Norman Mailer Never Did Like Dallas

Norman Mailer, the man who gave this chain of newspapers its name, died this morning of kidney failure at the age of 84. I had the good fortune to interview him on several occasions during his various visits to Dallas, first in 1991, when he came to promote his CIA novel Harlot's Ghost. I ran into him again two years later, atop Reunion Tower of all places. He'd come to Dallas to address the Assassination Symposium on Kennedy, on the 30th anniversary of John Kennedy's murder here.

I was covering the symposium and went for drinks at Antares with several colleagues; also joining our party that night was Grover Lewis, the Oak Cliff-raised writer and editor who was among the first parents of New Journalism during his tenure at Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. Grover and Mailer knew each other, of course, and greeted each other warmly. Grover invited his old friend to join us, but he had to decline: He was waiting on his guest, Marina Oswald. He introduced us to Lee Harvey's widow, whom he was interviewing for the book he was working on at the time, which would turn out to be Oswald's Tale.

In 1995, Oswald came back through Dallas to promote the book during a reading at Borders Books & Music in Preston Royal, which was attended by some 150 folks -- some of whom knew Oswald, some of whom claimed to know much, much more about Kennedy's assassination. My account of that visit, and interview with Mailer, can be found here, for those so inclined. But this will be the highlight for many:

One man asks the author whether writing such long books prolongs his life; another asks if he considers Oswald's Tale to be the sequel to his 1991 opus Harlot's Ghost, his 1,300-plus-page pseudothriller about the CIA (he says no). Someone else wonders whether Dallas figures prominently into the book.

"Not much," he replies. "There's almost no description of place in the book. I don't particularly like Dallas." He then hastens to tack on, "Architecturally speaking." Marina, he adds, also does not much care for the city because she was always unsure whether it was being built up or down, all the vacant lots next to all the giant buildings.

No matter his reputation as a brawling, gruff son of a bitch, Mailer was always charming during our protracted visits -- our first one lasted three hours in his room at the Hotel Crescent Court; our last one, another three at the Adolphus. We talked so long we discovered he might have even dated my grandmother's sister, in Brooklyn some time in the mid-1950s. Among my most prized possessions is a hardbound edition of The Naked and the Dead, which Mailer signed for me in May 1995. "Cheers," he wrote. And, "Thanks." Indeed. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky