Norman Mailer — Norman Kingsley Mailer (January 31, 1923 – November 10, 2007) was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, filmmaker, actor and political activist. His first novel was The Naked and the Dead, published in 1948. His best work was widely considered to be The Executioner’s Song, which was published in 1979, and for which he won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, Mailer’s book Armies of the Night was awarded the National Book Award.
Along with the likes of Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, which superimposes the style and devices of literary fiction onto fact-based journalism.
Mailer was also known for his essays, the most renowned of which was The White Negro. He was a major cultural commentator and critic, both through his novels, his journalism, his essays and his frequent media appearances.
In 1955, Mailer and three others founded The Village Voice, an arts- and politics-oriented weekly newspaper distributed in Greenwich Village.
Mailer was born to a Jewish family in Long Branch, New Jersey. His father, Isaac Barnett Mailer, was a South African-born accountant and his mother, Fanny Schneider, ran a housekeeping and nursing agency. Mailer’s sister, Barbara, was born in 1927.
Raised in Brooklyn, New York, Mailer 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 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. After graduating in 1943, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Hoping to defer from the war, Mailer argued that he was writing an “important literary work” which pertained to the war itself. This deferral was denied, and Mailer was forced to enter the Army. Having received training at Fort Bragg, Mailer was then stationed in the Philippines with the 112th Cavalry. During his time in the Philippines, Mailer worked as a cook and saw little combat. He did, however, participate in a patrol on the island of Leyte. When asked about his war experiences, Mailer stated that “the army gave me but one lesson over and over again: when it came to taking care of myself, I had little to offer next to the practical sense of an illiterate sharecropper.” This lesson inspired Mailer to write his first novel, The Naked and the Dead.
Norman Mailer was married six times and had nine children. He fathered eight children by his various wives and informally adopted his sixth wife’s son from another marriage.
Norman’s first marriage was in 1944, to Beatrice Silverman, whom he divorced in 1952. They had one child, Susan.
Mailer married his second wife, Adele Morales, in 1954. They had two daughters, Danielle and Elizabeth. On one occasion Mailer stabbed her twice with a penknife, puncturing her pericardium and necessitating emergency surgery. His wife would not press charges, and he later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of assault, and was given a suspended sentence. While in the short term, Morales made a physical recovery, in 1997 she published a memoir of their marriage entitled The Last Party, which recounted her husband stabbing her at a party and the aftermath. This incident has been a focal point for feminist critics of Mailer, who point to themes of sexual violence in his work.
His third wife, whom he married in 1962, and divorced in 1963, was the British heiress and journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell (1929–2007), the only daughter of Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll and a granddaughter of the press baron Lord Beaverbrook. The couple had a daughter, Kate Mailer, who is an actress.
His fourth marriage, in 1963, was to Beverly Bentley, a former model turned actress. She was the mother of his producer son Michael Mailer and his actor son Stephen Mailer. They divorced in 1980.
His fifth wife was Carol Stevens, a jazz singer whom he married on November 7, 1980, and divorced in Haiti on November 8, 1980, thereby legitimating their daughter Maggie, born in 1971.
His sixth and last wife, whom he married in 1980, was Norris Church Mailer (née Barbara Davis, 1949–2010), an art teacher. They had one son together, John Buffalo Mailer, a writer and actor. Mailer raised and informally adopted Matthew Norris, Church’s son by her first husband, Larry Norris. Living in Brooklyn, New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts with Mailer, Church worked as a model, wrote and painted.