Norman Mailer

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Norman Mailer, 1948
Photo: Carl van Vechten Mailer signature.png

Norman Kingsley Mailer (born January 31, 1923 in Long Branch , New Jersey , † November 10, 2007 in New York City ) was an American writer and director and a journalist who was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize. His most important works include the war novel The Naked and the Dead and the novel Early Nights, set in ancient Egypt .


Childhood and youth

Mailer was the son of the Jew Isaac Barnett Mailer, a relatively unsuccessful businessman who immigrated from South Africa. The dominant figure in the family was his mother, Fanny Schneider, whose father was a grocer in Long Branch and at the same time the unofficial rabbi of his town. Norman's sister Barbara was four years younger than him. When he was nine years old, his family moved to Crown Heights in New York district of Brooklyn . There he shone as a student with such excellent grades that at the age of 16 he was able to enroll as a Harvard student in flight engineering. Here he was first noticed with his penchant for eccentric clothing. After reading James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan," John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (Grapes of Wrath) and "USA" by John Dos Passos himself Mailer increasingly engaged in literature. He said he made a goal of writing 3,000 words a day to break out of bad writing habits. In 1943 he graduated as an engineer. He started an unpublished first novel and married Bea Silverman in January 1944. In the spring of 1944 he was drafted into the US Army and sent to the Pacific War .

The first success

He processed his experiences as a soldier on the Pacific Front in his first successful novel The Naked and the Dead , which quickly made him a great figure in the American literary scene and on the international market. In other works, violence and sexual neuroses are the main topics. Together with Dan (iel) Wolf and Ed (win) Fancher, Mailer was one of the founders of the New York weekly newspaper The Village Voice in the fall of 1955 , which publishes investigative articles and political analyzes as well as cultural reports. In his novel The Deer Park published in 1955 (German translation Der Hirschpark 1956) he paints a socially critical picture of the post-war period of the McCarthy era . In November 1960, Mailer seriously injured his second wife, Adele Morales, with a pocket knife. This came at the end of an alcoholic party where he made public his intention to run for New York mayoral elections in 1961. He was arrested and his wife operated on; she did not report him.

Mailer was a passionate boxer and never avoided a fight. He and his fellow writer Gore Vidal had an intimate enmity based on differing views on the American women's movement. In the run-up to the Dick Cavett Show on December 2, 1971, there was the first physical argument between the two. In the mask, Mailer headbutted Vidal. In the following broadcast, the two exchanged verbal blows. During a 1977 dinner party in Manhattan, he poured Vidal whiskey on the face, hit him with his head on the head and his fist on the mouth.

The most productive time

Politically left-oriented, Mailer developed into a sharp critic of American society. For his documentary about the American protest movement against the Vietnam War armies of the night he received the 1969 Pulitzer Prize , also in 1980 for No Mercy (The Executioner's Song), a historical novel about the murderer Gary Gilmore and his execution in 1977. About "Merciless" it came to contact with the criminal Jack Henry Abbott , for whose release Mailer campaigned. Abbott was released in June 1981, and six weeks later he stabbed a 22-year-old New Yorker in a trivial argument.

In the documentary When We Were Kings (director: Leon Gast ; 1997 Oscar for best documentary) he commented together with George Plimpton on the historic boxing match Rumble in the Jungle (German: "The fight in the jungle") between the then heavyweight world champion George Foreman and the ex-world champion Muhammad Ali , which took place on October 30, 1974 in Kinshasa (Zaire, today: Democratic Republic of the Congo ). Norman Mailer wrote the book The Fight about it .

Norman Mailer published a biography about Marilyn Monroe in 1973 , which was originally planned as an essay , but developed into a kind of novel biography , which, however, cannot stand up to any claim to accuracy. The same applies to his 2007 novel about Adolf Hitler , in which he ultimately declares not Hitler but the 'devil' responsible for Hitler's actions. He has also written biographical novels about Pablo Picasso and Lee Harvey Oswald .

Mailer ran unsuccessfully for the office of mayor in New York and was temporarily president of the US-American section of the authors' association PEN -Club in the 1980s . Since 1968 Mailer also appeared as a film director.

The last few years

In 1999 Mailer condemned NATO's involvement in the Kosovo war .

At the end of April 2005 Mailer donated his private archive of over 10,000 letters, previously unpublished stories, as well as other notes and manuscripts to the University of Texas for $ 2.5 million.

In 2005 Mailer guest starred on the Gilmore Girls series , where he is interviewed as a writer at the Dragonfly Inn, the hotel owned by one of the main characters, Lorelai Gilmore. His son Stephen Mailer played the interviewer. The episode is called the Dance of Hormones (Norman Mailer, I'm pregnant) .

Mailer showed solidarity with Günter Grass in 2006 , when he was criticized by many journalists in particular because of his late commitment to his six-month SS membership at the end of the Second World War . Mailer defended Grass: "Had I been in his shoes, I would have ended up with the SS." He compared Grass' long silence to his knife attack in 1960 on his wife at the time, the painter Adele Morales , and Mailer was sentenced to five years in prison brought in on probation. He was simply overwhelmed by the fact that he was able to present the complexity of his thoughts in a literary way, which he also credited Grass.

