Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, playwright, film maker, actor and political candidate 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. Born on January 31, 1923; he died November 10, 2007.
His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran housekeeping and nursing agency. He graduated from Boys’ High School and entered Harvard University in 1939, when he was just 16 years old.
As an undergraduate, he was a member of The Signet Society. At Harvard, he studied aeronautical engineering, and became interested in writing and published his first story at the age of 18, winning Story magazine’s college contest in 1941.
Mailer received his S.B. degree, with honours, in engineering in 1943, and was drafted in early 1944. He served as a rifleman in the South Pacific and wrote the huge best-seller, The Naked and the Dead (1948) based on his experiences.
Catapulted into instant fame, he has been at the centre of our national cultural consciousness ever since. Mailer is, among other things, an unfrocked prophet full of foreboding about contemporary life; he celebrates the intuitional and instinctive and castigates corporate greed, plastic and the rape of nature.
When Mailer was 9 years old, he moved with his family to Crown Heights, Brooklyn. An excellent student, he was just 16 when he enrolled at Harvard University, intending to major in aeronautical engineering. By his sophomore year, however, Mailer had found his niche in literature.
In 1960, after a night of drinking and partying, he stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a penknife, seriously wounding her. Mailer was arrested, but his wife declined to press charges, and he was eventually released after being sent to Bellevue Hospital for observation, the marriage ended some time after that.
He had six wives, including Carol Stevens, to whom he was married for just a few days in 1980 to give legitimacy to their daughter, Maggie. His other wives, in addition to Silverman and Morales, were Lady Jeanne Campbell, Beverly Rentz Bentley and Norris Church. He fathered nine children, and along the way pursued incalculable affairs, some of them passing assignations, others spanning decades.
In 1955, Mailer and friends Daniel Wolf and Edwin Fancher founded The Village Voice newspaper, where he honed his trademark style of hip, bold and controversial writing.
In 1969, Mailer ran an unsuccessfully Democratic bid for the New York City mayor ship. With Jimmy Breslin as his running mate, even his three-word campaign slogan of “No More Bullshit” was unprintable in news reports and magazines. His left-conservative ideas included a ban on cars in Manhattan and the idea that the city should secede and become the 51st state.
Norman Mailer died in New York City at the age of 84. For six decades, he had thrilled, amused, provoked and enraged readers around the world, asking even his severest critics to reconsider their most cherished assumptions.