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On Your Radar: Best of Enemies
by Karen Pecota

Film footage of explosive televised debates between American liberal Gore Vidal and his conservative counterpart, William Buckley, Jr. were brought to the attention of filmmaker, Robert Gordon. The archival material from 1968, documents a series of debates between two arch rivals. Deemed news worthy but in reality simply entertainment, these debates were the catalyst that changed television news forever.

The ABC televised network had it's all time low of viewership in the late 60s. In order to boost ratings the network hired two controversial intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. The topics were endless for Vidal and Buckley, Jr. because no matter what the subject they were at polar opposites. Disagreements about politics, God, and sex were nevertheless enlightening. Each personally convinced that their opponent's ideology was to be feared. And, outright dangerous for the future of America.

Seasoned filmmakers Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon directed and produced the documentary Best of Enemies exploring the story behind the story. The personal narratives of Buckley and Vidal are just as impressive as their explosive televised 1968 debates that put them "on the map" of notoriety.

William F. Buckley, Jr. known to have an answer for every question. A great debater of his time he heralded a new conservative movement.  At the same time, he founded the National Review  magazine in 1955. It quickly became an authority manual for the political right under his editorial direction. Buckley's newspaper column, "On the Right" ran for at least four decades and was widely syndicated. Buckley's conservatism had its greatest success under President Reagan's administration--based on traditional Christian thought. However, his tendency toward  Libertarianism and a laissez-faire economic theory added flare to his ideology. Gordon and Neville mention, "Buckley understood the power and impact of television media'. Hosting a popular interview program Firing Line for over thirty years kept him in the public eye generating controversy. They continue,"Buckley reached a broad audience, and his quirky mannerisms were as celebrated as his sesquipedalian vocabulary". His magnetic and provocative character kept him grounded. A risk taker he was not afraid to "re-think his ideas" if need be. He became famous with his first book, "God and Man at Yale", published in 1951 at age 25. At the time of his death, he had written fifty books, including a set of popular spy novels. He was 82 when he died in 2008.

Gore Vidal in his prolific writings and artistic talents seemed to live on the edge of society's mainstream. He was a great talker of his time. Gordon and Neville give us a run-down on his works as follows: His third novel published in 1948, The City and the Pillar, featured a homosexual relationship that shocked even the literary world. Twenty years later, he published another shocking tale Myra Breckinridge, selling copies in the millions. In 1960 his award-winning Broadway play The Best Man gave insight to the deception of America's political conventions. It was revived on Broadway twice--2001 and 2012. A motion picture release under the same name kept his name in lights and his philosophy a topic of conversation. Vidal's backstory has much to do with politics. His grandfather, T.O. Gore, was the first senator from Oklahoma. He was blind. Vidal would often read to him as a child creating a family bond. Gore ran for public office in 1960 and again in 1982. Loosing each time. Gore loved history and wrote history novels--a seven set series. Some call it the biography of our nation. Gore was a step-brother to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. His hopes were on the presidency until Bobby Kennedy aced him out of the running. Vidal traditionally sided with Democratic liberals and often had a hay-day criticizing both parties finding few differences between the two. Vidal died in 2012 at the age of 86.

William Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal were Best of  Enemies. Two American historical figures. They lived life well and lived long to tell their story. Infamous for their ability to take risks and agree to disagree with vigor.