On CBS’s "Sunday Morning" this past weekend, reporter Martha Teichner did a profile of recently deceased ultra left-wing author, Norman Mailer, who she described as "... a hell of a big man for a short guy, scrappy, brilliant, controversial. Slugging away at life and letters until the very end." Of course, this was the same Norman Mailer that said of the World Trade Center in October 2001: "Everything wrong with America led to the point where the country built that tower of Babel, which consequently had to be destroyed."
Later Teichner remarked that "Mailer was unapologetically liberal, anti-war, anti-Nixon, anti-establishment." Well, he certainly was "anti-establishment" when he said to a "London Telegraph" reporter in February 2002, "America has an almost obscene infatuation with itself...The right wing benefitted so much from September 11 that, if I were still a conspiratorialist, I would believe they'd done it."
At another point, Teichner observed that "Norman Mailer loved playing the political provocateur." That proved true when in 2003, Mailer asserted to the "London Times" that, "Bush thought white American men needed to know they were still good at something. That's where Iraq came in...."
Strangely, none of these extremist statements by Mailer made it into the "Sunday Morning" segment. However, Teichner did devote a generous thirty seconds to an incident in which, "Mailer was in real trouble after he got drunk at a party and stabbed his second wife with a pen knife." Teichner observed that, "...the incident left him shaken." Imagine how shaken his wife was.
Teichner devoted another thirty seconds to Mailer’s crusade to free convicted murderer, Jack Abbot, and how "In 1981, six weeks after Abbot was freed, he attacked and killed a man." Teichner described how "Mailer was vilified and acknowledged his mistake." However, she followed that with, "But he was never afraid to try something new...He even tried acting, most recently in 2005...Appearing in the television show "Gilmore Girls." Well, as long as Mailer was willing to try new things, letting the occasional murderer go free was no big deal. After all, even Mailer admitted about Abbott case that he was "willing to gamble with the safety of certain elements of society to save this man's talent...."
Teichner ended the segment with a description of Mailer’s final work:
He published his last book just three-and-a-half weeks before his death. It was called "On God: An Uncommon Conversation." In it he wrote, "I think that piety is oppressive. It takes all the air out of thought." Pious, he was not."
One cannot disagree with that, Norman Mailer certainly had no lack of hot "air" in his "thought."
Here is the full transcript of the segment:
CHARLES OSGOOD: For now at least human immortality rests on the lasting impact of the work we leave behind. That sort of immorality seems possible for a writer who died this weekend. This morning Martha Teichner looks back on the work, life, and times of Norman Mailer.
NORMAN MAILER: You know, if there's anything I feel truly secure about, it's the number of books I've written, and the number of them that-- forgive this immodesty-- but the number of them are pretty good.
MARTHA TEICHNER: Good enough to have won a National Book Award and two Pulitzer Prizes. He was talented, full of himself, provocative, and a serious hell raiser.
MAILER: I've become a politician. I mean, I'm dull enough to be elected to high office.
TEICHNER: Remembering Norman Mailer, later this "Sunday Morning."
CHARLES OSGOOD: As you very likely heard by now, Norman Mailer died yesterday morning at the age of 84. For almost 60 years, the life and writings of Mailer provoked, and shocked, and entertained. Summing up such a life is a daunting task. That's what we've asked of Martha Teichner.
MARTHA TEICHNER: He was a hell of a big man for a short guy, scrappy, brilliant, controversial. Slugging away at life and letters until the very end. He was married six times, fathered eight children, dabbled in politics, drugs, alcohol, counter-culture, TV and the movies. But managed along the way to write close to 40 books. He won the National Book Award, plus two Pulitzer Prizes, and was one of America's most outspoken literary voices.
NORMAN MAILER: I've been coming to this town for, oh, 60 years just about. First came here back in 1942. And I love the place. It's my favorite town in America.
TEICHNER: In recent years, Norman Mailer lived mainly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where we met him in 2001.
MAILER: This town has just had everything. It's had pirates, it's motorcycle drivers. It's had mad artists, crazy parties, a lot of pot smoking. And now that I'm old, I still like it because the echo is there.
