Gore Vidal and “The Great Depression”

3 Aug

Photo of Gore Vidal by Carl Van Vechten, 1948

Gore Vidal, celebrated writer and political critic, died on July 31, 2012. Vidal was an essayist, novelist, and screenwriter. In addition to his 26 novels and short story collections, Vidal frequently wrote for major publications such as Vanity Fair, The Nation, The New Yorker, and Esquire.

Gore Vidal appeared in the Blackside series The Great Depression. The series first aired on PBS in 1993 and was a comprehensive history of that turbulent economic and political time. Vidal was interviewed in 1992 and the topics of the discussion included his memories of living in Washington, D.C. during that time, and the impressions he had as a child of his grandfather, Senator Thomas Gore, and his father, Eugene Gore’s role in the Roosevelt administration as director of the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce. Excerpts from the interview are quoted below. The Film & Media Archive is currently in the process of digitizing the interviews from The Great Depression series, and will make these available to the public in the model of the Eyes on the Prize transcript project.

From Interview with Gore Vidal conducted by Blackside for the series, The Great Depression on April 21, 1992:

And my first memory was in the summer of ’32. I went with my grandfather from his house in Rock Creek Park—he had a big, long, black Packard car and a driver called Davis—and I sat in the back of the car. As we drove down Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides were the Bonus Army. Now I thought at six or seven that they were skeletons, like those skeletons you see at Halloween. And I realized that they were not from charnel houses, but they were from poor houses. As we approached the Senate side of the Capitol they recognized Senator Gore, a highly recognizable man as the stock footage will presently show you, and they began to stone the car. And from that moment on, I knew that it could happen here and that one day we might indeed have a revolution, and it would be rich against poor.

Then people like Harry Hopkins, who was a charming man—I remember my father became forty years old as Director of Air Commerce, and they gave a little party for him. It had cabinet rank at that time. It didn’t exist when my father left in ’36. But I remember Harry Hopkins’ gift for my father’s fortieth birthday was a box of dirt, which rather summed their view of politics, since neither one was really a very serious politician…I used to, my role in all of this, I would not say that I made any great contribution to the New Deal. I did fly an airplane at the age of ten for the Pathe Newsreels, and my father as Director of Air Commerce was promoting a flivver plane for every American citizen. We had the cheap automobile that Henry Ford had given us, so my father was working out prototypes of very cheap planes that anybody could afford. So he found one called the Hannon Flivver Plane that any child could fly. So I took it off, flew it around, landed it. Hit all the newsreels. My mother nearly moved out of the family when she found out I’d been flying this. My father was in great trouble over that. That was, my role was in mostly aviation.

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