I hope nobody is too disappointed to learn there is no physical confrontation in this clip — although Mailer did (1) head-butt Vidal in the greenroom immediately prior to this taping (2) punch Vidal at a party over a bad review. There is however verbal sparring of a caliber not to be found in what passes for confrontation on TV these days. Sure, the premise of this argument is basically matching wits for the sake of matching wits, but that doesn’t make it any less refreshing for that to be the emphasis of the exchange. Consider this clip a cleanser for the hot garbage that comprised the first Presdential Debate.
Mailer and Vidal are seen here on the Dick Cavett show, along with journalist Janet Flanner — who delivers the first decisive hit of the exchange at 1:25, blowing a kiss to seal the deal. At issue is Vidal’s review of Mailer’s Prisoner of Sex, wherein Vidal compares Mailer to Charles Manson. Mailer soon offends Flanner and Cavett and the studio audience and continues to argue against all the forces in the room until Cavett delivers his famous knockout punch at 3:40.
It’s no Pumkin spitting on New York, but it’ll do.