Gore Vidal
Meets Mary Hartman

In the 1970s, the TV producer Norman Lear - at the peak of his power and popularity, with such hit TV shows as All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son airing in prime time - tried something different. In January 1976, he launched a 30-minute parody of the daily soap opera called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, with the deadpan comedienne Louise Lasser starring as the show's eponymous tautological heroine. The show only ran for 17 months in syndication and went out of production in May 1977. But that was enough time for 325 episodes and three spinoff series.

During its run, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman had numerous celebrity guest stars who - usually playing themselves - entered Mary's comically melodramatic life. Vidal was one such famous figure who shared a fleeting friendship with Mary at what would prove to be a difficult time in her life. He appeared in seven episodes during the show's second season. Here's a rundown of his time in Fernwood:

Episode 138: Gore Vidal telephones Mary from his home in Rome and asks her to write a book with him. Original air date: July 15, 1976.

Episode 148: Mary and Gore meet and chat about fame, something that each knows a little bit about. The meeting takes place in a mental hospital, where Mary has re-committed herself. Original air date: July 29, 1976. You can watch 45 seconds of this episode on You Tube, three minutes and 50 seconds into this 10-minute clip from a documentary about Vidal. Mary Hartman's creator, Norman Lear, also talks about how Vidal came to be on the show.

Episode 150: Gore pays a visit to Mary's family, and Mary creates a portrait of Vidal using finger paints. Original air date: July 31, 1976.

Episode 151: Mary and Gore chat about a box lunch in their future. The two get along swimmingly. Original air date: Aug. 3, 1976.

Episode 152: As they chat further, Vidal tells Mary a story about a lady and a pin. Original air date: Aug. 4, 1976.

Episode 153: Merv Griffin asks Gore to be on his show, and Gore gives Mary a copy of a book that he believes she'll relate to. He also arranges Mary's release from the hospital and tells her that he's leaving Fernwood. Original air date: Aug. 5, 1976.

Episode 181: Gore calls Mary again to see how she's doing. Original air date: Sept. 14, 1976.

And so Vidal's influence in the short life of Mary Hartman ended as swiftly as it began. Little more information is available about Vidal's appearances on the show. Two commercially produced videos exist with episodes of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, but neither has Vidal's episodes on them. Nor can I locate any video clips of Vidal with Mary anywhere on the internet. If anyone has more information, feel free to contact me.

ęCopyright 2005 by
Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh
kloman@pitt.edu