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Norman Mailer Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007)
In 1969 as a teen I worked as a volunteer in the Brooklyn office the Mailer Breslin campaign in New York City for Mayor and Borough President respectively. I was taken over by the ideas connected with the idea of New York City as an independent state for immediately it would benefit without the burdens of tax despairing that saw NYC tax revenues go to upstate communities and Washington DC without a corresponding return. He and Jimmy Breslin both visited the Brooklyn office where with Kevin Breslin we were appointed without fan fair (and perhaps in name only) manager / director and asst of volunteer work in that office. It was a fascinating time I lived one which I will never live again as it seemed the world was blooming before me with all that means in the real world.
An American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter and film director. Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of narrative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which superimposes the essay onto the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once. In 1955, Mailer, together with Ed Fancher and Dan Wolf, first published The Village Voice, which began as an arts and politics oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village. In 2005, he won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters from the National Book Foundation.
Norman Kingsley Mailer was born to a well-known Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant, and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer's sister, Barbara, was born in 1927. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, he graduated from Boys' High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering. At Harvard, he became interested in writing and published his first story at the age of 18, winning Story Magazine's college contest in 1941. As an undergraduate, he was a member of The Signet Society. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. In World War II, he served in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry. He was not involved in much combat and completed his service as a cook, but the experience provided enough material for The Naked and the Dead.
In 1948, while continuing his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, Mailer published The Naked and the Dead, based on his military service in World War II. A New York Times best seller for 62 weeks, it was hailed by many as one of the best American wartime novels and named one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library. Barbary Shore (1951) was a surreal parable of Cold War left politics set in a Brooklyn rooming-house. His 1955 novel The Deer Park drew on his experiences working as a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1949–50. It was initially rejected by seven publishers due to its purportedly sexual content before being published by Putnam's.
In the tradition of Dickens and Dostoevsky, Mailer wrote his fourth novel, An American Dream, as a serial in Esquire magazine over eight months (January to August 1964), publishing the first chapter only two months after he wrote it. In March 1965, Dial Press published a revised version. His editor was E. L. Doctorow. The novel received mixed reviews, but was a best seller. Joan Didion praised it in a review in National Review (April 20, 1965) and John W. Aldridge did the same in Life (March 19, 1965), while Elizabeth Hardwick panned it in Partisan Review (spring 1965). Except for a brief period, the novel has never gone out of print.
Norman Mailer at the Miami Book Fair International of 1988 In 1980, The Executioner's Song – Mailer's novelization of the life and death of murderer Gary Gilmore – won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Mailer spent a longer time writing Ancient Evenings – his novel of Egypt in the XX dynasty (about 1100 B.C.E.) – than any of his other books, working on it off and on from 1972 until 1983. It was also a bestseller, although reviews were generally negative.
Harlot's Ghost, Mailer's longest novel (1310 pages), appeared in 1991. It is an exploration of the unspoken dramas of the CIA from the end of WWII to 1965. He performed a huge amount of research for the novel, which is still on CIA reading lists. He ended the novel with the words "To be continued," and planned to write a sequel, titled Harlot's Grave. But other projects intervened and he never wrote it. Harlot's Ghost sold well. His final novel, The Castle in the Forest, which focused on Hitler's childhood, reached number five on the Times best-seller list after publication in January 2007, and received stronger reviews than any of his books since The Executioner's Song. Castle was intended to be the first volume of a trilogy, but Mailer died several months after it was completed. The Castle in the Forest was awarded a Bad Sex in Fiction Award by the Literary Review magazine.
Mailer wrote over 40 books. He published 11 novels over a 59-year span.
The New Journalism From the mid-1950s, Mailer became known for his counter-cultural essays. In 1955, he co-founded The Village Voice for which he wrote a column from January to April 1956. Mailer's famous essay "The White Negro" (1957) "analyzes and partly defends the moral radicalism of the outsider and hipster." It is one of the most anthologized, and controversial, essays of the postwar period.
In 1960, Mailer wrote "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" for Esquire magazine, an account of the emergence of John F. Kennedy during the Democratic party convention. The essay was an important breakthrough for the New Journalism of the nineteen sixties. Mailer's contributions to the New Journalism include major books such as The Armies of the Night (1968—awarded a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award); Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968); Of a Fire on the Moon (1971); and The Prisoner of Sex (1971). Hallmarks of these works are a highly subjectivized style and a greater application of techniques from fiction-writing than common in journalism.
In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer produced a play version of The Deer Park (staged at the Theatre De Lys in Greenwich Village in 1967), and in the late 1960s directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a spontaneous and brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by Mailer, and Kingsley's brother, played by Rip Torn. Mailer received a head injury when Torn struck him with a hammer. In 1987, he adapted and directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal and Isabella Rossellini, which has become a minor camp classic.
At the December 15, 1971, taping of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner, Norman Mailer headbutted Gore Vidal during an altercation in which there were mutual insults and name calling between the two before both went on air. The headbutting and later on-air altercation was described by Mailer himself in his essay "Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots." The Wikipedia article about landmark episodes of the show states:
A 1971 interview with Norman Mailer was not going well. Mailer moved his chair away from the other guests (Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner), and Cavett joked that "perhaps you'd like two more chairs to contain your giant intellect?" Mailer replied "I'll take the two chairs if you'll all accept finger-bowls." Mailer later said to Cavett "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett replied "Why don't you fold it five ways and put it where the moon don't shine?" A long laugh ensued, after which Mailer asked Cavett if he had come up with that line and Cavett replied "I have to tell you a quote from Tolstoy?".
