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Norman Mailer

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Andreas Wilson


Norman Mailer

Fiction, non-fiction


Norman Mailer Home Norman Mailer Center

Norman Kingsley MailerJanuary 31, 1923Long Branch, New Jersey, US (

Novelist, essayist, journalist, columnist, poet, playwright

Beatrice Silverman (1944–1952; 1 child)Adele Morales (1954–1962; divorced; 2 children)Jeanne Campbell (1962–1963; divorced; 1 child)Beverly Bentley (1963–1980; divorced; 3 children)Carol Stevens (1980–1980; divorced; 1 child)Norris Church Mailer (Barbara Jean Davis) (1980–2007; his death; 1 child)

November 10, 2007, Manhattan, New York City, New York, United States

Norris Church Mailer (m. 1980–2007)

Stephen Mailer, John Buffalo Mailer, Kate Mailer

The Naked and the Dead, The Executioner's Song, The Armies of the Night, An American Dream, Ancient Evenings

Similar People

Firing Line with William F. Buckley Jr.: Armies of the Night

Norman Mailer’s “Double Life” as a writer

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film-maker, actor, and political activist. His novel The Naked and the Dead was published in 1948 and brought him renown. His best-known work is widely considered to be The Executioner's Song (1979) winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Armies of the Night won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and the National Book Award.


Norman Mailer Norman Mailer uniFrance Films

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which uses the style and devices of literary fiction in fact-based journalism. Mailer was also known for his essays, the most famous and reprinted of which is "The White Negro". He was a cultural commentator and critic, expressing his views through his novels, journalism, essays, and frequent media appearances. In 1955, Mailer and three others founded The Village Voice, an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village. In 1969 he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the mayor of New York.

While principally known as a novelist and journalist, Mailer was not afraid to bend genres and venture outside his comfort zone; he lived a life that seemed to embody an idea that echoes throughout his work: "There was that law of life, so cruel and so just, that one must grow or else pay more for remaining the same."

Norman Mailer Norman Mailer Telegraph

Early life

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Mailer was born to a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey on January 31, 1923. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was an accountant born in South Africa, and his mother, Fanny (née Schneider), ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer's sister, Barbara, was born in 1927.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Mailer graduated from Boys' High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, when he was 16 years old. As an undergraduate, he was a member of the Signet Society. At Harvard, he majored in engineering sciences, but took the majority of his electives as writing courses. He published his first story, "The Greatest Thing in the World," at the age of 18, winning Story magazine's college contest in 1941.

After graduating in 1943, Mailer married his first wife Beatrice "Bea" Silverman in January 1944 just before being drafted into the U.S. Army. Hoping to gain a deferment from service, Mailer argued that he was writing an "important literary work" which pertained to the war. This deferral was denied, and Mailer was forced to enter the Army. After training at Fort Bragg, Mailer was stationed in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry.

During his time in the Philippines, Mailer was first assigned to regimental headquarters as a typist, then assigned as a wire lineman. In the spring of 1945, after volunteering for a reconnaissance platoon, he completed more than two dozen patrols in contested territory, and engaged in a few firefights and skirmishes. After the Japanese surrender, he was sent to Japan as part of the army of occupation, was promoted to sergeant, and became a first cook.

When asked about his war experiences, he said that the army was "the worst experience of his life and the best". He drew on his experience as a reconnaissance rifleman for the central action of The Naked and the Dead, a long patrol behind enemy lines.


Mailer wrote 12 novels over a 59-year span. After completing courses in French language and culture at the University of Paris in 1947–48, he returned to the U.S. shortly after The Naked and the Dead was published in May 1948. A New York Times best seller for 62 weeks, it was the only one of Mailer's novels to reach the number one position. It was hailed by many as one of the best American wartime novels and included as one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library. The book that made his reputation sold over a million copies in its first year, (three million by 1981) and has never gone out of print. It is still considered to be one of the finest depictions of Americans in combat during World War II, though many contemporary readers might find it a difficult read today.

Barbary Shore (1951) was "mauled" by the critics. It was a surreal parable of Cold War leftist 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. It was not a critical success, but it made the best-seller list, sold over 50,000 copies its first year, and is considered by some critics to be the best Hollywood novel since Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust.

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 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).

