Norman Mailer Dies
NEW YORK (AP) -- Norman Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur with such books as The Naked and the Dead, died Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84.
From his classic debut novel to such masterworks of literary journalism as The Armies of the Night, the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality.
Some of his works were highly praised, some panned, but none was pronounced the Great American Novel that seemed to be his life quest from the time he soared to the top as a brash 25-year-old "enfant terrible."
Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as pugnacious, streetwise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.
He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's lib.
But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, "In the end it is the writing that will count."
Mailer, he wrote, possessed "a superb natural style that does not crack under the pressures he puts upon it, a talent for narrative and characters with real blood streams and nervous systems, a great openness and eagerness for experience, a sense of urgency about the need to test thought and character in the crucible of a difficult era."
Norman Mailer was born Jan. 31, 1923 in Long Branch, N.J. His father, Isaac, a South Africa-born accountant, and mother, Fanny, who ran a housekeeping and nursing agency, soon moved to Brooklyn -- later described by Mailer as "the most secure Jewish environment in America."
Mailer completed public schools, earned an engineering science degree in 1943 from Harvard, where he decided to become a writer, and was soon drafted into the Army. Sent to the Philippines as an infantryman, he saw enough of Army life and combat to provide a basis for his first book, The Naked and the Dead, published in 1948 while he was a post-graduate student in Paris on the G.I. Bill.
The book -- noteworthy for Mailer's invention of the word "fug" as a substitute for the then-unacceptable four-letter original -- was a best-seller, and Mailer returned home to find himself anointed the new Hemingway.
Trivia note: Some time after The Naked and the Dead was published, Mailer was introduced to the acid-tongued actress Talullah Bankhead at a Manhattan cocktail party.
She remarked: "So you're the young writer who doesn't know how to spell fuck."
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa