Why did I write Loving Mailer (Phoenix Books, April 6)? I wanted to offer my understanding of Norman Mailer. We had an affair for nine years--longer than five of his marriages.
In 1983, Norman and I met on a date I had with his friend, Buzz Farber, who took me to Elaine's Restaurant in NYC. My first impression of Norman was that he was a sweet, funny man, not at all the wife stabbing tyrant that he was reputed to be. The next day I read in the Times that Norman would be speaking about his films at the Thalia Theater on the upper West Side. That snowy night I trudged to the Thalia and got the last available seat. After Norman spoke, he signed autographs. Because I wanted his opinion of a 500 paged manuscript I had written, I invited him for a cheeseburger the next day at a coffee shop. To my surprise he accepted my invitation and read part of my manuscript as we ate.
After lunch, outside in broad daylight, he kissed me on my lips and I fell in love. That evening I flew back to my home in Hollywood. A few months later Norman came to L.A. We met at the Bel Air Hotel where he read more of my manuscript and then we made love. Our affair continued for nine years during which he gave me writing lessons each time we met. We would make love and then go to lunch or dinner. If he had been drinking, I would not allow him to make love to me.
"With you, I don't want to drink," Norman told me. When he stabbed Adele, he had been in an alcoholic blackout. I realized he was an alcoholic just like me. Except that I had had my last drink in 1980.
Norman told me that Norris knew about us, but their relationship was based on friendship. He asked me to be understanding. After five divorces, he could not afford another one.
Norman influenced my life by turning me into a novelist and a journalist. When we met, I was studying creative writing at UCLA, but as the years progressed, Norman became my mentor and I became his muse. He told me the mistress in Harlot's Ghost was based on me. Norman convinced me to quit acting, to focus on writing. "I'll help you," he said. While I had been a Stepford Wife in films, I became Norman Mailer's very own Stepford Wife, eagerly awaiting his weekly writing lessons. Writers became stars to me. I carried a thesaurus in my glove compartment as per Norman's advice. We taught each other words. He taught me "oxymoron" and I taught him "pussywhipped" which he used to describe how he felt when George Schulz was unwanted by writers to speak at the PEN Conference in 1986 when Norman was its president.
In '87, Norman taught me how to write the novel, Flash, in which I made him a Russian movie producer. He also taught me how to do an interview, how to organize questions in categories and where to find the right questions. I went on to interview Vonnegut, Heller, Vidal, Jong, MacInerney, Baryshnikov, Forman, Rossellini, Plimpton, Talese, Joseph P. Kennedy II and wrote for Elle, Parade, Playboy and Esquire.
What was the best part of our relationship? His writing lessons. His interest in my work. Making love to him. In '08 after his death Harvard University honored me by buying my Mailer archive, containing his writing lessons.
What was the worst part of loving Mailer? His bullying. Filled with fear of public opinion, he needed to watch out for what others said about him. In nine years I interviewed him nine times. I had been eager to please Norman and originally allowed him to edit my interviews with him before they were published, but over the years he gradually lost control of me. By 1991, when I interviewed Norman with Gore Vidal for Esquire, things had changed. I allowed both him and Gore an initial edit each, but then no more. I returned home to find Norman circling my building, waiting for his second chance at editing this 90 paged interview. I said no. For Norman Mailer "no" was not in his frame of reference, especially from a woman. He ended our love affair not long after this, but I still have fond -- though painful -- memories of him. Norman Mailer had the most sensual lips I have ever kissed and I still miss them.
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