Norman Mailer: American Something or Other

DATELINE: Great Writers?

Norman, is that you?

We confess that we never had much regard for Norman Mailer during his lifetime. He was an Ernest Hemingway wannabe without style or class. He was the Nixon of writers.  He reveled in the cult of personality over writing talent. However, there was no denying he was a writer: he never wavered in writing novels, journalism, history, biography, and social commentary.

Unlike many writers, he was prolific and constant in his commitment. He loved writing from his days at Harvard and like Gore Vidal, he might have gone off track now and then as an actor, film director, or even candidate for political office. He always returned to writing.

He used his fame and fortune as a writer to open every door he could: he had six wives and a passel of children. He had the buzz off money that most people envy. He could tell anyone, big or small, famous or infamous, to go to hell. He did it his way. His success with The Naked and The Dead made him rich and famous, but he was a critical target after that. He became an insulting drunkard.

In a world where you might admire talent or special ability, he never thought much of any of it. He said and did what he wanted. He was independent and might stick a fork in a snarling lion if it behooved him. He stabbed his second wife, nearly killing her, and faked insanity and begged her not to press charges. What a tool.

Gore Vidal could berate him to face and he shrugged it off. He would bait a Dick Cavett audience and sneer back at their hostility. He was larger than life.

Should we admire him now that he was been gone 20 years or so? He wrote marvelous books on Marilyn and Oswald that stand up to researchers still.

He won a couple of Pulitzers for taking on capital punishment and the Vietnam War. He was fearless and cocky. We never liked him, but in his dotage we have come to recognize our own dotage. It does not change that he was reprehensible.