In 1969, at the suggestion of Gloria Steinem, his friend the political essayist Noel Parmentel and others, he ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic Party primary for Mayor of New York City, allied with columnist Jimmy Breslin (who ran for City Council President), proposing New York City secession and creating a 51st state. Their slogan was "throw the rascals in". He came in fourth in a field of five. From 1980 until his death in 2007, he contributed to Democratic Party candidacies for political office.
In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. In 1977, Abbott had read about Mailer's work on The Executioner's Song and wrote to Mailer, offering to enlighten the author about Abbott's time behind bars and the conditions he was experiencing. Mailer, impressed, helped to publish In the Belly of the Beast, a book on life in the prison system consisting of Abbott's letters to Mailer. Once paroled, Abbott committed a murder in New York City six weeks after his release, stabbing to death 22-year-old Richard Adan. Consequently, Mailer was subject to criticism for his role. In a 1992 interview with the Buffalo News, he conceded that his involvement was "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in."
In 1989, Mailer joined with a number of other prominent authors in publicly expressing support for colleague Salman Rushdie in the wake of the fatwa calling for Rushdie's assassination issued by Iran's Islamic government for his having authored The Satanic Verses.
In 2003, in a speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, just before the invasion of Iraq, Mailer said: "Fascism is more of a natural state than democracy. To assume blithely that we can export democracy into any country we choose can serve paradoxically to encourage more fascism at home and abroad. Democracy is a state of grace that is attained only by those countries who have a host of individuals not only ready to enjoy freedom but to undergo the heavy labor of maintaining it."
Marriages and children
Norman Mailer was married six times and had 9 children. He had eight biological children by his various wives and he also had informally adopted Norris' son from another marriage, Matthew.
Norman's first marriage was in 1944, to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952. They had one child, Susan.
Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. They had two daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth. In 1960, Mailer stabbed Adele with a penknife after a party, nearly killing her. He was involuntarily committed to Bellevue Hospital for 17 days; his wife would not press charges, and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault, and was given a suspended sentence. While in the short term, Morales made a physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident and its aftermath. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work.
His third wife, whom he married in 1962, and divorced in 1963, was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929–2007), the only daughter of Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. The couple had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress.
His fourth marriage, in 1963, was to Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. She was the mother of his producer son Michael Mailer and his actor son Stephen Mailer. They divorced in 1980.
His fifth wife was Carol Stevens, a jazz singer whom he married on November 7, 1980, and divorced in Haiti on November 8, 1980, thereby legitimating their daughter Maggie, born in 1971.
His sixth and last wife, married in 1980, was Norris Church Mailer (née Barbara Davis), an art teacher. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor, and Mailer informally adopted Matthew Norris, her son by her first husband, Larry Norris. Once living in New York with Mailer, Church worked as a model and during their years together, wrote and painted.
Works with children
In 2005, Mailer co-wrote a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, entitled The Big Empty.
Mailer appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls entitled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" with his son Stephen Mailer.
Death and legacy
Mailer died of acute renal failure on the morning of November 10, 2007, a month after undergoing lung surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, New York.
The papers of the two time Pulitzer Prize author may be found at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
In 2008, Carole Mallory sold seven boxes of documents and photographs to Harvard University, Norman Mailer's Alma Mater. They contain extracts of her letters, books and journals.
Mailer was well known for his famous quotes, e.g. "Culture is worth a little risk" (see link below to "Wikiquotes": Mailer quotes).
Mailer is mentioned in the GWAR song Vlad The Impaler on the album Scumdogs of the Universe, as well as in the 10cc song Somewhere In Hollywood on the album Sheet Music; also the Red Hot Chilli Peppers "Animal Bar" and the Talib Kweli song "Get By."
Mailer is featured in the upcoming documentary Norman Mailer: The American.
The Naked and the Dead. New York: Rinehart, 1948.
Barbary Shore. New York: Rinehart, 1951.
The Deer Park. New York: Putnam's, 1955.
An American Dream. New York: Dial, 1965.
The Deer Park: A Play. New York: Dial, 1967.
The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer. New York: Dell, 1967.
Why Are We in Vietnam? New York: Putnam's, 1967.
The Executioner's Song Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1979.
Of Women and Their Elegance. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1980
Ancient Evenings. Boston: Little, Brown, 1983.
Tough Guys Don't Dance. New York: Random House, 1984.
Harlot's Ghost. New York: Random House, 1991.
The Gospel According to the Son. New York: Random House, 1997.
The Castle in the Forest. New York: Random House, 2007.
"The White Negro". San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.
Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam's, 1959.
The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.
Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.
The Armies of the Night. New York: New American Library, 1968.
Miami and the Siege of Chicago: An Informal History of the Republican and Democratic Conventions of 1968.
New York: New American Library, 1968.
Of a Fire on the Moon. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.
Marilyn: A Biography. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
The Faith of Graffiti. New York: Praeger, 1974.
The Fight. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975.
Of a Small and Modest Malignancy, Wicked and Bristling with Dots. Northridge, CA: Lord John Press, 1980.
Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.
Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretative Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996 ISBN 978-0679425359
Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003 ISBN 978-0812971118
The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing. New York: Random House, 2003.
The Big Empty: Dialogues on Politics, Sex, God, Boxing, Morality, Myth, Poker and Bad Conscience in America. New York: Nation Books, 2006
On God: An Uncommon Conversation. New York: Random House, 2007 ISBN 978-1400067329