Gore Vidal (Edgar Box) was born Eugene Luther Vidal to Eugene Vidal and Nina Gore Vidal on October 3, 1925, at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to Washington, D.C.—the setting of much of Vidal’s fiction—and lived with his maternal grandfather, Senator Thomas Pryor Gore of Oklahoma. Vidal’s parents were divorced when he was ten. His mother married Hugh D. Auchincloss, and Vidal lived at the Auchincloss estate in Virginia while attending St. Alban’s School in Washington.
By the time Vidal was graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1940, he had toured England and the United States and renamed himself Gore Vidal. He joined the army in 1943, studied engineering at the Virginia Military Institute for one term, and was appointed to the rank of maritime warrant officer on October 24, 1944. Williwaw, his novel about his war experiences, was published in 1946.
After the war, Vidal traveled widely in Europe, Central America, and the United States, making his living writing and lecturing. After completing his modestly successful detective series in 1954 as Edgar Box, he abandoned that name and became a highly successful television writer for two years, authoring such scripts as Barn Burning (televised August 17, 1954) and The Turn of the Screw (televised February 13, 1955). By 1956, he was also writing film scripts for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His stage play, Visit to a Small Planet: A Comedy Akin to a Vaudeville, published in 1956, ran for 338 performances on Broadway in 1957. Even more successful was his play The Best Man: A Play About Politics, which ran for 520 performances in 1960.
A political commentator, drama critic for The Reporter, candidate for Congress (in 1960) and for the Senate (in 1982), Vidal has been a prolific writer and a provocative public personality. His best-known and most highly acclaimed novels are Julian (1964), Myra Breckinridge (1968), Burr (1973), and Lincoln (1984). He has achieved even greater reputation as an essayist. His principal collection of nonfictional prose is Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays, 1952-1972 (1972).