Gore Vidal surprised the world one last time when his will was read and he’d bequeathed his entire fortune of $37 million to—wait for it—Harvard University. The shocker was that Vidal had always seemed to be at war with Harvard, sneering at its elitism and its ties to the ruling class.
Vidal’s nephew, Burr Steers, is mounting a lawsuit for his expected legacy, claiming that his uncle was not of sound mind when he changed his will. And indeed the writer’s last years were reportedly marked by heavy drinking and bouts of dementia. Still, it’s not as though he willed everything to his pet gerbil. Indeed it just may be that the ever calculating Vidal was thinking quite clearly about his legacy. Maybe he figured that his nephew would just blow the money, while who knows what Harvard might do with it—a Gore Vidal building or wing, anyone?
But why Harvard? That is the question! Well, for starters, Yale was taken—by Vidal’s archenemy, William F. Buckley, Jr., whose very first book was titled God and Man at Yale—and who called Vidal “queer” on national TV at the 1968 Democratic Convention, which the two were covering for ABC News. (Granted, this came only after Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi.”) Truth is, Vidal had been building ties with Harvard for many years, delivering lectures from time to time and, in 2003, donating his papers to Houghton Library. To be sure, he used those visits to denounce the university itself (among much else), even while lamenting that he was meant to attend Harvard but for unforeseen events. So he decided to send his tangible remains there instead.