Academic journal article The Mailer Review

The Death of Norman Mailer; the Birth of the Norman Mailer Society

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

The Death of Norman Mailer; the Birth of the Norman Mailer Society

Article excerpt

MY FRIEND NORMAN

I have returned from the funeral in Provincetown of a beloved friend of forty years. It was a beautiful but emotionally exhausting experience. My friend was generous of his time, treasure, and spirit. He was deeply loved by his nine children, most of whom spoke at the grave site. I never knew him to be less than great of heart and mind. He was known to the world in various degrees of exaggeration or oversimplification, and police were necessary to keep paparazzi from the dignified private ceremony. By the way, he wrote more than forty significant books, won almost every known literary prize (including the National Book Award and two Pulitzers), and left his indelible mark on American literature in his sixty-year career. With the passing of this great man, an era ends.--Barry H. Leeds, Ph.D.

This letter, which appeared in The Hartford Courant for Tuesday, November 13, 2007, would seem to be the end of the story. Far from it. I have written elsewhere* at length of the development and fruition of my friendship with Norman Mailer. But there's at least one more chapter to the story.

MY FRIEND JOHN WHALEN-BRIDGE

In the late spring of 2002, a new player, a new colleague, a new friend strode upon the scene. John Whalen-Bridge, an English professor at the National University of Singapore, contacted me first by email, in which he immediately impressed me as a Mailer critic of acute perception; then by telephone, which established him as an incisive man of letters. From his gentle, soft voice and precise articulacy, I could picture him: a benign, bespectacled man in early middle age who weighed about 125.

I was right: 125 kilograms. When I first met John, I saw that although he was about my height (six feet) he weighed about seventy-five pounds more (I weighed 200), all muscle mass and sinew. An accomplished martial artist, he would later become heavyweight grappling champion of Singapore. With the large Buddhist tattoo on his massive bicep, he looked like nothing so much as a Hell's Angel named "Tiny." Yet the rest of my initial impressions were true: he was gentle of voice and demeanor, and very smart.

John came to my home in Connecticut, delivered by his wife, Helena, and two sons, by prior arrangement so that I could drive him to Provincetown in order to try to persuade Norman to allow us to start a Norman Mailer Society, something that he had steadfastly opposed whenever Mike Lennon or I had broached it. …

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