A Pulitzer Prize Winning Novelist
Rebel, anarchist, political activist and a troubled man, according to several detractors and even cohorts, Norman Kingsley Mailer was always a controversial figure with an immense ego. In 1969, the same year he ran for the mayoralty of New York City and engaged in some public fisticuffs, he won his first Pulitzer Prize for The Armies of the Night. He won his second eleven years later for The Executioner’s Song.
When Marilyn was twenty years old, Mailer and Arthur Miller lived in the same brownstone in Brooklyn. The novelist claimed, while he fashioned The Naked and the Dead in his apartment, the playwright fashioned Death of a Salesman in his; and Marilyn, in 1946, unknown to either man, began her Hollywood career.
Acquaintances by proximity, Mailer and Miller chatted when they occasionally encountered each other; but a decade would pass before the Hourglass and the Egghead wed in White Plains, New York, and established themselves as newlyweds on the Egghead’s farm in Roxbury, Connecticut. Thus, the Millers and the Mailers were Connecticut neighbors and in one respect at least, the two writers were more than just neighbors or literary rivals: Mailer intended to purloin the playwright’s Hollywood woman.
The novelist wanted desperately to meet the world’s most famous actress and movie star; so with trepidation, Miller the playwright invited Mailer the novelist along with his woman to Roxbury for a drink and a formal introduction to Marilyn Monroe. But when the Mailers arrived, Marilyn was missing. Acting as Marilyn’s proxy, Arthur offered her sincere regrets: she had pressing business in New York City, he informed his guests. In fact, Marilyn was upstairs hiding. Apparently, she was not interested in meeting Norman Mailer; so unfortunately for him, he never actually met nor actually knew his sweet angel of sex and the silver witch of us all. Perhaps that slight by his most famous and beautiful neighbor scarred Mailer for the remainder of his life and motivated him to write about her in the dubious manner that he did, prompted him to write Marilyn: A Biography and Strawhead and Of Women and Their Elegance.
An interesting mishmash of cleverly worded accusation, conjecture, hyperbole and contradiction, Marilyn: A Biography was published in 1973, nine years after the publication of Capell’s pamphlet and one decade plus one year after Marilyn’s death. Specifically for this work of mostly fiction, opinion and ruminant sexual fixation, Mailer coined the neologism, factoid. Factoids, according to Mailer, are facts which do not even exist before they ap-pear in print, in a newspaper or a magazine, for instance; but by virtue of appearing in print, factoids become facts. Factoids are literary creations, manipulative contrivances designed to evoke an emotional response from the Silent Majority. In an article written for TIME in April of 2014, Paul Dickson provided a much more accurate definition than the attribution by Mailer: a factoid is information which becomes accepted as a fact even though it’s not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print. Factoids are, in fact, lies; and calling Norman Mailer’s book a biography is, in and of itself, a factoid.1
Bravely refocusing and slightly reshaping Maurice Ries’ story and Frank Capell’s murder theory, Mailer clearly asserted that the movie star and the attorney general, along with the president, were lovers; and as a result thereof, Mailer posited, the middle Kennedy brother’s political futures balanced precariously on the life, but even more so on the death, of Marilyn Monroe. In consideration thereof, and in Mailer’s unchallenged opinion, a novelist was entitled to speculate about a motive to commit murder. Mailer then suggested, due to the attorney general’s romantic and sexual involvement with Marilyn, he might have had a motive for ordering her murder. Mailer then expanded his motive for murder speculations: perhaps disgruntled intelligence agents assassinated the blonde sex symbol with designs on framing the attorney general as punishment for his many unpunished transgressions. Then, if the men who maybe had an interest in manipulating the Kennedys, murdered Marilyn or had her murdered in such a way as to appear a suicide in despair at the turn of her love, what a point of pressure could be maintained afterward against them. Perhaps even the Russian Secret Police were also involved, Mailer opined. And yet, in the next sentence, the novelist offered this: Of course, it is another matter to find that evidence exists. Then Mailer added, with a certain nonchalance: There seems next to nothing of such evidence. In short, Mailer did not offer his readers evidence or facts. None existed by his own admission. He then offered his readers one of the most inventive examples of simultaneous understatement and overstatement in modern American literature: Marilyn had been murdered by the middle Kennedy brothers, not because of their sexual relationships with her, but because of their sexual relationships with a woman who had once been married to an acknowledged supporter of Communist movements, the left leaning playwright and Mailer’s former neighbor, Arthur Miller. Considering some of the women with whom John Kennedy was allegedly involved, prostitutes, East German spies and the mistress of Sam Giancana, Mailer’s assertion stands as a testament to the ludicrous nature of the entire Kennedy confect and fallacy.
