It was just an ordinary day in the journalistic trenches when I got the call. "Gore Vidal has a new book out ... would you like to interview him?" said the voice on the other end of the phone, a well-known Los Angeles publicist.
"Isn't he the guy famous for saying, "It's not enough to succeed. Others must fail?" I asked."That's the one," she said.
"The one who said, 'I had never wanted to meet most of the people I had met, and the fact that I never got to know most of them took dedication and steadfastness on my part?"
"That's him," she answered.
"Sounds like a lovely opportunity," I said. "I'll take it."
OK, it didn't happen quite that way. But like everyone - like some people, anyway - I thought I knew who Gore Vidal was, at least on the surface: literary lion, scold, verbal jester, and political screed writer. To double-check my memory, I went on Wikipedia (just to make sure the upstart website was up to snuff):
Author of 25 novels, six plays, 200 essays, and several screenplays. Check. An early novel, "The City and the Pillar," and a later sexual farce, "Myra Breckinridge," credited with pushing the envelope of sexuality in modern literature. Check. Historical novels ranging from the Roman Empire ("Julian") to the birth of the American republic ("Burr") garnered wide respect among historians, and his "United States: Essays 1952-1992" won the 1993 National Book Award. Tried politics in the distant past. Check, check, and check.