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Sunday, 30 December 2007

First-Class Mailer

Chapter I: Norman Mailer at the Barricades
Bala Cynwyd, PA: -- Anyone who had ever met Norman Mailer, who died last month, has a searing memory of the author.He was that kind of man -- larger than life, a force of nature to contend with. And the last of the early-to-mid 20th century macho authors. Ernest Hemingway, Irwin Shaw, James Jones. In other words, the likes of which we'll never see again. My recollection of Mailer involves two occasions.

One, in the early 70s when he was running for New York City mayor. His sidekick at the time -- I don't remember what post he was seeking -- was Jimmy Breslin, another outsized character in New York journalism. 1.

The Mailer I remember most vividly was the one who addressed the anti-Vietnam war protesters in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago, during that infamous summer of the 1968 Democratic Convention. On television, Mailer was also 'debating' Gore Vidal, almost coming to blows.

I was in Chicago, teamed with Roberta Levine, as a reporter for The Washington Square Journal, the NYU daily. I was covering the anti-war protesters, later what became the 'police riot' in front of the hotel. Before that, speaker after speaker addressed the crowd. Mailer was amongst them.

'Chapter I,' he declared, segueing into an anti-war harangue. 'Chapter II,' he cried, continuing in that vein, cramming in as many 'chapters' as he could during a half hour or so. He was memorizing. More important, convincing.

If it weren't Mailer, it was surely Mayor Dick Daley' and his police 'pigs' who 'radicalised' me that August in Chicago. Moments after Mailer spoke, the police started throwing protesters through the Hilton's front pane windows, those facing Michigan Avenue. Others were clubbed.

I came away unscathed. I had positioned myself on the of a TV news van. From my perch, I saw the worst of it. And the best -- Mailer at his finest.

1. I met Breslin many years later for a day-long session in Worcester, MA, when he was Central Massachusetts, tending to his wife who was hospitalised in Newton, MA. That Breslin memory, of course, is another story.

-- Richard Carreño