Legendary Gore Vidal-William F. Buckley rivalry coming to screens

Best of Enemies

William F. Buckley Jr., left, and Gore Vidal in a still from the film “Best of Enemies.”

(ABC / Magnolia Pictures)

The highly public clashes between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr., two vehemently opposed public intellectuals, is explored in a new documentary. “Best of Enemies” will kick off the AFI Docs film festival in Washington, D.C., on June 17.

The film follows the televised conversations between Vidal and Buckley, who already had developed an enmity for one another. ABC hired the two to serve as commentators to the 1968 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Vidal, a blueblood Democrat, was a bestselling novelist. His book “Myra Breckinridge,” about the misadventures of an ambitious, secretly transsexual woman, was published in February 1968 and caused a sensation, making Vidal one of the most recognizable novelists of the time.

Buckley was a blueblood Republican, one who had coauthored a book defending Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his communist-hunting tactics. He was the founder of National Review, a conservative news and commentary magazine.


The two were ideologically opposed, and had debated on television before 1968. The format of their conversations that year, however, brought them into contact with one another several times, and with the heated political atmosphere -- Chicago police beat anti-war demonstrators outside the Democratic convention, on camera -- their exchanges escalated.

Vidal, unsportingly, called Buckley a “pro-crypto-Nazi.” Even less sportingly, Buckley shot back, “Now listen, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in you goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.” On live television.

By focusing on Buckley and Vidal’s rivalry, “Best of Enemies” recalls a time when authors were important cultural commentators. The film will be released by Magnolia pictures July 31 in Los Angeles and New York with a wide release later.

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