TUESDAY, JANUARY 09, 2007
A short version of Norman Mailer's Enemies List
W henever Norman Mailer puts out a new book—his latest, The Castle in the Forest, about Hitler, comes out next week—eager profilists find it compulsory to mention that the famous pugilist has “mellowed.” It’s hard to dispute, given his two canes and near blindness, but if the reviews for Castle are bad (and the buzz ain’t good), don’t be surprised if the old lion roars yet again. After all, it was only last month in Esquire that he took on one longtime foe, Times critic Michiko Kakutani, saying, “What put the hair up her immortal Japanese ass is beyond me.” Below, a necessarily much-abbreviated dossier, Mailer’s All-Time Enemies List.
(Photo: Bernard Gofryd/Getty Images)
Crime: Allegedly bad-mouthing Mailer’s wife Adele.
Action taken: Wrote a critical piece in Esquire and a letter to Styron in 1958 that said, “I will invite you to a fight in which I expect to stomp out of you a fat amount of your yellow and treacherous shit.”
Blowback: Styron sniped at him in print for 25 years, and one of his villainous characters bore a certain resemblance to Mailer. They finally reconciled in 1985.
(Photo: Fred R. Congrad/New York Times Co./Getty Images)
Crime: Saying of Mailer, “He has no talent. None, none, none!”
Action taken: Mailer sat on him.
Blowback: In 1980, Capote told an interviewer that while Mailer called In Cold Blood a “failure of the imagination … now I see that the only prizes Norman wins are for that very same kind of writing. I’m glad I was of some small service to him.”
Adele Morales Mailer
Crime: Calling her husband a “faggot” when he was drunk and stoned at 4 a.m. at the tail end of a party to launch his mayoral campaign.
Action taken: Stabbed her twice with a penknife, nearly killing her.
Blowback: Though she refused to testify against him, he did spend seventeen days in Bellevue’s psych ward. They finally divorced two years later. She wrote a book about it in 1997.
Crime: Being Lyndon Johnson’s national-security adviser during the Vietnam War.
Action taken: At Capote’s Black and White Ball in 1966, he invited the official to step outside to settle their foreign-policy differences in a street fight.
Blowback: Not much, after Norman Podhoretz and Lillian Hellman calmed them down.
Crime: Writing a biography of Mailer in 1985 that, despite being authorized, was not to Mailer’s liking.
Action taken: Cut off relations when the bio was published and thereafter referred to him as a confirmed enemy.
Blowback: In a 2002 book about Provincetown, Manso wrote—among many unflattering things—that Mailer had a doctor’s wife procure psychedelic drugs for him. Mailer fired off a letter to a local paper asserting that “P. D. Manso is looking for gold in the desert of his arid inner life, where lies and distortion are the only cactus juice to keep him going.”
Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, et al.
Crime: Being feminists—and in the case of Millett, coining the phrase “male chauvinist pig” to describe him.
Action taken: Attacked them all in a retrograde essay titled “The Prisoner of Sex” and in a vicious debate at Town Hall with Greer and other women, immortalized in the 1971 D. A. Pennebaker documentary Town Bloody Hall.
Blowback: At Town Hall, Mailer was practically booed off the stage (with help from audience members Betty Friedan and Susan Sontag). Greer denounced the “masculine artist in our society” as a “killer,” but only after saying she wanted to sleep with Mailer. The two went for drinks afterward, but nothing reportedly came of it.
(Photo: Bernard Gotfryd/Getty Images)
Crime: Comparing “The Prisoner of Sex” to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to Charles Manson.
Action taken: Head-butting him in the green room of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971, then telling him, on-air, that he ruined Kerouac by sleeping with him. Six years later, he threw a drink at Vidal—and punched him—at a Lally Weymouth soirée.
Blowback: Still on the floor, Vidal said, “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.” Days later, Vidal went on Cavett’s show to assert that Mailer had—literally—stabbed his second wife in the back. They, too, reconciled in 1985.
Crime: Reviewing his books negatively.
Action taken: In 2005, he told Rolling Stone, “Kakutani is a one-woman kamikaze. She disdains white male authors, and I’m her number-one favorite target … But the Times editors can’t fire her. They’re terrified of her. With discrimination rules and such, well, she’s a threefer … Asiatic, feminist, and ah, what’s the third? Well … let’s just call her a twofer … She is a token. And deep down, she probably knows it.”
Blowback: Stay tuned. Someone at the Times has to review The Castle in the Forest, and we can be reasonably certain critics won’t like it. Kakutani hasn’t recused herself, and the takedown is her stock-in-trade.
I've been a Mailer nut from the beginning, altho I hadn't heard all of these stories. I kinda liked "Castle in the Forest", but I rarely read fiction critically. Something either holds my interest, in varying degrees, or it doesn't. I write the occasional "review", but I don't believe I've ever panned a work of fiction. I regard as more blurb than review what I say publicly about something.
Here's Norman making an ass of himself on Cavett.
My favorite of all the anecdotes is Vidal's “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”
I remember one Mailer told on himself in, I believe, Advertisements for Myself, where he claimed he sent the manuscript of Barbary Shore to Hemingway imploring him to look it over as he was concerned it might not be the best way to follow to Naked and Dead. He went on and on in the letter sucking up to Hemingway and implying he should make an exception to his rule not to read unsolicited mss, because Mailer had already proven himself with Naked, etc. etc. He concluded with what we came to know as the classic Mailer reminder of his arrested adolescence with something like "and if you still refuse to look at it, well then f**k you, you old blankety blank blank, etc."
He said the mss came back as "undelivered" and evidently unopened, and he went on to speculate that Hemingway had carefully opened it, read it, found it to be threateningly good, sealed it back up carefully so it would look unopened and had it returned. Hemingway was safely dead by then so Mailer didn't have to worry about being tracked down and receiving a boxing lesson from his Papa.
It might have been The Deer Park he sent to Hemingway. He had one helluva time getting it published.
He wrote that when he first met Kennedy he was greatly impressed when Kennedy said, "I enjoyed the Deah Pahk and the othahs." Remembering this I once advised an American I met in Paris, who'd been invited by James Jones's daughter to visit their home on Île Saint-Louis and who hadn't read any of Jones's work, to tell him, "I enjoyed The Pistol and the others." I had hoped this might endear Jones to him to the extent I could wrangle an audience, too. Never happened. The kid wasn't too bright, and probly forgot the name of the book I'd mentioned. At that time Jones was writing Merry Month of May. He died not long after.
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