In 1980, The Executioner's Song, Mailer's novel of the life and death of murderer Gary Gilmore, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Joan Didion reflected the views of many readers when she called the novel "an absolutely astonishing book" at the end of her front-page review in the New York Times Book Review.

Mailer spent a longer time writing Ancient Evenings, his novel of Egypt in the Twentieth Dynasty (about 1100 BC), than any of his other books. He worked on it for periods from 1972 until 1983. It was also a bestseller, although reviews were generally negative. Harold Bloom, in his review said the book "gives every sign of truncation," and "could be half again as long, but no reader will wish so," while Richard Poirier called it Mailer's "most audacious book".

Harlot's Ghost, Mailer's longest novel (1310 pages), appeared in 1991. It is an exploration of the untold dramas of the CIA from the end of World War II 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. It received reviews that were more positive 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 received a laudatory 6,200-word front page review by Lee Siegel in the New York Times Book Review, as well as a Bad Sex in Fiction Award by the Literary Review magazine.

New Journalism

From the mid-1950s, Mailer became known for his counter-cultural essays. In 1955, he co-founded The Village Voice and was initially an investor and silent partner, but later he wrote a column called from January to April 1956. While these articles, seventeen in total, were not Mailer's best work, they were important in his development of a philosophy of hip, or "American existentialism," and allowed him to discover his penchant for journalism. Mailer's famous essay "The White Negro" (1957) fleshes out the Hipster figure who stands in opposition of forces that seek debilitating conformity in American society. It is one of the most anthologized, and controversial, essays of the postwar period. Mailer republished it in 1959 in his miscellany Advertisements for Myself which he described as "The first work I wrote with a style I could call my own." The reviews were positive, and most commentators referred to it as his breakthrough work.

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 1960s, but when the magazine's editors changed the title to "Superman Comes to the Supermart," Mailer was enraged, and would not write for Esquire for years. (The magazine later apologized. Subsequent references are to the original title.)

Mailer took part in the October 1967 March on the Pentagon, but initially had no intention of writing a book about it. After conversations with his friend, Willie Morris, editor of Harper's magazine, he agreed to produce a long essay describing the March. In a concentrated effort, he produced a 90,000-word piece in two months, and it appeared in Harper's March issue. At that time, and to date, it is the longest nonfiction piece to be published by an American magazine. As one commentator states, "Mailer disarmed the literary world with Armies. The combination of detached, ironic self-presentation [he described himself in the third person], deft portraiture of literary figures (especially Robert Lowell, Dwight Macdonald, and Paul Goodman), a reportorially flawless account of the March itself, and a passionate argument addressed to a divided nation, resulted in a sui generis narrative praised by even some of his most inveterate revilers." Alfred Kazin, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said, “Mailer’s intuition is that the times demand a new form. He has found it." He later expanded the article to a book, The Armies of the Night (1968), awarded a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize.

His major new journalism, or creative nonfiction books, also include Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968), an account of the 1968 political conventions; Of a Fire on the Moon (1971), a long report on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon; The Prisoner of Sex (1971), his response to Kate Millett’s critique of the patriarchal myths in the works of Mailer, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, and D.H. Lawrence; and The Fight (1975), an account of Muhammad Ali’s 1974 defeat in Zaire of George Foreman for the heavyweight boxing championship. Miami, Fire, and Prisoner were all finalists for the National Book Award. The hallmark of his five New Journalism works in his use of illeism, or referring to oneself in the third person, rather than the first. Mailer said he got the idea from reading The Education of Henry Adams (1918) when he was a Harvard freshman. Mailer also employs many of the most common techniques of fiction in his creative nonfiction.


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) which had a four-month run and generally good reviews. In 2007, months before he died, he re-wrote the script, and asked his son Michael, a film producer, to film a staged production in Provincetown, but had to cancel because of his declining health. Mailer obsessed over The Deer Park more than any other work.

In the late 1960s, Mailer directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films: Wild 90 (1968), Beyond the Law (1968), and Maidstone (1970). The latter includes a spontaneous and brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by Mailer, and Kingsley's half-brother, Raoul, played by Rip Torn. Mailer received a head injury when Torn struck him with a hammer, and Torn’s ear became infected when Mailer bit it. In 2012, The Criterion Collection released Mailer's experimental films in a box set: "Maidstone And Other Films By Norman Mailer". 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.

