Norman Mailer  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, playwright, screenwriter and film director.

Along with Truman Capote (whom he is once alleged to have head-butted), Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel.



Mailer was born to a Jewish family, (mother Fanny Schneider Mailer and father Isaace Barnett Mailer) in Long Branch, New Jersey. He was brought up in Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Boys' High School and when he was only sixteen was admitted to Harvard University in 1939, where he studied aeronautical engineering. At the university, he became interested in writing and published his first story when he was 18. Mailer graduated from Harvard in 1943 was drafted into the Army in World War II and served in the South Pacific.

Writing life


In 1948, just before enrolling in the Sorbonne in Paris, he published a book that made him world-famous: The Naked and the Dead, based on his personal experiences during World War II. It was hailed by many as one of the best American novels to come out of the war years and named one of the "100 best novels in English language" by the Modern Library.

In the following years, Mailer continued to work in the field of the novel. 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 the early 1950s. It was initially rejected by six publishers owing to its sexual content.


In the mid-1950s, he became increasingly known for his counter-cultural essays. He was one of the founders of The Village Voice in 1955 [1]. In the book Advertisements for Myself (1959), including the essay The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster (1957), Mailer examined violence, hysteria, sex, crime and confusion in American society, in both fictional and reportage forms. He has also been a frequent contributor of book reviews and long essays to The New York Review of Books since its founding issue in 1963.


Other famous works include: The Presidential Papers (1963), An American Dream (1965), Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967), 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 (1970), The Prisoner of Sex (1971), Marilyn (1973), The Fight (1975), The Executioner's Song (1979, awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Ancient Evenings (1983), Harlot's Ghost (1991), Oswald's Tale (1995), and The Castle in the Forest (2007).

In 1968 he received a George Polk Award for his reporting in Harper's Magazine.

In the film Sleeper Woody Allen is shown a picture of Mailer, Allen confirms his identity and states that Mailer donated his ego to the Harvard Medical School.

In addition to his experimental fiction and nonfiction novels, Mailer has produced a play version of The Deer Park, and in the late 1960s directed a number of improvisational avant-garde films in a Warhol style, including Maidstone (1970), which includes a brutal brawl between Norman T. Kingsley, played by himself, and Rip Torn that may or may not have been planned. In 1987, he directed a film version of his novel Tough Guys Don't Dance, starring Ryan O'Neal, which has become a minor camp classic.


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. In 1967, he was arrested for his involvement in anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. Two years later, 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.

In 1980, Mailer spearheaded convicted killer Jack Abbott's successful bid for parole. He helped Abbott publish a collection of letters to Mailer about his experiences in prison. Abbott committed a murder within weeks of his release, and consequently, Mailer was subject to criticism for his role; in a 1992 interview, in 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."


His biographical subjects have included Pablo Picasso and Lee Harvey Oswald. His 1986 off-Broadway play Strawhead starring his daughter, Kate, was about Marilyn Monroe. His 1973 biography of Monroe was particularly controversial: in its final chapter he stated that she was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. He later admitted that these speculations were "not good journalism."

Personal life

Mailer has been married six times, and has eight natural children and one adopted child by his various wives.

  • He married first in 1944 to Beatrice Silverman before divorcing her in 1952.
  • In 1960, Mailer stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, whom he married in 1954, with a penknife at a party. While Morales made a full physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which outlined her perception of the incident. 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 was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929-2007), the only daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook; by her, he had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress.
  • His fourth marriage was to model turned actress Beverly Bentley, mother of his producer son Michael and actor son Stephen.
  • His fifth wife Carol Stevens, with whom he had a daughter Maggie Alexander. They were married for one day.
  • His sixth and current wife is the former Norris Church, a former model turned writer. They have one son, John Buffalo Mailer.

In 2005 he co-authored a book with his youngest child, John Buffalo Mailer, titled The Big Empty. In 2007 Random House published his latest novel, The Castle in the Forest.

He currently lives in Provincetown, MA.


  • Norman Mailer, by Michael K. Glenday. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
  • Radical Fictions and the Novels of Norman Mailer, by Nigel Leigh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.
  • Critical Essays on Norman Mailer, edited by J.Michael Lennon: Boston, G.K.Hall and Co., 1986.
  • Norman Mailer, by Richard Poirier, New York: Viking,1972. One of the best studies of Mailer's writing, tracking his career through the early Eighties.
  • Norman Mailer, by Richard Jackson Foster, University of Minnesota Press, 1968.
  • The Structured Vision of Norman Mailer, by Barry H. Leeds, New York University Press,1969.
  • Norman Mailer, by Robert Merrill, Twayne, 1978.
  • Mailer: His Life and Times, edited by Peter Manso, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Highly readable "oral" biography of Mailer created by cross-cutting interviews with friends, enemies, acquaintances, relatives, wives of Mailer and Mailer himself.
  • Conversations with Norman Mailer, edited by J. Michael Lennon. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
  • The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters, Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)


  • "I take it for granted that there's a side of me that loves public action, and there's another side of me that really wants to be alone and work and write. And I've learned to alternate the two as matters develop."
  • "I knew that there was one thing I wanted to be and that was a writer."
  • "There are two kinds of brave men: those who are brave by the grace of nature, and those who are brave by an act of will."

Selected bibliography




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Norman Mailer" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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