Norman Mailer Stabs Wife — New York City, 1960

“ Mailer went down into the street to fight…”

Adele Morales & Norman Mailer. Artnet

In November 1960 the heir to the throne of Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, had decided to enter the race for New York Mayor, and was intending to make an informal announcement during a 30th birthday party he was throwing for the Bronx born boxer Roger Donoghue. A press conference was planned for a day or two later to make a formal announcement: he was to put himself forward as the candidate who, in the words of George Plimpton, “…would represent the disenfranchised of the city.” Mailer’s wife, Adele Morales was none too happy about it.

The party was held in the Mailers 94th Street apartment, and was a packed affair, with over two-hundred guests, including the poet Allen Ginsberg, who had something of an altercation with the influential writer and editor Norman Podhoretz who’d told Ginsberg he’d never make it as a poet unless he left the ‘Beats’. Ginsberg lost his rag and started shouting at the influential editor. An increasingly inebriated Mailer intervened just in time to stop a fight (although Ginsberg always said he had no intention of getting violent); it was that sort of party.

As J. Michael Lennon writes in his biography of Mailer:

“ Scuffles kept breaking out as the party wore on. Larry Alson… remembers that people kept challenging Mailer to a fight. When book editor Jason Epstein arrived, Mailer tried to box with him. ‘I don’t know anything about boxing,’ Epstein said, ‘so I just held out my hand as if to make him go away. I didn’t touch him, and he fell over.’ ”

Jason and Barbara Epstein. The New York Review of Books

It would seem that Mailer went down into the street to fight several of the guests, with many more leaving before things got out of hand.

By three in the morning there were only twenty people left, people Mailer tried to separate into two groups: those who supported him and those that didn’t. Most elected to be part of the group who didn’t, including his wife Adele. Only his maid stayed ‘loyal’ — what choice did she have? Mailer, who was seriously drunk, now left the apartment and headed for the homes of those guests who had left, demanding from the pavement that they come out and fight him. They had the good sense not too of course. On his way back he encountered more departing guests, challenging them also to fight him. The following day the New York Daily Post columnist, Leonard Lyons, commented that “…the gifted writer needed psychiatric help”

When Mailer reached home around 4.40am, it would seem that a drunken Adele started taunting her husband about his desire to become mayor, a huge row ensued, and as Mailer, quoted in Lennon’s book, has written:

“ And finally, in a rage I took out my penknife and stuck it into her with the idea of, ‘Here, you think you’re tough, I’m tougher.’ It was madness. I was pretty drunk at the time and probably on pot. The idea was not to do her any damage, just give her a nick or two, you see? Damn it, if I didn’t nick her heart…”

Two remaining guests at the party then took Adele to their apartment and phoned a doctor they knew who arranged to get Adele to hospital.

The following day Mailer, with a couple of friends, visited Adele in hospital where he cried and tried to explain to her that he only did it “…because I love you, and to save you from cancer.” At which point Adele realised he was close to madness, that perhaps they were both close to madness.

Later in the day, after giving a TV interview about knife crime in New York, Mailer returned to the hospital where he was arrested.

The following morning he was taken to court, telling the waiting reporters he loved his wife, where the judge committed him to Bellevue Hospital for observation.

After some months in Bellevue, where he befriended several of the inmates, encouraging one to become a writer, Mailer, in early 1961, found himself in court again for sentencing, and, after discussions, pleaded guilty. The judge decided to delay sentencing for six months, “…I intend to gamble on you.” Mailer was, six months later, given a suspended sentence and three years’ probation.

In March 1961, with Adele recovering well, Mailer, at a party, met Lady Jeanne Campbell, the New York based reporter for the London Evening Standard. A new phase of Mailer’s life was about to start.

Norman Mailer stabbed Adele twice that night, once in the back, and then in the higher abdomen, with the short blade of the knife just crazing her heart. It could easily have killed her.

When she had fully recovered Adele would often show her large scar, a scar caused by the surgeon’s incision and not the penknife, which quickly gave rise to rumours that Mailer had stabbed his wife with a butchers knife.

Adele Morales was born in New York in 1925, and was a highly regarded painter in 1950s New York, moving in the bohemian circles of Greenwich Village: getting to know Mailer through her relationship with Jack Kerouac, and later, Edwin Fancher who, with Mailer and Dan Wolf, started The Village Voice. She was Norman Mailer’s second wife.

Mailer never became mayor of New York.

Adele Morales died in 2015. Norman Mailer died in 2007.

Mailer stepping down from a prison van 1960. Source NYmag

Read: Norman Mailer — American Writer

J Michael Lennon — Norman Mailer: A Double Life

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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