Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Writers Gone Wild" (Bill Peschel): Mailer, going a few rounds with the muse

A writer's life: finding inspiration in oak-paneled rooms, vistas overlooking inspiring views, sharing witty conversation with one's peers. And, of course, brawling.

The story between the covers of a book may only tell half the tale of its author's struggles to get his point across. Many times this confusion and misunderstanding can come from many directions: editors, publishers, critics, friends -- and enemies -- can change the course of literary history as surely as drink, drugs, sex, and other obsessions in a writer's life.

Much contemporary biography has become studies in pathology, as some critics have noted not unfairly. Still it is fascinating to hear some of the stories behind the words, if only to make the reader marvel that the completed novel got written at all.

Here, for example, is a brief excerpt about the outside-the-ring pugilistic career of Norman Mailer, fromWriters Gone Wild, a compendium of stories about the less-sedate aspects of the writing life by Bill Peschel.

Norman Mailer, between rounds

Highlight Reel

Norman Mailer was as prolific with his fists as he was with his opinions. Here are some of his classic bouts:

* Jerry Leiber: In 1967, at the popular restaurant Elaine’s, Mailer attacked the songwriter from behind and got kicked into a wall, smashing the plaster. Mailer tried to eye-gouge Leiber and a waiter did the same for Mailer. Elaine herself broke up the fight by threatening to bar Leiber if he knocked out Mailer.

* Bruce Jay Friedman: The novelist and screenwriter was on the receiving end of a Mailer head butt after he messed up Norman’s hair at a party in 1968. As Friedman got in his car, Mailer unleashed his fury on the car, hammering it several times. Friedman got out, took a head-butt to the chest, and threw a punch. They were separated again, and Friedman drove off with Mailer again punching the windows .

* Rip Torn: As part of an improvised scene in Mailer’s 1970 movie “Maidstone,” Torn nearly brained the director and star with a hammer, wrestled him to the ground and choked him. Mailer bit off part of Torn’s ear and fought back until they were separated by Mailer’s fourth wife, Beverly, and his children.

* Gore Vidal I: After Vidal compared Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex” to “three days of menstrual flow” in 1971, Mailer head butted him in the green room of “The Dick Cavett Show.”

* Gore Vidal II: At a New York party in 1977, Mailer threw a drink and then knocked Vidal to the floor. Vidal got the last word, however: “Words fail Norman Mailer yet again.”

No comments: