HE HAD HEARD a good deal about Mr. Norman Mailer, and so walked all the way down Brattle Street to meet him for dinner before his performance last Friday. Even to initiates. Mr. Mailer was not immediately recognizable. There was a man standing by the stair case in the home of the Advocate Trustee with an inordinate number of companions for a dinner guest--but that man, rather short and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles, seemed already to have passed the touchy line separating the confidently middle-aged from those rapidly approaching the status of Senior Citizen. Fortunately, spectacles removed and fingers relaxed around a never-neglected glass, he became, most assuredly, Norman Mailer. We found an aging angry-young-man looking tired under his cowl of curly, grey, and bedraggled hair, his fight eye swollen almost shut from an operation earlier in the day. But he was to grow younger and livelier as the evening drained away.
Beatle-booted, bell-bottomed, turtle-necked, and althogether more hip-looking, we thought, than the next students gathered around him, Mr. Mailer was as generous with his conversation as anyone could demand. He held away over the worshipful without pause, punctuating 5th Avenue prep-schoolese with occasional puffings of his torso and rockings on his heel. A man who writes like a good whore smiling form the hip should be a good talker. Mr. Mailer is, and was Friday--at least, we learned, for a while. He did not, in fact, dine at all, but kept his post by the bar, answering the honest and ridiculous questions of undergraduates without sign of boredom, resisting even the beckoning words of the young daughter of the host who leaned over the bannister above Mr. Mailer's head to whisper desperately "Dinner, dinner."
When we had finished ours, he was commanding the same position and warming to questions about his films.
"Nao, nao nao, I don't write them." he explained to one of the uninformed. "It's awwl spontane-yus."
The conversation had turned inevitably to one of Mr. Mailer's avocations, boxing and to the chances of middleweights against Olympic wrestlers in street fights, when an Advocate editor introduced to the Guest of Honor another guest--the chief of Harvard's police force, an occasional journalist himself.
"I like your writing," Chief Tonis said cordially, "and I hope you like my work."
"Well ah'll tell you," said the Boxer, smiling from under an arched eyebrow and playfully extending a knuckle, "--'scuse me for hittin you--Ahm gonna rise the tropps to rebellion tonight, and ah hope you"ll get thirty thousand of your best out."
"I hope," the undaunted Chief continued. "The next time you come you'll visit my department.
"If I only had time," the graceful reply.
THERE WAS to be no rebellion, but we did watch an inconclusive fistfight between one indomitable heckler and another member of Mr. Mailer's audience in Lowell Lecture Hall that night. Hackling was in order, but questions from floor not pertaining to Mr. Miler's films were, he warned not. For the engagement was officially for the showing of clips and for pleading the cases of three films.
There was, however, a prefatory harangue from the Filmmaker. Before finding a real glass to replace the plastic cup he had brought to hold his Old Forrester and ice, he had essayed to warm up the audience with imitation of Muhammed Ali.
"Lissen! Ahm gointa tell you, Ahm gointa call ya all pals tonight as you know why? "Cause Ahm doin'a benefit, Ahm given' all money to the Advocate."
He was indeed. The dialect as only one of many he used freely in the course of the evening, and pals was only one of many things he called the audience as they responded to his often witty and coherent monologue with pained silence, sporadic hissing, and brief-Anglo-Saxon shouts.
Never one to give in against unfair odds (and we suspect that Mr. Mailer, armed with a microphone, gets even money against the collective voices of a jammed Lowell Lee) he worked his way to a begrudged dominance by catching the audience off-guard with asides in impressively fluent double-talk, invocations of Harvard's Classical past, of God's blessing on the Advocate and Drinking in Public. We thought, at the time, that Mr. Mailer has a lot to learn about making films, but that he stands unchallenged authority the of putting audiences where he wants them.
EVENTUALLY he relinquished control of his projectionist, and there ensued a total of perhaps fifty minutes of sequences from Wild 90, Beyond the Law, (Blue), and the feature-length Maid-stone, Because the sequences were so short, we decided to suspend final judgement on Mr. Mailer's films until we should see them in entirely. After the first few seconds of Wild 90, however, the impatient began to pass judgment on Mr. Mailer as film-maker.
Life on the High-WireBOOKS Mailer By Mary V. Dearborn Houghton Mifflin Co. 478 pp. $30 Life on the High-Wire By ERIK A. BEACH
Review of BooksAfter two trial runs last fall and this summer, The New York Review of Books has begun to publish bi-weekly:
Sober Mailer Cleans Up Act, Delivers SpeechIn sharp contrast to his last Harvard appearance, Norman Mailer '43, describing himself as "virtually stone sober", gave a lecture
Mailer's PentagonH ERE is Norman Mailer, peeling the skin off his own body, scraping the underside of his skin with pin
A Family PortraitThe American Radical as Type is still fair game for anyone who wants to write about American History without being
"Teach-In"To the Editors of the Summer News: After reading the account in the Harvard Summer News of the most recent