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The ladies loved Norman Mailer

April 13, 2010 |  9:17 am
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Norman Mailer had been married five rather tumultuous times -- he stabbed his second wife with a knife in 1960, sending her to the hospital -- before getting together with Norris Church in the mid-1970s. Mailer was an outsized character. Few writers would have the chutzpah to run for mayor of New York. And though Mailer was 26 years Norris' senior, they had a child, married and stayed together until Norman's death in 2007. Norris Church Mailer's new book, "A Ticket to the Circus," chronicles her life before and with the writer; Susan Salter Reynolds talked to her for a story in Sunday's paper:

"Ticket" is quite an honest memoir, primarily in the way that it lets the reader know how Norris held her own ground all those years. Shortly after meeting Mailer, Norris moved to New York, leaving her 4-year-old son with her parents in Arkansas while she established herself in her own place and looked for work (she sent for him several months later).

In 1977, she became pregnant. Mailer divorced his fifth wife and married Norris. Fourteen years later, 14 years in which Norris believed her husband had been faithful to her, she found in a drawer in their Brooklyn Heights home evidence that he had cheated on her not once but many, many times. Somehow, they got through it.

One of those infidelities was with Carole Mallory, a model and actress (she appeared in "The Stepford Wives") who later became a writer. For nine years ending in 1991, Mallory writes, she and Mailer carried on an affair. And in one of those not-so-coincidental coincidences of publishing, Mallory has a new memoir about Mailer, too -- "Loving Mailer" from Phoenix Books. She described the day their relationship sparked:

Norman's charm was his spirit. A cab pulled up. Suddenly he kissed me on the lips.

"Your lips are wonderful," I said, surprised by his boldness. Yes, I had the choice to push him away. I didn't want to.

"Writers write with their lips," he said. "Yours aren't so bad yourself."

I felt light-headed. We kissed again. And again. Our boots covered in snow. Our faces in sunlight. People passed and stared. He didn't care. Neither did I. So what if he had six wives? He was not capable of fidelity, I told myself. Everyone knew that. He had nine children peppered over six wives. He was the Sultan of Publishing.

Mallory is not shy writing about sex -- her book opens with a racy account of an evening she spent with Warren Beatty, and there are plenty of details about Mailer, too. While Mailer completists might want to read her account, I'm guessing his last wife might not.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Norman Mailer at home in 2006. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times

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