Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer's Greatest Hits

Norman Mailer died this morning...I'm less familiar with his novels and more familiar with his exploits as a Renaissance Wild Man.

Mailer directed four films through his life and actually received a career retrospective at Lincoln Center earlier this year - I was actually considering flying down to New York just to see the legendary Maidstone - a macho, alcohol-fueled improv-fest about politics and paranoia, filmed with friends in the Hamptons starring himself, Rip Torn, Ultra Violet and Lane Smith. Here's a description of the moment co-star Herve Villechaize (sic) almost drowned on the set, from the biography "Mailer: His Life And Times" by Peter Manso - the incident as remembered by Barney Rosset, at whose home the filming took place.

I was terrified of the violence, which was so thick you could feel it. After the first or second day these people had finished shooting, it was still light, and they'd gone back to where they were staying, in Bridgehampton, five miles away. My mother in law went outside, then came back into the house screaming, "There's a midget in the swimming pool!"

My wife and I go outside, and sure enough, there he is, floating. Someone had thrown Villechaize into the pool, and he was drowning. I was able to reach over the side and pull him out. My reaction was sheer rage, sort of "what right do they have to put this thing in our pool and then go home, just split?" Here we were in our house, this Quonset hut sunk in the ground, with the swimming pool and a lot of trees; this place had been vibrant with maniacs one minute, and suddenly they're all gone. My poor mother in law hasn't been out all day, she's been barricaded inside, then she comes back in screaming. What I said to my wife was, "Goddamn it, we're gonna get Norman!" I wasn't worried whether the midget was dead or alive. I didn't even call the rescue squad.

I got in my car and raced the five miles to the Bull's Head Inn, where they were all staying. I went up to Norman's room and pounded on the door. "Norman, you've gotta come back and get your midget!" And Norman? He and Jose went back with us and scooped up the guy, and I was told later that they took him to the hospital, where his stomach was pumped. Whether he was suffering from booze or drowning, I don't know, probably a mixture of both. The next day, though, to my utter amazement, he was back playing the piano in the Lane Smith scene.

Maidstone is notorious for being the movie where Rip Torn actually assaulted Mailer with a hammer, leading to Mailer biting Torn's ear in the ensuing wrestling match - all caught on film by D.A. Pennebaker.


Of course Mailer's ongoing feud with Gore Vidal is one for the ages - Vidal's quote that "there has been from Henry Miller to Norman Mailer to Charles Manson a logical progression" enraged Mailer so much that they had it out on the Dick Cavett Show, excerpted here in this documentary on Gore.


Mailer's best-known film as a director was 1987's 100% fucked-up Tough Guys Don't Dance, based on his novel. Sample dialogue: Lawrence Tierney describes his son Ryan O'Neal's ex-wife as the kind of dame "who should wear a sign around her neck that says 'Hang around, I'll make a cocksucker out of you.'" On the half-hour interview with Mailer on the DVD, he considers the film to be a success EXCEPT for this scene:


O'Neal felt Mailer left this incredible part in the final cut in order to destroy his acting career and never spoke to him again. In retrospect, Mailer said he would have taken this part out if he could do it over.

There was a bizarre episode of 'Gilmore Girls' a few years back where Mailer played himself being interviewed in the dining room of the Dragonfly Inn, for no reason except perhaps to pad out the episode. Maybe he thought Lorelai and Rory were distant relatives of Gary...

1 comment:

Michael said...

Amazing stuff! Torn or Vidal could have kicked the shit out of him, I feel. Eugene Levy too!

I love Gore gabbing. Those literary folk back then were so puffy and ridiculous. Bon mots galore! At least Vonnegut was unable to be anything but completely cool.

Great post! The Gilmore gag alone was worth the price of admission.