Authors: Gore Vidal
“Wicked and provocative.… Vidal’s purview of Hollywood in one of its golden ages is fascinating.”
“Witty and wonderful.”
—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Vidal succeeds in making his history alive and plausible.”
—The New York Times
shimmers with the illusion of politics and the politics of illusion.”
“A rich, history-packed addition to the author’s brilliant, ongoing vision of how our republic became a world empire.”
“[Vidal] manages to encompass just about everything that happened in this country from the American decision to intervene in World War I in 1917 to the death of President Harding six years later.… He never fails to instruct as well as entertain.”
“Vidal has now emerged as no less than the fictional chronicler of America itself.… Vidal’s interweaving of political portraiture with narrative has never been better.”
—The Newark Star-Ledger
“Masterly.… [Vidal] gives his ideas, his theories, full reign.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Vidal is the best political novelist since Disraeli.… [His] highly polished prose style, in part the fruit of his classical training, is a constant delight. One might even go so far as to call him a modern la Rochefoucauld.”
The New York Review of Books
“Our greatest living man of letters.”
—The Boston Globe
Gore Vidal was born in 1925 at the United States Military Academy at West Point. His first novel,
, written when he was nineteen years old and serving in the Army, appeared in the spring of 1946. Since then he has written twenty-two novels, five plays, many screenplays, short stories, well over two hundred essays, and a memoir.
NARRATIVES OF EMPIRE
The Golden Age
FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, JULY 2000
Copyright © 1990 by Gore Vidal
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1990.
Vintage is a registered trademark and Vintage International and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
The Library of Congress has cataloged
the Random House edition as follows:
Vidal, Gore, 1925–
PS3543.I26H65 1990 813′.54 89-42834
lowly, William Randolph Hearst lowered his vast bear-like body into a handsome Biedermeier chair, all scrolls and lyres and marquetry. “Tell no one I’m in Washington,” he commanded. Then, slowly, he blinked his pale blue eyes at Blaise Delacroix Sanford. Although Blaise was now forty-one and the publisher of the Washington
, he was still awed by his former chief and mentor, gone gray in
fifty-fourth year, the most famous newspaper publisher in the world, owner of dozens of journals and magazines and, most curiously, the recent begetter of that world-wide sensation a photo-play serial called
The Perils of Pauline
“I won’t, of course.” Blaise sat on the edge of his desk, flexing leg muscles. Unlike the Chief, Blaise was in excellent physical shape: he rode horseback every day, played squash in his own court, fought age.
“Millicent and I’ve been spending the winter at the Breakers. You know, Palm Beach.” The Chief’s face was Indian-brown from the sun. Just past Hearst’s head, Blaise could see, through the window, a partial view of Fourteenth
Street until, with a dry soft sigh, the Biedermeier chair crumpled in on itself like an accordion and Hearst and chair were suddenly as one with the thick Persian carpet, and the view of Fourteenth Street was now unobstructed.
Blaise leapt to his feet. “I’m sorry …”
But Hearst serenely ignored gravity’s interruption of his thought. He remained where he was on the floor, holding in one hand a fragile wooden lyre that had been an armrest: the Orpheus of popular journalism, thought Blaise wildly, unnerved by the sight. “Anyway, what I sneaked into town for was to find out whether or not there’s anything to this Zimmerman-telegram thing, and if there is, how are
going to play it? After all, you’re the Washington publisher. I’m just New York.”
“And everywhere else. Personally, I think it’s a hoax.… Why don’t you try another chair?”
Hearst put down his lyre. “You know, I bought a whole houseful of Biedermeier furniture when I was in Salzburg and I shipped it back to New York, where I never got around to crating it. Don’t think I will now.” As slowly as Hearst had sat so, majestically, he rose to his full height, at least two heads taller than Blaise. “Sorry I smashed that thing. Bill me for the damages.”
“Forget it, Chief.” In his nervousness, Blaise called Hearst the name that he was known by to all his employees but never to his equal, Blaise. As Hearst settled himself into a fortress-like leather armchair, Blaise picked up the so-called Zimmermann telegram. Blaise had received a copy from a reliable source at the White House and so, apparently, had Hearst. The telegram had been secretly transmitted from London to President Wilson on Saturday, February 24, 1917. It was now Monday and, later in the day, Woodrow Wilson would address a joint session of Congress on the subject of war or peace or continued neutrality or whatever with the Central Powers, specifically Germany, in their war against the Entente Cordiale, or France and England and Russia and, lately, Italy. If authentic, the telegram from the German foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador in Mexico, a country for some time more or less at war with the United States, would end once and for all the neutrality of the United States. Blaise suspected that the telegram was the work of the British Foreign Office. The boldness of tone was the sort of thing that only a desperate country, losing a war, would concoct in order to frighten the United States into coming to its aid.
“My spies tell me that the telegram has been sitting around in London since last month, which means that that’s where it was written,
it didn’t start here first.” Hearst withdrew his copy from a pocket; then he read in his high thin voice, “ ‘We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare.’ ” He looked up. “Well, that part’s true, the Germans are really giving it to us, sinking just about every ship in sight between here and Europe. Dumb of them, you know. Most Americans don’t want war. I don’t want war. Did you know Bernstorff was Mrs. Wilson’s lover?”
The Chief had a disconcerting habit of moving from subject to subject with no discernible connection; yet there was often some mysterious link that connected his staccato musings. Blaise had indeed heard the rumor that the German ambassador and the widow Mrs. Galt, as the second Mrs. Wilson had been styled a year earlier, had been lovers. But then Washington was not only Henry James’s “city of conversation” but Hearst’s city of fantastic gossip. “If they were lovers, I’m sure it was all over by the time she married the President.”
“You never can tell unless you were in the room, as my mother keeps telling me. The money my mother has! And she’s pro-English, too.” Hearst began to read again. “ ‘We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: Make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.’ ” Hearst looked up. “At least whoever wrote this isn’t promising them my place in California.”