TEICHNER: He could have been talking about his own life. Mailer was famous by the age of 25 for his first book, "The Naked and the Dead," an auto biographical World War II novel. But it was for "The Armies of the Night," his personalized account of the 1967 peace march on the Pentagon, that he won the National Book Award and his first Pulitzer. His second was for "The Executioner's Song," about Gary Gilmore, the first American to be executed after the death penalty was reinstated in the United States. Mailer was unapologetically liberal, anti-war, anti-Nixon, anti-establishment. And he didn't just write about his politics. When push came to shove at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago he was there. And later, took delight in throwing a few verbal punches of his own.
MAILER: What shocked me about Chicago in '68 is I had always given the establishment more credit. You know, I always thought that it ran things better than it actually did run them. I was amazed at how much quickly the establishment cracked up under that pressure. We can win this thing! We can win it!
TEICHNER: Norman Mailer loved playing the political provocateur. In 1968, he ran for mayor of New York, proposing that the city secede and become the 51st state. He really did.
MAILER: I've become a politician. I mean, I'm dull enough to be elected to high office.
TEICHNER: His personal life was anything but dull. He was a pugnacious celebrity bad boy.
GORE VIDAL: You're a liar and a hypocrite, you're a plague.
TEICHNER: Watch his verbal combat with Gore Vidal on the "Dick Cavett Show" in 1971.
MAILER: Are you ready to apologize?
VIDAL: I would apologize if it hurts your feelings, of course, I would.
MAILER: No, it hurts my sense of intellectual pollution.
VIDAL: Well, I must say, as an expert you should know about that.
MAILER: Yes, well, I've had to smell your works from time to time. And that has helped me to become an expert on intellectual pollution.
VIDAL: Yeah, well.
TEICHNER: MAILER was in real trouble after he got drunk at a party and stabbed his second wife with a pen knife. She didn't press charges, but the incident left him shaken.
MAILER: It was as if some huge switch was thrown in my nature, which was no matter what happens after this, that will never happen again. And, you know, because I really couldn't believe it when it happened. I couldn't believe that I had done it. And so it was a huge shock.
TEICHNER: In 1975, he met Barbara Norris of Russellville Arkansas, a divorced high school art teacher with a small son. She was 26. Mailer was 52. They were married happily for more than 25 years, and had one son together. Norris-Mailer set out to unite all the various children and step-children into a family.
MAILER: She's given a certain dignity to my life that I never had before. Well, now I'm not a mad man. I'm an established family man.
TEICHNER: But Mailer had one more big public controversy in him, the Jack Abbot case. Abbot was a convicted killer who wrote a highly acclaimed prison memoir In the Belly of the Beast. Norman Mailer campaigned for his parole.
MAILER: I'm willing to gamble with the safety of certain elements of society to save this man's talent....
TEICHNER: In 1981, six weeks after Abbot was freed, he attacked and killed a man. Mailer was vilified and acknowledged his mistake. But he was never afraid to try something new. He made films. Among them "Tough Guys Don't Dance."
MAILER: Well, I don't have a lot of monthly income, you know.
TEICHNER: He even tried acting, most recently in 2005.
MAILER: What the devil is she talking about.
TEICHNER: Appearing in the television show "Gilmore Girls." As he aged though, Stormin' Norman, as he was once known, calmed down. He began his days doing a cross word puzzle to get himself in the mood for writing. And then he would struggle to climb the stairs to his third floor study to work.
BARBARA NORRIS-MAILER: Did you have a good day?
MAILER: Fairly good, not great.
TEICHNER: In the evening, after not talking to each other all day, he and Norris would meet. You flirt with each other?
NORRIS-MAILER: As much as I can.
MAILER: Yeah, she's a flirt.
TEICHNER: To anyone on the outside looking in, it appeared that Norman Mailer lived a happily ever after story. But to admit to anything that conventional would have been anathema to him. He published his last book just three-and-a-half weeks before his death. It was called "On God: An Uncommon Conversation." In it he wrote, I think that piety is oppressive. It takes all the air out of thought. Pious, he was not.