Norman Kingsley Mailer died on November 10, 2007, at the age of 84; he was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film-maker, actor and political activist.
Born to a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey on January 31, 1923, his father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant, and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency.
After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Hoping to gain a deferment from service, Mailer argued that he was writing an “important literary work” which pertained to the war.
This deferral was denied, and Mailer was forced to enter the Army. After training at Fort Bragg, Mailer was stationed in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry.
During his time in the Philippines, Mailer worked as a cook and saw little combat.
Mailer wrote his fourth novel, An American Dream, as a serial in Esquire magazine over eight months (January to August 1964), publishing the first chapter two months after he wrote it.
In March 1965, Dial Press published a revised version. His editor was E. L. Doctorow.
The novel received mixed reviews, but was a best seller.
Joan Didion praised it in a review in National Review (April 20, 1965) and John W. Aldridge did the same in Life (March 19, 1965), while Elizabeth Hardwick panned it in Partisan Review (spring 1965).
It is an exploration of the untold dramas of the CIA from the end of World War II to 1965.
He performed a huge amount of research for the novel, which is still on CIA reading lists.
He ended the novel with the words “To be continued,” and planned to write a sequel, titled Harlot’s Grave, but other projects intervened and he never wrote it.
Harlot’s Ghost sold well.
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.
After graduating from Harvard in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
Shortly after marrying Bea Silverman, in 1944, he was sent to the Philippines, where he saw very little combat.
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 did not last the incident.
As concerns Hollywood, Mailer wrote a novel about Hollywood (“The Deer Park”) and the first “serious” biography of Marilyn Monroe, which got him (and Monroe) the cover of the July 16 1973 edition of “Time Magazine.”
He made three improvisational films in the late 1960s: Wild 90 (1968), Beyond the Law (1968) and Maidstone (1970) and directed the 1987 adaptation of his own neo-noir novel Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987).
He despised the 1958 movie made from The Naked and the Dead (1958), but had better luck with The Executioner’s Song (1982) (1979), for which he wrote the screenplay for the 1982 telefilm.
In 1983, Mailer was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special for his work, three years after his 1979 “novel” (Mailer had characterized his “The Armies of the Night” as “The novel as history, history as a novel”) had won him his second Pulitzer Prize, for Fiction.