The lifelong correspondence of Norman Mailer has been made public, revealing the flirtations, friendships and feuds of one of 20th century literature’s outstanding pugilists. The archive contains letters to and from about 3,500 names including Madonna, Bill Clinton, Lord Bragg and Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy. Mailer, who died aged 84 in November, lived too much of his life in public for there to be major surprises in the archive. But it does provide intriguing insights into a character often obscured by bombast. Woody Allen once quipped that Mailer’s ego was so massive that he had “donated” it to Harvard for medical research. Yet Mailer was not too proud to accept as a compliment Madonna’s thanks to him for not misquoting her in a journalistic profile. “Thank you for being so brave,” she wrote in 1994, cheerily signing off “Love Madonna”. Mailer replied flirtatiously: “You deserve every good thing I said about you . . . Cheers, amities, Norman.” He was similarly honey-toned in his dealings with Clint East-wood, who wrote to say that he normally hated reading about himself but had liked the version Mailer showed in a profile. Mailer wrote back to “Dear Clint”, purring: “Listen, it wasn’t that hard to write – all I had to do was tell the truth. It’s the phoney pieces that throw out the literary back.” Born in 1923 to a well-known New Jersey family and educated at Harvard, Mailer made his name writing about his experiences in the second world war in The Naked and the Dead (1948). He loathed using the phone and said he sometimes ignored even his oldest friends when they called. That habit partly explains the volume of correspondence, collated by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin. Another reason is that his mother, convinced he was a genius, kept everything he wrote as a child and a teenager.
London Sunday Times
Letters Archive Reveals the Warmer Side of Literature’s Great Bruiser