Norman Mailer, one Tough Jew, is dead. Mailer was the whitest Black man of his time. Long before Bill Clinton became the first “Black” American President, there was Mailer the literary Jew as lover, pugilist, philanderer, political wannabe, drunk, filmmaker wannabe, wife-stabber, murderer-lover, and murder-enabler. (Remember that he sponsored Jack Abbott for parole and that Abbott tragically killed again within weeks). Mailer was a hardboiled-over City Guy with a huge ego but with talent and energy to spare.
In the 1960s, I was there on the periphery of his circle when so many of his male friends rushed to defend him after he stabbed his wife Adele–and I subsequently met Adele, a very attractive woman. Actually, I also once lunched with his last wife, Norris Church, who was as attractive (but in a different way) and who was also a painter and writer. I was there when Mailer could not believe his eyes at Town Hall when the feminists (Germaine Greer but especially Jill Johnston, who kissed another woman long and hard on the stage, among others) “acted out” as if he, and all men, simply did not count. This, he could not believe and never really “got.” It may have been the only time Mailer was at a loss for words–at least for a little while.
Mailer represented the best the macho literary world had to offer and he was dead wrong: About madness, about murder, and about women. Being wrong only attracted more women, more publishers, more guy-groupies. Thus, it was a clean fight, so to speak, between Mailer and the Feminists. Neither his talent nor his power diminished his misogyny. And his type ruled the roost.
Shades of a falling-down-drunken Dylan Thomas at the White Horse Inn, Mailer was adored for being outrageous (and smart too, of course). His drunken womanizing proved that he was “not gay”–maybe even “not too Jewish.”
My son went to school with Norris and Norman’s son in Brooklyn Heights and I have always found it touching that the Great Ego chose to remain in Brooklyn and that he also kept the faith with Cape Cod, which he continued to visit rather religiously.
In the early 1970s, Norman Mailer attacked Kate Millett in an article; I was always going to rebut him and defend her honor but then I never did. He was in the wrong, and piggish about it too but his views on this subject no longer counted.
I have always found it touching that my dear friend, Kate Millett, also continued to visit the Cape as well–as if these two embattled spirits both recognized the place as a shrine to rebel bohemia in America.
May he rest in peace and may those who mourn him be comforted.