Norman Mailer: American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film maker, actor and political candidate (1923 - 2007) | Biography, Bibliography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Norman Mailer
American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film maker, actor and political candidate

Norman Mailer

Norman Mailer
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film maker, actor and political candidate
A.K.A. Norman Kingsley Mailer
Was Writer Journalist Actor Film director Screenwriter Novelist Essayist Playwright Poet Film producer Film editor Historian Biographer
From United States of America
Field Film, TV, Stage & Radio Journalism Literature Science Social science
Gender male
Birth 31 January 1923, Long Branch
Death 10 November 2007, New York City (aged 84 years)
Star sign Aquarius
Residence New Jersey, Provincetown, Long Branch, Brooklyn
Spouse: Adele MoralesJeanne CampbellNorris Church Mailer
Children: Stephen MailerJohn Buffalo MailerKate MailerMichael Mailer
The details (from wikipedia)


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. His best-known work was widely considered to be The Executioner's Song, which was published in 1979, and for which he won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, his book Armies of the Night was awarded the National Book Award.
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 renowned of which was "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.

Early life

Mailer was born to a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. 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 studied aeronautical engineering, and became interested in writing. He published his first story at the age of 18, winning Story magazine's college contest in 1941.

After graduating in 1943, he was 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 worked as a cook and saw little combat. He participated in a patrol on the island of Leyte. When asked about his war experiences, Mailer stated that "the army gave me but one lesson over and over again: when it came to taking care of myself, I had little to offer next to the practical sense of an illiterate sharecropper." This lesson inspired Mailer to write his first novel, The Naked and the Dead.

Literary career


Mailer wrote 12 novels over a 59-year span. In 1948, while continuing his studies at the University of Paris, Mailer published his first, 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 as one of the "one hundred best novels in English language" by the Modern Library. This book that made his reputation is rarely read today. The same newspaper described the book as:

a hard read today, a sprawling, cumbersome saga that reads like the fusion of literary ambition and severely limited artistic experience – as indeed it was. Its anachronistic use of "fug" and "fugging" in place of the real words now seems merely quaint, and the prose alternates between pedestrian and purple – little wonder that the young Mailer likened himself to Theodore Dreiser, arguably the worst prose stylist, none the less considered a major American novelist.

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 success; at one point Mailer took out a full-page advertisement that defiantly quoted his many bad reviews.

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.

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.

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 did 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.

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. Mailer republished it in 1959 in a collection of essays entitled Advertisements for Myself.

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.)

As a result of his anger at Esquire, Mailer sold his long article, On the Steps of the Pentagon, a personal account of the massive October 1967 anti-war demonstrations in Washington, D.C., to Harper's magazine. 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 books also include 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.

Mailer wrote a Playboy article about Elmo Henderson, a boxer who had defeated Muhammad Ali in 1972. In the 1970s Henderson filed a $1 million libel action against Mailer and Playboy. The magazine and Mailer lost the lawsuit.

The White Negro

"The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster" is a 9,000-word essay by Mailer originally published in the 1957 issue of Dissent. This essay records the emerging trend of white appropriation of black culture, particularly with regard to the jazz musical genre. These "white Negros" distanced themselves from white society and adopted black styles of clothing, music, language, and philosophy. Notions of the apocalypse pervade this essay and define Mailer's literary career up until 1980.

Mailer describes how 'the hipster' faces marginalization (self-induced to some extent, as a consequence of deliberately rejecting the society around him), and how the hipster draws inspiration from others who have already moved outside (or been forced outside) 'traditional society'. In drawing cultural inspiration from 'the Negro' the hipster is trying to seize upon a template for living as an outsider. The following difference exists for 'the hipster' as defined by Mailer: the hipster was once part of a particular society he found he could not remain part of, whereas the Negro of that time had not ever been accepted into that particular society to begin with. Thus, the interest of the hipster in someone born outside the protections of 'traditional society', and how such a person would be forced to face risks in order to flourish. Mailer states, "The Negro has the simplest of alternatives: live a life of constant humility or ever-threatening danger. In such a pass where paranoia is as vital to survival as blood, the Negro had stayed alive and begun to grow by following the need of his body where he could" (The Time of Our Time p. 214, Norman Mailer).

Mailer’s first reflections upon the apocalypse appeared during the 1950s. The Cold War loomed large in American society as McCarthyism raged on Capitol Hill. The twenty-eight atomic detonations between 1946 and 1958 on Bikini Atoll, which many viewed as grandstanding on behalf of the United States, served to reaffirm the nuclear anxiety which Americans felt during the "age of conformity". Mailer observed this anxiety in his controversial essay "The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster." Discussing the incalculable psychic scarring that the Second World War and the Cold War have had upon the collective American psyche, Mailer writes:

For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality, could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonored, and unremarked… a death by deus ex machina in a gas chamber or a radioactive city.

