Gore Vidal passed away on Tuesday at the age of 86 after succumbing to complications from pneumonia. Vidal was best known as an acclaimed author, playwright and essayist, but he also wrote some iconic Hollywood screenplays. As the New York Times noted, Vidal was even a contract writer for MGM.
It was there that he contributed to his most famous film, 1959's "Ben Hur." Directed by William Wyler and starring Charlton Heston, won 11 Academy Awards -- tied for the most ever with "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King." Vidal isn't a credited screenwriter on the film -- according to Vidal, 12 versions of the script were written; he called it "gorgeously junky"-- but he gave the film a homoerotic subtext.
"I said, 'Look, let me try something. Let's say these two guys when they were 15 or 16 -- they had been lovers. Now, they are meeting again, and the Roman wants to start it up,'" Vidal recalled in the 1996 documentary "The Celluloid Closet." "So, Willie [Wyler] stared at me, face grey, and I said, 'I'll never use the word; there will be nothing overt, but it will be perfectly clear that Messala is in love with Ben-Hur.' Willie said, 'Gore, this is 'Ben-Hur.' 'A Tale of the Christ,' I think is the subtitle,' he said, rather vaguely, looking around. Willie finally said, 'Well, it's certainly better than what we've got. We'll try it.'"
For his part, Wyler allegedly denied this conversation ever took place.
That same year, Vidal adapted the Tennessee Williams play "Suddenly, Last Summer" for Columbia. It earned stars Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn Oscar nominations. An acclaimed playwright in his own right, Vidal also adapted his award-winning play, "The Best Man," for the screen.
Vidal's work in Hollywood was marked by versatility and controversy. He wrote the film "Caligula," but has his name taken off after pre-production disagreements with director Tinto Brass; he also wrote the novel "Myra Breckinridge," which was turned into one of the most notorious big-screen disasters ever. (The film lives on as a cult classic.)
Vidal rarely acted, but did make appearances in "Bob Roberts," "Gattaca" and "Igby Goes Down," that latter film directed by his nephew, Burr Steers.