1948

On 6 May The Naked and the Dead is published. It tops the New York Times best seller list for 11 straight weeks during the spring and summer, and remains on the list for a total of 61 weeks, including 19 in the top position and 43 in the top five. The novel is nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the Gutenberg Award, and the Associated Press names Mailer “Man of the Year” in literature.

Naked & Dead Cover (1948)

Mailer returns from Europe on 20 July to meet with Lillian Hellman, who was interested in turning Naked  into a play, and to campaign for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace, making 20 speeches in New York and California. After the election, Mailer and Bea move to a rented house in Jamaica, VT where they live from 7 January to 7 May.

NM and Beatrice Silverman (1948)

in Days | 128 Words

48.13

“Books I Have Liked.” Preference poll of 40 well-known writers concerning their recent reading. New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, 5 December. Mailer lists three books: The Castle by Franz Kafka; Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser; and Howards End by E.M. Forster. Seven of the 40 polled—Bartley Crum, James Hilton, Richard Lauterbach, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Match, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Irwin Shaw—named The Naked and the Dead (48.2). Only two other titles came close: Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and Robert E. Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, both with five votes. The effusive praise of Sinclair Lewis for the novel, given in an interview with Sylvia B. Richmond (Chelsea [Mass.] Record, 2 October, 5), is worth quoting in its entirety:

Speaking of newcomers in the field—one of the greatest writers of today is young Norman Mailer, author of The Naked and the Dead—an amazing bit of writing. That boy has talent worth preserving. His writing has great sweep and an enormous scope. There’s nothing petty about Mailer—he’s the author of the hour—the greatest writer to come out of his generation.

Advertisements for Mailer’s books carried this last phrase for many years. Mailer received the same kind of accolade in the New York Times, also on 5 December. Emmett Dedmon (Chicago Sun-Times), Lewis Gannett (New Herald Tribune), John Henry Jackson (San Francisco Chronicle), Sterling North (New York Post), Charles Poore (New York Times), Fredric Melcher (Publishers’ Weekly), Orville Prescott (New York Times), Charles Rolo (Atlantic), and Karl Schriftgiesser (Newsweek) all listed the book as one of the top 10 books of the year. Jacques Barzun (Harper’s), Norman Cousins (Saturday Review) and Lon Tinkle (Dallas News) did not. The 13 December Newsweek listed 48.2 as one of the top four books of the year, along with Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm and Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.

The attack on Mailer in Life (16 August) is also worth mentioning as a harbinger of 50 years of preponderantly negative reviews from the Time-Life organization. In a full-page editorial, Mailer was criticized for “slumming” in 48.2, for presenting an America in the “Time Machine” portions of the novel “just as ugly, arid, boring and uncomfortable as a jungle campaign.” Mailer, the editorial continues, “seems to tell us…that such purposes as marrying and procreating and raising a family or mastering an art or a profession or building a business or beating the Japs are without value to anybody now living.” The novel was later referred to in a Life editorial (16 April 1951) as “insidious slime.” Mailer was immensely pleased when his third wife, Lady Jeanne Campbell, Henry Luce’s quondam mistress, told him that Luce “suffered a bit” when he learned of her relationship with Mailer. See 13.2, 295.

48.12

“Rugged Times.” Article-interview [by Lillian Ross]. New Yorker, 23 October, 25. Mailer discusses the Wallace campaign, and 48.2, which he says “offers a good deal of hope.” According to Mailer, “propositions” should be “proportions” in penultimate sentence. Contains comment on 48.2 repeated from 48.8. The interview marked the beginning of Mailer’s lifelong friendship with Lillian Ross. Rpt: 88.6.

48.11

“A Credo for the Living.” National Guardian, 18 October. Article dealing with postwar Europe, anti-Russian hysteria in the U.S., and the 1948 Henry Wallace campaign. See 48.9, 74.20. See Cedric Belfrage and James Aronson, Something to Guard: The Stormy Life of the National Guardian. New York: Columbia University Press, 1978. Rpt: 13.1.

48.10

“Political Freedom for Teachers Urged.” Article by unidentified writer. New York Times, 11 October, 25. At a New York rally under the auspices of the National Council of the Arts, Sciences and Professions to hear appeals for the preservation of political freedom in education, Mailer, W.E.B. DuBois and Harlow Shapley were among the speakers. Mailer: “It is a truism that fascism cannot come to America if our colleges and universities remain free.” An advertisement for this event appeared in the New York Star, 5 October 1948, and listed Mailer first among the announced speakers, followed by F.O. Matthiessen, Shirley Graham, Louis Untermeyer, Howard Fast, and Philip Van Doren.