Mailer took on an acting role in the 1981 Milos Forman film version of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime, playing Stanford White. In 1999, he played Harry Houdini in Matthew Barney's Cremaster 2, which was inspired by the events surrounding the life of Gary Gilmore.

In 1976, Mailer went to Italy for several weeks to collaborate with Italian spaghetti western filmmaker Sergio Leone on an adaptation of the Harry Grey novel, The Hoods. Although Leone would pursue other writers shortly thereafter, elements of Mailer's first two drafts of the commissioned screenplay would appear in the Italian filmmaker's final magnum opus, Once Upon A Time in America (1984) starring Robert DeNiro.

Shot in 1971, although not released until 1979, Mailer starred alongside writer/feminist Germaine Greer in D.A. Pennebaker's Town Bloody Hall.

In 1982, Mailer and Lawrence Schiller would collaborate on a television adaptation of The Executioner's Song, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Roseanna Arquette, and Eli Wallach. Airing on November 28th and 29th, The Executioner's Song received strong critical reviews and four Emmy nominations, including one for Mailer's screenplay. It won two: for sound production and for Jones as best actor.

In 1987, Mailer would appear in Jean-Luc Godard's experimental film version, shot in Switzerland, of Shakespeare's King Lear. Originally, Mailer was to play the lead "Don Learo" in Godard's unscripted film alongside his daughter, Kate Mailer. The film also featured a variable list of Hollywood stars like Woody Allen and Peter Sellers. However, tensions surfaced between Mailer and Godard early in the production when the french auteur insisted that Mailer play a character who had a carnal relationship with his own daughter. He left Switzerland after just one day of shooting with the filmmaker behind Breathless (1960).

In 2001, he adapted the screenplay for the movie: Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story.

In 2005, Mailer served as a technical consultant on the Ron Howard boxing movie, Cinderella Man, about legendary boxer Jim Braddock.


Mailer's approach to biography came from his interest in the ego of the artist as an "exemplary type". Lennon explains that Mailer would use "himself as a species of divining rod to explore the psychic depths" of disparate personalities, like Pablo Picasso, Muhammad Ali, Gary Gilmore, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Marilyn Monroe. "Ego," states Lennon, "can be seen as the beginning of a major phase in his writing career: Mailer as biographer."

What began as an assignment from Lawrence Schiller to write a short preface to a collection of photographs, Mailer's 1973 biography of Monroe (usually designated Marilyn: A Biography) was not approached like a traditional biography. Mailer read the available biographies, watched her films, and looked at photographs of Monroe; for the rest of it, Mailer stated, "I speculated." Since Mailer did not have the time to thoroughly research them, this speculation extended into the facts surrounding her death and led to the biography's controversy. The book's final chapter theorizes that Monroe was murdered by rogue agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. In his own autobiography, Monroe's former husband Arthur Miller wrote scathingly of Mailer: "[Monroe] was himself in drag, acting out his own Hollywood fantasies of fame and sex unlimited and power."

The book was enormously successful: it sold more copies than any of Mailer's works except The Naked and the Dead, and it Mailer's most widely-reviewed book. It was the inspiration for the Emmy-nominated TV movie Marilyn: The Untold Story which aired in 1980. Two later works co-written by Mailer presented imagined words and thoughts in Monroe's voice: the 1980 book Of Women and Their Elegance and the 1986 play Strawhead, which was produced off Broadway starring his daughter Kate Mailer.

In the wake of the Marilyn controversy, Mailer attempted to explain his unique approach to biography. He suggests that his biography must be seen as a "species of novel ready to play by the rules of biography". Exemplary egos, he explains, are best explained by other exemplary egos, and personalities like Monroe's are best left in the hands of a novelist.

Political activism

A number of Mailer's nonfiction works, such as The Armies of the Night and The Presidential Papers, are political. He covered the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, and 1996, although his account of the 1996 Democratic convention has never been published. In the early 1960s he was fixated on the figure of President John F. Kennedy, whom he regarded as an "existential hero". In the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s and 1970s his work mingled autobiography, social commentary, history, fiction, and poetry in a formally original way that influenced the development of New Journalism.

