In Interview, Mailer's Mistress Recalls a Lover and a Mentor

Norman K. Mailer ’43 liked to talk during sex, his longtime mistress Carole Mallory said in a revealing interview with The Crimson yesterday.

Three weeks ago, Harvard received Mallory’s collection of materials documenting her nine-year relationship with Mailer, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, journalist, and playwright who died last November.

“I’m an important part of his life,” Mallory said. “I was. I am.”

The former model and actress said she sent the archive to Harvard to recognize her significance in the author’s life.

In 1983, Mallory went to a restaurant in New York with her date “Buzz,” who introduced her to his best friend: Norman Mailer.

The incongruence between his terrible reputation and his seemingly “kind, cherubic” manner immediately piqued her interest, Mallory said.

“He was jolly like Saint Nicholas——little rolly polly belly and red cheeks,” she said. “Little did I know that he was far from cherubic.”

Mallory said she saw glimpses of his “elements of being a dirty old man” during their ensuing long-distance affair. Temperamental, jealous, and controlling, Mailer became “monstrous” towards the end of the affair.

He controlled Mallory’s pen, editing out parts of her writing that deepened a heroine’s character beyond her role as a mere sex object, Mallory said.

“He was a chauvinist,” she said. “He subjugates.”

But Mailer overwhelmed Mallory with his talent as a writer and his deceptively charming personality. She was eager to learn the trade of a writer.

“I was a bit like an empty vessel going to sea with a pirate, with a pen who was going to teach me to weather the storms,” she said. “Instead, we ran across some rough seas.”

Watching Mailer read her pieces was “very erotic and stimulating,” for his entire body would move in a rhythm that reminded her of a giant sewing machine, she said.

“He taps his foot, saliva comes out of his mouth, and his body moves to and fro,” Mallory said.

After a writing lesson, the pair would make love and then go to lunch to discuss writing, gossip, and her next reading list.

The spoken word was a pivotal part of making love with Mailer, Mallory said. The sexually charged conversations typically involved complimenting and flattery.

“We talked a lot when we made love,” the 66-year-old said.

Mailer was a great lover and mentor, and these two roles came together in his writing, in which he wrote “beautiful” sex scenes, Mallory remembered.

A recovering alcoholic who had her last drop in 1979, Mallory said she never had sex with Mailer when he was drinking.

“Cowards need alcohol to make love,” Mallory said. “They might as well make love to the bottle.”

Mallory said the couple broke up in 1992 over a dispute concerning an edit of one of Mallory’s pieces.

“‘Gimme gimme. Gimme gimme another edit,’” Mallory recounted. “You don’t say ‘no’ to Norman Mailer and get away with it.”

According to Mallory, Mailer’s wife at the time claimed to have been unaware of the nine-year affair, though she added that this claim was “ridiculous.”

Considering Mailer’s “polygamist heart” and inability to be faithful, Mallory said she would not be surprised if he had courted other women during their affair.

“I didn’t look to him to be faithful to me,” she said. “I wanted his love when he was able to give it. He was not a man I wanted to marry.”

In 2000, she married Kenneth Gambone——now a 40-year-old electrician and the love of her life, Mallory said.

When Mailer died last November, Mallory said she felt both sadness and relief. Though they had not been in regular contact since the break-up, Mallory said she still felt the subtle control of a “very powerful man in publishing.”

“He had told me that if I tried to write about him, he’d haunt me from his grave,” Mallory said.

——Staff Writer Esther I. Yi can be reached at estheryi@fas.harvard.edu.