Shortly before his death, Mailer published Das Schloss im Wald , a novel about the young Adolf Hitler . As the narrator in this novel, Mailer chooses an assistant to Satan by the name of Dieter, who reports that the devil was present at the conception of Hitler and thus took possession of his soul.

Mailer married a total of six times, had nine children and most recently lived with former model Norris Church in Provincetown, Cape Cod. Norman Mailer died on November 10, 2007 at the age of 84 of kidney failure at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

Awards (selection)




  • The White Negro , 1957
  • Advertisements for Myself , 1959
    • Advertisement for myself , Herbig, Berlin-Grunewald 1956
      • supplemented by the story Der Killer als : The language of men. Stories and other things. 1939–1969 , Reclam (RUB 761), Leipzig 1978
  • Superman Comes to the Supermarket . Essay on John F. Kennedy, Esquire , November 1960
  • The Armies Of The Night , 1968
    • Armies out of the night. Story as a novel. The novel as a story , Droemer Knaur, Munich / Zurich 1968
  • Miami and the Siege of Chicago , 1968
    • Nixon in Miami and the Siege of Chicago , Rowohlt , Reinbek 1969
  • Of a Fire on the Moon , 1969
    • A fire on the moon. Report and reflection , Droemer Knaur, Munich / Zurich 1971, ISBN 3-426-08977-7
  • The Prisoner Of Sex , 1971
  • St. George and The Godfather , 1972
  • Existential errands , 1972
    • And nothing but the truth. Essays, studies, glosses , Droemer Knaur, Munich / Zurich 1973, ISBN 3-426-08857-6
  • Marilyn , 1973
  • The Fight , 1975
  • Pieces & Pontifications , 1982
  • Oswald's Tale. An American Mystery , 1995
    • Oswald's story. The Lee Harvey Oswald case. An American Trauma , Herbig, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-7766-1903-1
  • Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man. An Interpretative Biography , 1995
    • Picasso. Portrait of the artist as a young man. An interpretive biography , Piper , Munich / Zurich 1996, ISBN 3-492-03878-6
  • Why Are We At War? , 2003
  • The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing , New York: Random House , 2003 ISBN 0-394-53648-7


Direction and script:

  • Second Hand Murder , 1966 (screenplay based on An American Dream )
  • Wild 90 , 1968
  • Beyond the Law , 1968
  • Maidstone , 1970
  • Tough Guys Don't Dance , 1987


  • Gero von Boehm : Norman Mailer. September 28, 2002 . Interview in: Encounters. Images of man from three decades . Collection Rolf Heyne, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-89910-443-1 , pp. 343-358
  • Mary V. Dearborn: Mailer. A Biography , Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1999, ISBN 0-395-73655-2 .
  • Michael K. Glenday: Norman Mailer , Macmillan, Basingstoke 1995, ISBN 0-333-52261-3 .
  • Carl E. Rollyson: The Lives of Norman Mailer. A Biography , Paragon House, New York 1994, ISBN 1-55778-193-1 .
  • Heinz Trenczak: Shooting in Provincetown , in: Blimp - Zeitschrift für Film No. 9, p. 36, Graz 1988
  • J. Michael Lennon: Norman Mailer: a double life , London [u. a.]: Simon & Schuster, 2013, ISBN 978-1-84737-672-5
  • Norman Mailer, Nina Wiener, J. Michael Lennon: Norman Mailer. JFK. Superman comes to the supermarket , TASCHEN Cologne 2014, ISBN 978-3-8365-5030-7 .
  • Adele Mailer: The last party - My life with Norman Mailer , Piper Verlag Munich 1998, ISBN 3-492-04030-6 .

Web links


supporting documents

  1. a b Obituary
  2. Cf. Ursula Brumm : The Critique of the "American Way of Life" in the American novel of the present . In: Franz H. Link (Ed.): America · Vision and Reality, contributions to German research on American literary history . Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. et. al. 1968, pp. 456-469, here p. 464f.
  3. ^ Mailer, Norman. Pieces and Pontifications , Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1982, p. 59; Dearborn, Mary V. Mailer , New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001, p. 305.
  4. Dick Cavett Show, December 2, 1971: [1]
  5. Washington Post : A Blustery Force in Life And Letters , Nov. 11, 2007
  6. omg  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  7. ^ N. Mailer: The cold, wide heart. The war against Serbia is a disaster for our morale. In: FAZ, May 28, 1999.
  8. BBC : University acquires Mailer papers. April 26, 2005
  9. Die Welt : Norman Mailer defends the "onion-skinned". June 28, 2007
  10. ^ Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung : Grass meets Mailer. The peak of the old fighters.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. June 29, 2007@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  11. ^ Cw / dpa: Norman Mailer: Hitler as a pupil of the devil. In: Focus Online . September 24, 2007, accessed October 14, 2018 .
  12. ^ Members: Norman Mailer. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed April 12, 2019 .
  13. A country that has heroes in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung of November 23, 2014, page 48
  14. The reprint for Kennedy's 100th birthday contains over 300 photos by well-known photojournalists such as Cornell Capa , Paul Schutzer and Garry Winogrand .
  15. Heinz Trenczak : Shooting in Provincetown , report on the shooting on Cape Cod, in: Blimp, Zeitschrift für Film, Graz 1988, No. 9, p. 36 f.