portrayed Geimer as some kind of virginal innocent. In fact, for years the media has flirted with a blame-the-victim portrayal of Geimer, saying she was put in harm's way by a pushy stage mother who left her alone with an insidious Lothario like Polanski. There's also virtually no evidence of any overt anti-Semitism on the part of the media's portrayal of Polanski. He may often have been cast as a vaguely disreputable European smoothie, but it would be a big stretch to find any anti-Semitic tone to that characterization.
But Vidal has his story and he's sticking to it, even if this interview could do more to harm Polanski's cause than anything a thousand of his hysterical detractors could ever possibly say.
Photo of Gore Vidal by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times