Mailer held the rare position that the Cold War was not a positive ideal for America. It allowed the State to become strong and invested in the daily lives of the people. He critiqued conservative politics as they, specifically Barry Goldwater, supported the Cold War which called for an increase in government spending and oversight. This, Mailer argued, stood in opposition with conservative principles like lower taxes, and smaller government. He believed that conservatives were pro-Cold War because that was politically relevant to them and would therefore help them win.

Indeed, Mailer was outspoken about his mistrust of politics in general as a way of meaningful change in America. In Miami and the Siege of Chicago (1968) he explained his view of "politics-as-property" where he likened politicians to property holders who are "never ambivalent about his land, he does not mock it or see other adjacent estates as more deserving than his own". Thus politics is just people trading their influence as capital in an attempt to serve their own interests. This cynical view of politicians serving only themselves perhaps explains his views on Watergate. Mailer saw politics as a sporting event: "If you played for a team, you did your best to play very well, but there was something obscene… with in starting to think there was more moral worth to Michigan than Ohio State." Mailer thought that Nixon lost and was demonized only because he played for the wrong team. President Johnson on the other hand, Mailer thought, was just as bad as Nixon had been, but he had had good charisma so all was forgiven.

In September 1961, Mailer was one of the original twenty-nine prominent American sponsors of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee organization that was the same organization that John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald also became a member of in 1963. In December 1963, Mailer and several of the other sponsors left it. (some of the original twenty-nine sponsors of the group included Truman Capote, Robert Taber, James Baldwin, Robert F. Williams, Waldo Frank, Carleton Beals, Simone de Beauvoir, Robert Colodny, Donald Harrington, and Jean-Paul Sartre)

In October 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in an Anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon sponsored by the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War.

At the December 15, 1971, taping of The Dick Cavett Show, with Janet Flanner and Gore Vidal, Mailer, annoyed with a less-than-stellar review by Vidal of Prisoner of Sex, apparently headbutted Vidal and traded insults with him backstage. As the show began taping, a visibly belligerent Mailer, who admitted he had been drinking, goaded Vidal and Cavett into trading insults with him on air and continually referred to his "greater intellect". He openly taunted and mocked Vidal (who responded in kind), finally earning the ire of Flanner, who announced during the discussion that she was "becoming very, very bored", telling Mailer "You act as if you're the only people here." As Cavett made jokes comparing Mailer's intellect to his ego, Mailer stated "Why don't you look at your question sheet and ask your question?", to which Cavett responded "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?". 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".

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".

The 1986 meeting of PEN in New York City featured key speeches by then-Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Mailer. The appearance of a government official was derided by many, and as Shultz ended his speech, the crowd seethed, with some calling to "read the protest" that had been circulated to criticize Shultz's appearance. Mailer, who was next to speak, responded by shouting to the crowd: "Up yours!"

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 Iraq War, 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."

From 1980 until his death in 2007, he contributed to Democratic Party candidacies for political office.

Mayoral campaign

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 the creation of a 51st state through New York City secession. Although Mailer took stands on a wide range of issues, from opposing "compulsory fluoridation of the water supply" to advocating the release of Black Panther Party leader Huey Newton, decentralization was the overriding issue of the campaign. Mailer "foresaw the city, its independence secured, splintering into townships and neighborhoods, with their own school systems, police departments, housing programs, and governing philosophies". Their slogan was "throw the rascals in". Mailer was endorsed by libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, who "believed that 'smashing the urban government apparatus and fragmenting it into a myriad of constituent fragments' offered the only answer to the ills plaguing American cities," and called Mailer's campaign "the most refreshing libertarian political campaign in decades". He came in fourth in a field of five. Looking back on the campaign, journalist and historian Theodore White called it "one of the most serious campaigns run in the United States in the last five years. . . . [H]is campaign was considered and thoughtful, the beginning of an attempt to apply ideas to a political situation."


Mailer enjoyed drawing and drew prolifically, particularly toward the end of his life. While his work is not widely known, his drawings, which were inspired by Picasso's style, were exhibited at the Berta Walker Gallery in Provincetown in 2007, and are now displayed on the online arts community POBA - Where the Arts Live.

