On September 22, 2010, the Boston Film Festival premiered the documentary Norman Mailer: The American directed by Joseph Mantegna. I was eager to see this film as two years ago I had been interviewed for it by the director. With a girlfriend, I drove from Philadelphia to Boston to arrive just in time for the premiere. Mailer devotees were out in droves, though the Mailer family was absent, having been afforded the opportunity to view the documentary in the privacy of their homes.
Biographer Mary Dearborn, author of Mailer, offered keen observations as a narrator.
Mailer's first wife was Bea Silverman (1944-52) who has a daughter, Susie, whom Norman always wanted me to meet. She is a psychologist and he felt she and I could relate to one another. Bea and Susie live in South American.
Mailer's third wife was the journalist and heiress Lady Jeanne Campbell (1962-63) who gave birth to the beauty Kate. Wealthy and of noble origin, she would not put up with Mailer's shenanigans and divorced him after one year. She promised to write a book on Mailer, received a huge advance from a publisher, bought a Greek Island with this money, never wrote the book, then died, biographer Dearborn recalled.
Perhaps the film's most interesting interview was the second wife, Adele Mailer (1954-1960), who recounted for the first time on film her tragic stabbing by Mailer. She was touching and tearful yet looked remarkably well. She wrote the memoir, The Last Party, shown in the film.
Adele's daughter Danielle who resembles her mother, is charming and possesses a sultry beauty. Adele's other daughter Betsy was not in the film. Danielle used this opportunity to show her art which has a colorful, Frida Kahlo quality to it. The bellies of the highly stylized women she painted became geometric designs which the narrator felt reflected Danielle being haunted by her mother's stabbing by Mailer in the stomach.
Yet there was no psychological attempt by director Mantegna to understand why Mailer stabbed Adele other than to say that Mailer had consumed an enormous amount of alcohol and that perhaps he had been jealous of Adele's feelings for a woman.
Mailer, speaking in clips throughout the film, attempted to justify the stabbing by saying he had protected Adele from being a victim of cancer, when in fact the reason Mailer stabbed Adele was that he was in an alcoholic blackout.
In my 1991 Esquire interview with Norman he also used this excuse when I asked if he ever felt he was an alcoholic.
Norman Mailer was an alcoholic.
When filmed by the director, I had made this point clear, yet Mantegna chose not to use this footage.
In my memoir, Loving Mailer, I recalled giving Norman the quiz to determine if he was an alcoholic. He had up to eight 'yes' answers.
"You are an alcoholic," I said to him.
"How's that?" he asked.
"If you have more than three yes's, you are an alcoholic."
"Let me take the quiz again," he said, laughing. After Norman took the quiz for the second time, he had only two yes's. Mailer died in 2007 of acute renal failure, which is a result of alcoholism.
When the moment arrived for my interview in the film, I heard myself say with pride, 'I was Norman's seventh wife,"
Indeed I was because after having been in an affair for eight years (1983-1991), our relationship had reached 'common law' status which some states recognize. I had removed the Scarlett Letter emblazoned on my chest by having been referred to as his mistress.
A former supermodel turned journalist, my modeling photos -- among them a magazine cover from Cosmopolitan and a partial nude photo of me wrapped in rope for an ad for Tigress Perfume -- were flashed on the screen, giving a sudden jolt of sensuality.
My Esquire interview between Vidal and Mailer was also shown, as well as the cartoon of Mailer kissing Vidal that Esquire published, a caricature that infuriated Norman. Because of the homosexual overtones in the cartoon, the director took this as an opportunity to mention that there was some question as to Mailer's sexual identity, and that many felt he was bisexual, though no one felt that he had acted on this latent impulse.
The narrator spoke about the fact that in 2008 I had sold my Mailer archive to Harvard. Despite offers from the University of Texas and the New York Public Library I chose Harvard as a result of their expressed respect for the value of my material. Leslie Morris, the curator of the Harvard's Houghton Library who enabled the purchase, accompanied me to the premiere.
There was footage of Mailer's mother, Fanny, and of Mailer as a young man, boxing, writing and during the filming of Maidstone in which Rip Torn hit Mailer with a hammer and Mailer tried to bite off Rip Torn's ear. Beverly Bentley Mailer breaks up the fight and comes off as a loving force to be reckoned with.
Never having met fourth wife Beverly Bentley (1963-1980) who was not at the screening, I admired her courage for standing up to Mailer and for having two handsome, strapping sons, Michael, and Stephen.
Also admirable were Gore Vidal and Dick Cavett who, during Cavett's infamous interview, take on Mailer in a triumph of verbal sparring.
Sixth wife Norris Church (1980-2007), looking remarkably well for a cancer survivor, appeared throughout the film. In one particular interview with Charlie Rose she sounds confident, caring and poised. Her memoir, A Ticket to the Circus, was also shown, as was Mailer's editorial aide Dwayne Raymond's Mornings with Mailer.
In a few clips about Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, the narrator states that Mailer had visited the Miller home, but Marilyn was not there. It turned out she was upstairs sequestered in a bedroom because she did not want to meet Mailer.
After the screening director Mantegna told the audience why fifth wife Carol Stevens (1980-1980), refused to be in the film. Carol Stevens' love affair was unusually complicated.
While Mailer was married to Beverly, Carol Stevens gave birth to Mailer's daughter, Maggie. Then Mailer met Norris Church and gave birth to their son, John Buffalo, who is interviewed and has his father's good looks. In 1980 Mailer felt obligated to marry Norris Church because of their son, John Buffalo, but also felt obligated to marry Carol Stevens because of their daughter,Maggie, so Norman divorced Beverly Mailer, married Carol Stevens for a day and then married Norris Church.
The bombshell of the night occurred when the director said that Carol Stevens confessed to him that she had had a continuous affair with Mailer from 1953 to his death. Duane Raymond confirmed this as he had been working in the house during Mailer's final year in 2007. Norris Church knew about this affair and accepted it.
When I heard this, I applauded. Carol Stevens accepted Norman Mailer as a philanderer and was there for him until the end. As were Mailer's devoted fans in the audience who cheered.
Director Mantegna closed by saying he hoped for a screening at Lincoln Center.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post misspelled Dwayne Raymond's name and incorrectly identified him as a cook-turned-author. Raymond was in fact Norman Mailer's editorial aide from 2003 to 2007 and is a longtime writer.
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