Normal Mailer: Now there was a writer

25 Oct


Growing up and trying to write, I admired Norman Mailer. Oh, he had his bad points, but I thought he was fantastic. His fame as a character/celebrity was a self-creation but as a writer he was genuine.


There is a new biography out on him. It is “Norman Mailer: A Double Life,” by J. Michael Lennon. I haven’t read it, but I did read a review of it in the New York Times by Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair.


Carter does a wonderful job of describing Mailer:


It could be said that Norman Mailer was a man and a writer halfway between fame and infamy and yet with little in the way of middle ground. He was, in varying combinations, a world-class drinker, feuder, provocateur, self-mythologizer and anti-feminist. He was a war protester, a mayoral candidate, a co-founder of The Village Voice, as well as a wife stabber, a serial husband (of six wives), and a father (of nine). He was a boxer, an actor, a filmmaker, a poet and a playwright. He was also a journalist and a novelist of enormous and singular narrative inventiveness and thrust, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, and one of the least boring and most tireless and tiresome public figures of the last half of the 20th century.


Mailer-bookI heard Mailer speak at the University of Missouri during the ‘70s. Always the showman looking to shock, he opened with a dirty joke.  It was a good joke. The most interesting thing about the joke was it knocked him down a peg or two on the masculinity chart. This is unusual for a he-man self-inflator.


Here is the joke, which I clearly remember after all these years.


“I ran into one of my ex-wives recently. She had gotten herself a young new lover and so I asked, ‘How does your boyfriend like that old, worn-out pussy of yours?’  She answered, ‘He likes it just fine . . . once he gets past the worn-out part.”


One thing about this great mind, who loved verbal combat: Sometime he tried too hard and flopped. He’d come off like an ass. This happened on the old “Dick Cavett Show” when he went up against both Cavett and his mortal enemy, writer Gore Vidal.


I had watched the original show and was so disappointed in him. A clip of the performance has been posted on Youtube and I’d like to share it with you. Your thoughts on Mailer and this video would be greatly appreciated. I would guess Mailer had many more enemies than fans. Which are you?

By Lanny Morgnanesi


6 Responses to “Normal Mailer: Now there was a writer”

  1. Ellie Reader October 27, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    Norman Mailer was always a fascinating (albeit self-absorbed) guest, but in this TV encounter, the New Yorker’s Janet Flanner, whom you didn’t identify, and Cavett neatly fricasseed him. Why is this encounter often referred to as Gore vs. Mailer?
    It was really Mailer vs. Cavett and Flanner, with Gore’s barbs being the least memorable.


  2. Amyclae October 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    I wish I had the link for you, though I’m sure a quick romp through Google would be enough to find it, but I remember an arresting anecdote about Gore Vidal. He never thought himself as a ‘gay’ man because he associated ‘gay’ with being on the receiving end. No one, goes the conclusion, fucks Vidal. Mailer, it seems, never got that memo.


    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi October 29, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

      Great little story. Thanks. I always wondered whether Mailer’s problem with Gore was his sexuality and not his writing.


      • Amyclae October 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

        Reading some of Vidal’s early essays, which for a while never avoided the subject of Mailer, if only to aim for a low blow, I have the suspicion that they were a little *too* alike. Two chiefs in a world of, as they perceived it, squaws. Perhaps it was Mailer’s suspicion of midcentury twinks, but I’m not sure it explains it all.


  3. Zia Vanger October 31, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    Hmm…I’ve never heard of Normal Mailer before, now I’ll have to do some research on this.


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