The Holocaust, Hiroshima, and the Cold War led Mailer to reflect upon the lifestyles of African Americans in the African American and jazz cultures of the United States. Jazz was a reflection of what Mailer labeled the apocalyptic orgasm: living for instant gratification. African Americans, who have always lived on the fringes of America's democratic society, Mailer argues, thrive in the post-war environment where the possibility of nuclear annihilation looms large in the American imagination. The "hipsters" African Americans to create meaning in their life through "orgasmically" surrendering to their primal urges and rejecting conformity as African Americans have historically. These individuals, therefore, are psychopathic: they embrace reality and reject the conformity of life in the 1950s, which tends to ignore the high probability of nuclear humiliation. In light of the Second World War, humanity stares into the abyss of its own nature searching for something with which to define itself; yet the "hipsters" who live orgasmically acquire the truth of life: this truth is not Democracy of Communism, but rather the intrinsic primal urges of humanity. The culture of conformity in the 1950s, therefore, is psychotic (legally insane): 1950s society refuses to realize the brutality of the world in which it exists—men and women continue working and living as if nuclear war were not frighteningly imminent. The hipster psychopaths are an accurate reflection of post-war life while the conventional suburban psychotics insanely ignore reality and continue the banality of their own existence.

However, Mailer does not subscribe to the philosophy of "hip". Inherent in the philosophy of hip exists a strain of nihilism—doing what one wants whenever one wants given the looming threat of nuclear war. This nihilism, arguably, is embodied in the portrayal of Gary Gilmore in The Executioner’s Song: this man lives as he wants, often stealing, and ultimately kills simply because he can. Artists, for Mailer, represent the only hope for post-war America. "God is in danger of dying", he writes. God cannot save humanity from the Cold War, or from human nature itself. The Shits are Killing Us demonstrates that Mailer does not subscribe to nihilist principles. Mailer writes:

There's a great danger that the nihilism of Hip will destroy civilization. But it seems to me that the danger which is even more paramount—the danger which has brought on the Hip—is that civilization is so strong itself, so divorced from the senses, that we have come to the point where we can liquidate millions of people in concentration camps by orderly process.

Individuals, particularly "hipsters", do not have to simply accept their apocalyptic fate. However, the politicians and policies of the United States offer no alternative to living apocalyptically: politicians encourage the Cold War by invading Vietnam and ignore the problems facing humanity by simply leaving earth and going to the moon. Artists, therefore, represent the only hope for post-war society. The goal of the artist, Mailer writes, is to "intensify, even, if necessary, exacerbate the moral consciousness of people". Therefore, the responsibility for artists lies in creating a foundation upon which to construct a morality to awaken humanity to its fragile existence and guide it back from the brink of the apocalypse. In essence, artists must act as a new god for society. The themes of "apocalypse" and morality pervade nearly all of Mailer's post-war work, and illuminate his beliefs regarding politics, war, and even women's liberation.

Work for film

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.

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.

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."

Biographical subjects

His biographical subjects included Pablo Picasso, Muhammad Ali, Gary Gilmore, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn Monroe

Mailer's 1973 biography of Monroe (usually designated Marilyn: A Biography) was particularly controversial. The book's final chapter states that Monroe was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. In his own 1987 autobiography Timebends, the playwright Arthur Miller, a former husband to Monroe, wrote scathingly of Mailer: "[Mailer] was himself in drag, acting out his own Hollywood fantasies of fame and sex unlimited and power."

The book was enormously successful, selling more copies than any of Mailer's works except The Naked and the Dead. It remained in print for decades, but was out of print in the United States as of 2009. 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.


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.

Personal life

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 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. On one occasion Mailer stabbed her twice with a penknife, puncturing her pericardium and necessitating emergency surgery. 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 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'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 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.

Selected bibliography



  • 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.
  • 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 Deer Park: A Play. New York: Dial, 1967.

Short Stories

  • The Short Fiction of Norman Mailer. New York: Dell, 1967.


General non-fiction

  • 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, 1970.
  • The Prisoner of Sex. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
  • St. George and The Godfather. New York: Signet Classics, 1972.
  • 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.
  • Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House. 1995. ISBN 978-0679-42535-9. 
  • Why Are We At War?. New York: Random House, 2003 ISBN 978-0-8129-7111-8
  • 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 978-1-4000-6732-9

Essay collections

  • Advertisements for Myself. New York: Putnam's, 1959.
  • The Presidential Papers.New York: Putnam, 1963.
  • Cannibals and Christians. New York: Dial, 1966.
  • Pieces and Pontifications. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1982.


  • Marilyn: A Biography. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1973.
  • Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretive Biography. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
  • Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery. New York: Random House, 1996 ISBN 978-0-679-42535-9

Famous essays and articles

  • "The White Negro". San Francisco: City Lights, 1957.


  • The Time of Our Time. New York: Random House, 1998. (an anthology)

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)

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