The Executioner’s Song, Mailer’s third and most important collaboration with Lawrence Schiller, is published on 15 October, with excerpts appearing in Playboy, October-December. Based on over 15,000 pages of interviews, letters, media reports, legal and medical documents, this 1,056-page narrative tells the life story of Gary Gilmore, a Utah double murderer who fights to have his own execution carried out shortly after his conviction. He is executed by a firing squad in January 1977.
This “true-life novel,” as Mailer describes it, climbs to number three on the New York Times bestseller list in January 1980, and spends 25 weeks, all told, on the list, the longest period for all of his books save The Naked and the Dead. Joan Didion calls it, “an absolutely astonishing book” in her 7 October review in the New York Times Book Review. In early November, after a correspondence with him about prison life, Mailer meets convict Jack Henry Abbott, at the Marion Federal Penitentiary in Illinois. In December, The Executioner’s Song is nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and wins the Best Major Work in Fiction Award from Playboy.
“A Special Message to Subscribers from Norman Mailer.” One-page preface to limited, leather-bound edition of The Naked and the Dead. Franklin Center, Pa.: Franklin Library, $75. Signed by Mailer on the 30th anniversary of The Naked and the Dead (48.2). Illustrated by Alan E. Cober. In this 306-word preface, dated 1978, Mailer ponders the confidence of the 25-year old who wrote 48.2. See 98.6.
“Mailer on the ’70s—Decade of ‘Image, Skin Flicks and Porn.’” U.S. News and World Report, 10 December, 57-58. Essay. Summary of Mailer’s views on several topics: the 70s, journalism, technology, literary perspective and the blockbuster novel.
“Death, Taxes and Norman Mailer.” Article-interview by Adrianne Blue. Time Out (London), 7-13 December, 14-16; cover photograph of Mailer. Notable mainly for Mailer’s comment on 79.14 that “If I had it to do over again, I’d call it a true crime novel.”
“The Executioner’s Song.” Playboy, December, 176-77, 192, 196, 386, 370, 372, 374, 376, 382, 384, 386, 388, 390. Nonfiction narrative on Gary Gilmore. Illustrated by Marshall Arisman. Rpt: This third and final installment from The Executioner’s Song (79.14) is a much-compressed and edited version of Gilmore’s execution (chapters 30-40), appearing after 79.14 was published. Playboy gave this and the earlier two excerpts from 79.14 (79.10, 79.19) its annual award for best major work.
“Crime and Punishment: Gary Gilmore.” Interview by William F. Buckley Jr. and Jeff Greenfield. Firing Line, no. 390, December, 19 pp. Pamphlet consisting of a transcript of this interview, which took place in New York City on 11 October and was broadcast on PBS on 4 November. Mailer’s longest published interview on 79.14 touches on all the major issues surrounding it. Rpt: 88.6.
“Mailer on Gilmore’s Obsession with Life and Death.” Interview by Will Hearst. Los Angeles Herald Examiner, 25 November, Sec. A, p. 1, Sec. B, p. 8. Mailer reflects on 79.14 in this interview.
“The Books That Made Writers.” Symposium contribution. New York Times, 25 November, 7, 80-82. Twenty-two writers, including Mailer, Gabriel García Márquez, Joyce Carol Oates, Dr. Suess, Tom Wolfe, Malcolm Cowley and P.D. James, answer the question: “What book made you decide to become a writer and why?” Mailer names Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell, Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood, Jeffrey Farnol’s The Amateur Gentleman and the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Thomas Hardy. See 71.32.
“Mailer Elated after ‘Song.’” Article by unidentified writer for Newspaper Enterprise Association. (Council Bluffs, Iowa) Nonpareil, 22 November. Another report on Mailer’s two-part interview with Dick Cavett, 20 and 21 November, on 79.14. See 79.27.
“Mailer and a Monument to Death.” Article-interview by Philippa Toomey. (London) Times, 17 November, 14. On the book tour for 79.14, Mailer discusses Lawrence Schiller, his working schedule and American politics.