48.9

“Do Professors Have Rights?” New York Post, 8 October, 5, 34. Article on Indiana professor who was dismissed for his association with 1948 presidential candidate Henry Wallace. Mailer campaigned for Wallace upon his return from France on 21 July. See 48.11, 74.20, MDL, 119-13.

48.8

“Norman Mailer.” In Current Biography, edited by Anna Rothe, 408-10. New York: H.W. Wilson, October. Profile of Mailer; quotes from 48.3, 48.6, 48.7 and a Rinehart press release.

48.7

The Naked Are Fanatics and the Dead Don’t Care.” Article-interview by Louise Levitas. New York Star, 22 August, Sec. M, pp. 3-5. Shortly after returning from Europe, Mailer discusses how he used his Army experience for 48.2, and the “growing hysteria” about a war with Russia. Longest interview given by Mailer until 1955. Accompanied by excerpt from 48.2. Rpt: 88.6.

48.6

“Wonder Boy Novelist.” Article-interview by Horace Sutton. Cue, 21 August, 17. Focuses on the success of 48.2. See 48.8.

48-6

Norman Mailer . . .Wonder Boy Novelist

Norman Mailer is five feet, eight and one half inches tall, weighs 140 pounds, is twenty-five years old and has $40,000. He ran up this bank account writing a book called “The Naked and the Dead” which is expected to sell over 100,000 copies this year, and nobody knows how many more in the years to come. The book, Mr. Mailer’s first, is a big, tough, cynical, startling novel about the war which has been acclaimed, not only as a tremendous first novel and a startling product for a twenty-five-year old, but as one of the best books to come out of World War II — comparable to Dos Passos’, Hemingway’s and Remarque’s World War I novels.

Of his sudden success, small, dark, earnest Norman Mailer who was born in Brooklyn, has been a soda jerk, a Harvard student, and a soldier, says with some bewilderment, “It gives you a fantastic security. If I keep on living in the manner to which I’ve been accustomed, the money would probably last for fifteen or twenty years. If I live according to my present scale, it would last a day and a half.” Besides the book rights, Mr. Mailer will also profit from an adaptation which Lillian Hellman (distinguished author of such titans of the theatre as “The Children’s Hour,” “The Little Foxes,” “Watch On the Rhine,” “Another Part of the Forest”) is preparing for the stage. It is scheduled to appear in February.

It was Miss Hellman’s interest in his book that brought Mailer and his twenty-six-year-old wife, Bea, home from Paris a few days ago. Norman was studying on the GI bill and writing a new novel. Working at what he calls “a dirty gray heat,” Mailer loved Paris but found it a difficult place to work. “It was like a Chekhov comedy,” he says, “Everyone stood around doing nothing and said ‘Gee! I have to do some work this afternoon!’ ”

Although criticisms and reviews affect Mailer deeply, reviewers in the flesh fail to faze him. At a cocktail party given him by his publishers, to which the New York press was invited, Mailer arrived coatless and tieless, wearing a faded tan sports shirt, baggy pants, and scuffed shoes. He looked as if he had just run over from a stickball game on Avenue A. But speaking in educated tones he quickly took up Lewis Gannett of the Herald Tribune for a discrepancy in the critic’s review. He was sick, he said, over the piece written by Robert Ruark about the book. The novel carries a strong anti-war message which the author believes should be obvious to any intelligent reader but Ruark wrote that after reading “The Naked and the Dead” all the young men of draft age could march happily into the Army. “My first reaction,” Mailer said, “was that I never wanted to write again, it seemed so futile, so silly. I might as well spend my time doodling.”

Mailer graduated from Harvard, class of ’43. He majored in engineering science because “if you wanted to write and you majored in English lit, you majored in English lit instead of writing.”

If he had a couple of hundred thousand dollars instead of forty thousand, Mailer might like to try making his own movie. On the other hand, he isn’t particularly interested in selling his first book to the movies, because that would just bring him more money and he doesn’t know how to spend what he’s got. He thinks he and Bea will just take a place up in New England where they can write and ski. “Her idea is to go out and buy a new dress. Me? Damned, if I know. I might go and buy a camera.” But it’s much more apt to be a typewriter. —Horace Sutton

48.5

“People Who Read and Write.” Article-interview by unidentified writer. New York Times Book Review, 15 August, 8. Mailer is quoted in this book chat piece on the success of 48.2.