Norman Mailer knew how to market himself

Norman Mailer was, in many respects, the first serious author who understood how to manipulate his image and enhance his fame in the age of electronic media. Though his first novel, the World War II masterpiece The Naked and the Dead, was a best-seller on its merits, it was Mailer’s subsequent subject matter (sex, violence, revolution, pop culture) and public persona (surly, antagonistic, broad-humored, womanizing, frequently out-of-control) that secured his stardom beyond The New York Times Book Review. He once stabbed his second wife and bit off a piece of actor Rip Torn’s ear during a brawl. Almost 40 years before Stephen Colbert’s presidential bid, Mailer ran for mayor of New York, placing fourth in 1969. When one of his books received bad reviews, he took out full-page ads noting that classics such as Moby Dick were also initially disliked. He once said, “Women should be kept in cages,” though he helped secure the release of a convicted felon whose book he’d championed for publication; the author, Jack Henry Abbott, then killed a man while out on parole. Norman Mailer lived and wasn’t afraid to share; he was—in an accurate application of a tired cliché—larger than life. That didn’t change when he died over the weekend at age 84.

—Posted by David Gianatasio