The opening scenes of The United States of Amnesia, the new Gore Vidal documentary, find the protagonist, back when he was still somewhat vital, hanging out in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., resting place of Supreme Court justices and ambassadors and various other worthies. At one point, Vidal—who planned long ago to be buried there—leans on a grave marker that already has his name and birth year etched into it while naming a few folks he knows who are already interred nearby.
Vidal makes no mention of his longtime partner, Howard Auster, a cemetery tenant since 2003. He does, however, dwell on a classmate from his days at prep school: "My old friend Jimmie Trimble is back thataway."
In the early 1940's, Trimble was the top athlete at St. Albans, a school for Rockefellers and Roosevelts and other American nobles. He's still talked about by baseball coaches there, and regarded as one of the best pitchers in local schoolboy history. Legend holds that Trimble was recruited to turn pro while at St. Albans by Clark Griffith, owner of the Washington Senators, but chose to instead play ball for Duke University; after a year in college, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines during World War II and immediately starred as a pitcher in the service leagues. But he died at Iwo Jima in 1945, when he was just 19. A military baseball diamond in the Pacific theater was renamed in his honor shortly after his death, and at the 2005 rededication of Jimmy Trimble Field in Yona, Guam, President George W. Bush hailed Private Trimble as "a talented baseball player and outstanding Marine."
But he was more than a big man on campus or a war hero to Vidal. Asked early in the documentary if there was ever "a great love affair of your life," the writer says, "There was one very early, and one was really enough. I don't think it happens twice."
Trimble's headstone is shown as Vidal talks.
This wasn't the first time Vidal publicly declared his love for Trimble. He dedicated early novels to "J.T.," and a racy passage in his 1995 memoir Palimpsest described the physical relationship the author says he had with the star hurler, whose "large callused hands gripped a cock like a baseball bat."
Vidal died in Los Angeles in July 2012 of pneumonia. He was 86. But nearly two years after his death, he's yet to join his flamethrowing teen flame back East.
"He's not here," a staffer at Rock Creek tells me. She says she's not allowed to disclose any other details "out of respect for the family."
Filmmaker Nicholas Wrathall says that he's sure Vidal was cremated, and that Vidal didn't change his mind about where he wanted to be buried after the documentary was done. But he doesn't know exactly where whatever's left of Vidal is hanging out these days, or why he hasn't yet been sent to the grave he bought in D.C. near the baseball star's.
"I've asked the family that same question myself," Wrathall says, adding that he's heard it's merely a matter of the survivors being unable to get to D.C. at the same time to get it done.
But … two years?
Whatever explanation there is might be a long time coming. The family, alas, does most of its talking through lawyers these days.
The writer's estate has been estimated to be worth around $37 million. But a story in The New York Times last year told how his kin were shocked to learn, upon Vidal's death, that he was leaving them nothing. Instead, every penny went to Harvard. (Vidal didn't go to Harvard, or any college.)
Consequently, his half-sister, Nina Straight, is suing the Gore Vidal Revocable Trust, trying to get the will overturned before all that money makes its way to Cambridge. She alleges that Vidal suffered from dementia when he drew up the document that favored a school he never attended over blood relatives.
Among the few ways to get revenge against loved ones who've left you out of the will? Say bad things about 'em in the press. Straight trashed Vidal in the Times, saying that he lived out his last few years in fear of being exposed as a guy who committed "Jerry Sandusky acts" with minors. In the same article, her son—and therefore Gore's nephew—Burr Steers said that it would "make sense" if it turned out Vidal really was a pedophile: "Gore spent a lot of time in Bangkok, after all."
One other way to get back at the dead? Roadblock their desires about where they're to be buried. That Times story was titled "For Gore Vidal, a Final Plot Twist." Keeping him out of his plot in Rock Creek Cemetery and away from the love of his life for these past two years sure seems like more than a scheduling conflict.
Andrew Auchincloss, a partner in the New York law firm Sidley Austin and a distant relative of the decedent, is trustee of the Vidal Revocable Trust. It's his job to see Vidal's will be done. He declined to disclose the current whereabouts of Vidal's remains, or comment on whether disputes between the living and the dead are what has held up the Vidal-Trimble reunion.
"With respect, I regard the interment of the ashes as a private family matter," Auchincloss said.
But litigation notwithstanding, the lawyer insists that those prep-school chums will eventually be together again: "Gore's remains, in accordance with his very strong wishes, will absolutely be in Rock Creek Cemetery," Auchincloss said.