Style and views on the body and sex

Bodily urges are fundamental to Mailer's approach to novels and short works. These urges are in tension with the themes of "apocalypse" and morality. Stemming from his Freudian philosophical basis, bodily urges are integral to Mailer's work. The "psychopath" presented in The White Negro continues to occupy the central narrative of much of Mailer's work throughout his career. The drama of this psychopath for Mailer is that he or she seeks love - but love as the search for an orgasm more "apocalyptic" than the ones that preceded it. These views on sex were not light vices for Mailer. In Armies of the Night he postulates at length on "earned manhood," "onanism and sexuality," and "psychic profit derived from the existential assertion of yourself". The Mailer–reader relationship is also integral to Mailer's literary body trope. Mailer uses frequent allusion and direct use of body-oriented language to describe power structures in Miami and the Siege of Chicago in the form of the “military spine of the liberal party” and in the “knifelike entrance into culture” of jazz in The White Negro. Power over bodies, societies, political entities, etc. is a constant presence in Mailer’s work. Moments of physical and sexual power or powerlessness are the climax of The Naked and the Dead, The Time of Her Time, and The Armies of the Night. His prose presentation of an existential struggle is frequently conveyed to the reader via references to the body. The body is an entity to be poked, prodded, broken, even snuffed into non-existence. By filling his work with graphic depictions of sex, violence, and even rock and roll, Mailer elevates the experience of the reader. Mailer invokes a particularly poignant, violent portrayal of the body, authority, and sexuality in The Time of Her Time. Consistent use of bodily reference or allusion is clearly integral to his depiction of human existence. Mailer elevates the reader experience, and wrestles the reader for domination while allowing room for interpretation. Critiques of Mailer based on sexuality, race, and gender, have been levied by authors such as Kate Millett and bell hooks, among others. Kate Millett, in her Sexual Politics, critiques Mailer: “His considerable insights into the practice of sexuality as a power game never seem to affect his vivid personal enthusiasm for the fight nor his sturdy conviction that it’s kill or be killed.” This resonates with racist epithets in The White Negro, portrayals of women in The Naked and the Dead, and Time of Her Time (to mention a few). Mailer is strikingly adept at identifying social and political phenomena still in their cradle. Yet even at the height of his powers, efforts to describe the experiences of women, African Americans, and other groups without typecasting from his own experiences seems outside of Mailer’s consideration. Interrogation of the meaning of this exclusionary discourse leads the reader and critic to an eventual response to Mailer.

Race in Mailer's writing

Throughout his writing Mailer never presents a very clear perspective on race. His works range from a profound understanding of the African American condition in America to extremely stereotypical depictions of race. For the majority of Mailer’s career he does not delve directly into race, but chose to pursue the matter only as a side note to the larger currents of the 1960s and 1970s. Mailer does however spend some time working through the issue in “The White Negro”, Of a Fire on the Moon, and in his work The Fight about the heavyweight title bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

In "The White Negro" Mailer argues that African Americans are psychopaths because they live in a society that hates them, (meaning white society) which in turn causes them to hate themselves. Mailer goes on to argue that because of this innate psychopathy, African Americans are left to explore the least virtuous areas of civilized life. Mailer’s analysis culminates in his expression that if African Americans were to achieve equality it would have violent, and chaotic effects on white society.

In Of a Fire on the Moon Mailer discusses that the space flight was an exclusive action on the part of white America, as they have left African Americans behind on earth. African Americans can only look on as whites move even farther past them in not just society, but their earthly constraints. Mailer uses African Americans to criticize the moon landing, as he reflects on the fact that many problems still exist on earth, and within America.

Mailer's personal encounters with race

Personally, Mailer strived to seek out and trace racial stereotypes throughout his own personal life. Mailer focused on the idea of black sexuality, and the challenge that black masculinity created for white masculinity. Mailer focused on Jazz as the ultimate expression of African American bravado, and figures like Miles Davis would become represented in works like An American Dream. To Mailer, African American men reflected a challenge to his own notions of masculinity. And his often-rough understanding of race would be drawn back to his ideas on African American sexuality, and competition. Mailer’s understanding of race was more a curiosity rather than bigotry. But his works stood out to some critics as insensitive and overtly racist, mainly because they were based on a foundation of racist tropes and stereotypes.

In 1956, while abroad in Paris, Mailer met James Baldwin the famous African American author. Mailer became even more fascinated with African Americans after meeting Baldwin, and this friendship inspired Mailer to write “The White Negro”. To Mailer, Baldwin was a natural point of intrigue as Baldwin was both gay and an African American author, similar to Mailer’s stature. Their relationship was never a close friendship nor contemptuous, but one of mutual intrigue and sense of competition existed between the two writers. Mailer often commented on Baldwin’s work, and Baldwin did the same to Mailer.

