Gore Vidal didn’t return willingly to Los Angeles. The ill health of longtime partner Howard Auster was the inescapable element that forced the sale of their incomparable villa, La Rondinaia, in the Amalfi community of Ravello. They left behind the exquisite terraces lined with lemon trees, the incredible allee that gives Ravello its enchanted signature, the village church embellished with Byzantine artistry to move back into the Hollywood Hills house (an Outpost address, no less) that Vidal had bought four decades before and abandoned to renters. It was 2003 and Auster needed to be near medical specialists. Within a year, Auster was dead.
While Vidal pined for Italy and the Ravello mansion—“There are so many ugly houses, why get one of them?” he told writer Andrew Myers of La Rondinaia—his own declining health kept him in L.A. He repopulated the Outpost Drive house, which had been rented by folks like Nicolas Cage (who put solar panels on the roof) and others not so appreciative of the house’s charms, with his vast collection of paintings and antique furniture. It seemed to Myers, as he chatted with Vidal about the house for “Casa Vidal,” a feature in Los Angeles, that the novelist, essayist, playwright, and onetime politician had at long last developed a certain fondness for the place. “It’s how much blood you put in a house that matters,” Vidal told Myers, an apparent reference to the masterful restoration by L.A. conservator Zoltan Papp that brought the exterior and interior back to Vidal standards.
From the house, bedecked with the memorabilia from a lifetime of mixing with political, film, literary, and real-life royalty, Vidal mounted a Broadway revival of his 1960 play, The Best Man. His health kept him from attending its premiere this year, nor would he live to see its final performance, scheduled next month. In the final weeks of the house’s restoration last year, as the last touches were also put on The Best Man, Vidal would spend many afternoons and more than a few nights at his beloved Beverly Hills Hotel. The noise of the workmen often drove him from the bed he had set up in his art-filled living room, the better to be near the fireplace and avoid the stairs of the two-story Spanish Colonial Revival house. Many other days were spent in New York casting the play, yet he happily returned to the house, though he still had mixed feelings about L.A. He had been lured from his East Coast roots by the film industry, in which he famously toiled before leaving for Italy. “Of all cities, the one where you can most think yourself into somewhere else is L.A.,” Vidal told Myers. “It’s waiting to be invented. It’s to be made up.”
Photograph courtesy Wikipedia