Mickey Knox, December 17, 1963

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
December 17, 1963

Dear Mick,[1]

The Kennedy thing hit very hard here. Women were crying in the streets (mainly good-looking women), a lot of middle-aged Negroes looked sad and very worried, and then we all sat around in gloom and watched the television set for the next seventy-two hours. Altogether it was one of three events having something profoundly in common: Pearl Harbor Day and the death of Roosevelt being the other two. And the Ruby-Oswald stuff was just too much on top of it. I haven’t felt like writing a word about the whole thing, I’ve been too fucking depressed every which way. The main loss I think was a cultural one. Whether he wanted to or not Kennedy was giving a great boost to the arts, not because Jackie Kennedy was inviting Richard Wilbur[2] to the White House, but somehow the lid was off, and now I fear it’s going to be clamped on tight again.

As for Oswald and Ruby, I don’t know what was going on, but I don’t have the confidence we’ll ever know. I’d like to believe that the FBI had a sinister hand in all of this, but somehow I doubt it. I suspect the real story is that two lonely guys, all by themselves, put more grit in the gears than anyone ever succeeded in doing before, and it’s just a mess, a dull miserable mess.

The book[3] of course falls by the side in all of this, one of the million minor casualties. With Kennedy alive it was a good book, but with him dead, it’s just a curiosity, and somehow irritating in tone. I don’t even mind the loss of it in a funny way.

As for the movie piece,[4] there’s been a startling lack of interest in it, and no nibbles at all. I think if someone had five or ten million bucks, it could make a great movie. But I suspect it’s not going to be bought until something else I write is made into a movie and makes a lot of money. The trouble with it is that it’s not the sort of thing that can be done by an independent producer on a small budget because to be successful it would need epic treatment.

Which somehow brings up your remark about “intellectual adventurer.” I’d forgotten that you said it, but your mention of the fact brought it back to me, except that you mention it in an altogether different way, using the phrase approvingly. The character around Kennedy who said it was of course using the term spitefully.

As for the debt, I guess you’re right. I had of course not forgotten the cruel repayment I exacted by giving you that C.K. research project. Somehow I had the impression there was another debt. I realize now, thinking about it, that I’m dead wrong. So accept my apologies, old buddy. When you’re back, we can exchange wedding presents. Incidentally, I saw Joan[5] one night at the fights. She went with Roger and Faye[6] and I held up the other end because Beverly was tired that evening. We were sort of friendly but a bit cool, and she was kind of sweet, got tired early, and went home early. She said something about going back to Europe sooner than she originally thought she would. Who knows, she might even be missing you. As for the wedding itself, Roger was not excluding you. The only people present were Bev and me (because I was the best man) and a girl named Fifi Bergman who was bridesmaid for Faye. At the last moment Faye’s best friend and her boyfriend arrived from Pittsburgh, but it isn’t as if fifteen or twenty people arrived and you were passed by. That’s the truth, Mick. Roger’s really fond of you. I’ve never heard him say a really bad word about you. You’re right that Roger doesn’t have too much sympathy with my ideas, but then, what the hell, Roger was still taking his pitch from the Journal-American when I met him, and while I’ve had some influence on him I expect I’d be surprised if I had had a really large influence because we started from preconceptions which are too far apart.

The scene here is quiet. Much hard work for me and then more hard work. I’m plugging away on the serial and now have gotten through the third installment. It’s a pretty good book so far but I just hope and pray I can keep it up, because the strain is tremendous. It’s like being an old pro and fighting an eight-round fight when you’re not in the best of shape. Anyway, if I can bring it off, next year ought to be more relaxed.

I’m damn sorry you left when you did. It always takes us a couple of weeks to loosen up around each other and this time was a damn shame because I think we’re really getting to the point in our lives where our respective ears are getting better and we can listen more carefully to what each other has to say. The passing glimpses you’ve given of Yugoslavia are fascinating and if you get a chance, let me hear a little more of your impressions.

Love,
Norm
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Knox, one of Mailer’s closest friends, met Mailer in Hollywood in the summer of 1949, which Knox recalls in his memoir The Good, the Bad and The Dolce Vita. In the late 1960s, Knox acted in the dramatic version of Mailer’s 1955 novel, The Deer Park and two of Mailer’s experimental films.
  2. Mailer met the poet Richard Wilbur in Paris in 1948.
  3. The Presidential Papers dust jacket depicted Mailer sitting in a Kennedy-style rocking chair.
  4. The “movie piece” refers to Mailer’s desire to sell the screen rights to the novel to Hollywood, which he eventually did.
  5. Joan was Mickey’s third wife and the sister of Mailer’s second wife, Adele Morales.
  6. Mailer’s friend Roger Donoghue was a professional boxer in the 1950s and early 1960s. Mailer introduced him to his wife Faye Mowery in Provincetown.