Marriages and children

Mailer was married six times and had nine children. He fathered eight children by his various wives and informally adopted his sixth wife's son from another marriage.

Mailer's first marriage was to Beatrice Silverman. They eloped in January 1944 because neither family would likely have approved. They had one child, Susan, and divorced in 1952 because of Mailer's infidelities with Adele.

Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. She was a painter, well known in New York City. They had two daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth. Mailer stabbed her twice with a penknife during a party, puncturing her pericardium which needed emergency surgery. His wife would not press charges and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault for a suspended sentence. Morales recovered and in 1997 published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which recounted her husband stabbing her at a party and the 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). She was the only daughter of Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, a Scottish aristocrat and clan chief with a notorious private life, 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 is 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, whom he married in 1980, was Norris Church Mailer (née Barbara Davis, 1949–2010), an art teacher. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor. Mailer raised and informally adopted Matthew Norris, Church's son by her first husband, Larry Norris. Living in Brooklyn, New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts with Mailer, Church worked as a model, wrote and painted.

Works with his children

In 2005, Mailer co-wrote a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, titled The Big Empty.

Mailer appeared in an episode of Gilmore Girls titled "Norman Mailer, I'm Pregnant!" with his son Stephen Mailer.

Other relationships

Over the course of his life, Mailer was connected with several women other than his wives, including Carole Mallory, who wrote a "tell all" biography, Loving Mailer, after his death.

Gloria Leonard

In a chance meeting in an Upper East Side New York restaurant in 1982, Gloria Leonard first met Mailer. He struck up a conversation with Leonard after recognizing her. The meeting was rumored to have led to a brief affair between the two. Later, Leonard was approached by a group of movie distributors from the Midwest to finance what was described as "the world's first million-dollar pornographic movie". She invited Mailer to lunch and made her pitch for his services as a writer. In an interview Leonard said that the author "sat straight up in his chair and said, 'I always knew I'd one day make a porny.'" Leonard then asked what his fee would be and Mailer responded with "Two-hundred fifty thousand". Leonard then asked if he'd be interested in adapting his novel-biography of Marilyn Monroe, but Mailer replied that he wanted to do something original. The project later ended due to scheduling conflicts between the two.


According to his obituary in The Independent, his "relentless machismo seemed out of place in a man who was actually quite small – though perhaps that was where the aggression originated".

Alan Dershowitz, in his book, Taking the Stand, recounts when Claus von Bülow had a dinner party after he was found not guilty at his trial. Dershowitz countered that he would not attend if it was a "victory party", and von Bulow assured him that it was only a dinner for "several interesting friends". Norman Mailer attended the dinner where, among other things, Dershowitz explained why the evidence pointed to von Bülow's innocence. As Dershowitz recounted, Mailer grabbed his wife, Norris Church Mailer's, arm and said: "Let's get out of here. I think this guy is innocent. I thought we were going to be having dinner with a man who actually tried to kill his wife. This is boring."

Death and legacy

Mailer died of acute renal failure on 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, a former mistress, sold seven boxes of documents and photographs to Harvard University, Norman Mailer's alma mater. They contain extracts of her letters, books and journals.

In 2003, the Norman Mailer Society was founded to help insure the legacy of Mailer's work. In 2008, The Norman Mailer Center and The Norman Mailer Writers Colony, a non-profit organization for educational purposes, was established to honor Norman Mailer. Among its programs is the Norman Mailer Prize established in 2009.

Throughout his lifetime, Mailer wrote over 45,000 letters. In 2014, Mailer's biographer J. Michael Lennon chose 712 of those letters and published them in Selected Letters of Norman Mailer, which covers the period between the 1940s and the early 2000s.

Norman Mailer is buried in Provincetown Cemetery, Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Decorations and awards

  • 1969: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for The Armies of the Night
  • 1980: Pulitzer Prize for The Executioner's Song
  • 2002: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class
  • 2005: National Book Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2006: Knight of the Legion of Honour in recognition of Mailer's literary work and close ties to France
  • Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France)
  • References

    Norman Mailer Wikipedia