If Mailer felt entitled to speculate about a motive for Marilyn’s murder, are we not entitled to speculate about Mailer’s motive for speculating? But then, we need not speculate. We know why he offered conjecture and factoids in the place of actual facts: for good copy: for financial gain. At the time, Mailer was saddled with outrageously large alimony and child support payments due to a recent divorce and a large family; he had to support his ex-wife and seven children; he needed a best-selling, financially successful book; he desperately needed money. So, he eagerly transported Dorothy Kilgallen’s gossip, Ries’s unfounded tale and Capell’s unsub-stantiated theory, all that juicy gossip and salacious innuendo, into the fuzzy realm of his factoidal biography.
During a 60 Minutes broadcast that aired on July the 13th in 1973, Mike Wallace conducted an interview with Mailer and questioned his factoids. The biographical novelist admitted and confessed that: 1) Marilyn’s death was, in all probability, an accidental suicide; 2) he linked Marilyn and Robert Kennedy romantically because he desperately needed money; and 3) despite his recently published book, Mailer himself did not even believe what he had written. He did not even believe that Marilyn and Robert Kennedy were romantically involved. Believe it or not, Mailer even included among his factoids an actual fact: Marilyn denied any involvement at all with Robert Kennedy. I like him, Mailer quoted her as reporting to close friend, masseur and confidant, Ralph Roberts, but not physically. Then Mailer promptly dismissed her statement as a probable lie. Even so, Mailer offered an admirable defense of Robert Kennedy as a man. Unlike his brother John, Robert would not have entered into such an affair: If the thousand days of Jack Kennedy might yet be equally famous for its nights, Mailer asserted, the same cannot be said of Bobby. He was devout, well married, and prudent. The vacillations and course alterations within the pages of Mailer’s biographical novel are constant and abrupt and tend to make a fellow dizzy with consternation.
On May the 22nd in 1974, Norman Mailer appeared on The Tonight Show in order to plug his new book publication, The Fate of Graffiti.2During that interview by Johnny Carson, the award-winning novelist become graffiti analyst mentioned his factoidal literary effort, Marilyn: A Biography. Mailer admitted that he failed to properly investigate Marilyn’s death because he was writing under pressure. Carson then reminded Mailer that he received heavy criticism there since he did a superficial job. Mailer admitted that his Marilyn effort was a superficial job and I didn’t do it to make a quick buck but it was a superficial job […].3Yet again, Mailer simply lied about his motivation.
Mailer’s confessions, however, did not end on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace or on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, did not end with an admission that a need for money motivated him to fabricate a romance between Marilyn and Robert Kennedy or that he did an inadequate investigative job. In an interview conducted by Marilyn biographer, Randy Taraborrelli, Mailer went even further and admitted that he was not proud of his fictional murder theory: Not my best work and not my best research, Mailer admitted to Taraborrelli and then added: In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have allowed its publication (Taraborrelli 488). As Donald Spoto correctly noted in his 1993 Marilyn biography, Mailer translated Dorothy Kilgallen’s gossip and innuendo into the realm of fantasia with his suggestion that the attorney general might have been involved in Marilyn’s death or even that government intelligence agents might have killed her in an attempt to frame the attorney general (Spoto 603). The name of Robert Kennedy used in connection with Marilyn’s name and her death virtually guaranteed that Mailer’s book would be a bestseller; and it was.
Even the FBI became interested in Mailer’s theory and accusations that agents from America’s intelligence community murdered Marilyn in order to place Robert Kennedy in a gilded frame. A memorandum fragment about Mailer and Capell appeared in a group of thirty-one declassified FBI files regarding Marilyn. Briefly, the memorandum, written to Mr. E. S. Miller, noted Mailer’s admission that his accusations were baseless, that he relied on writer’s instinct and on speculation. This interesting document will reappear in later sections regarding both the intelligence MOB and the criminal MOB.
Mailer acknowledged Capell’s The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe in the final paragraph of his book; but the novelist dismissed the pamphlet as apocalyptic, both unlikely and surrealistic, the metamorphosis required to shift from left-winger to a murdering agent of the Soviet’s Secret Police much too extreme. Is it not plausible and reasonable to contend, therefore, that Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, devout, well married, and prudent, would likewise need to undergo an extreme and surrealistic metamorphosis in order to become Robert Kennedy the murderer, regardless of what his actual involvement might have been, whether direct or accessory?
In an attempt to define, defend, otherwise explain and excuse his fraudulent construct about Marilyn Monroe, Mailer spun one of his rhetorical whirligigs in which he announced that Marilyn’s elusive nature could only be defined and captured by a vainglorious novel presented as a biography. Such a corruption was acceptable to Mailer because if his instincts were good and he successfully exercised his literary skills, then he would have created a hypothetical, a literary, a Marilyn Monroe of possibility, one who could have lived and one who could have fit most of the known facts regarding what and who she actually was; but if future facts uncovered about the supremely elusive Miss Monroe contradicted Mailer’s confection, so what? Such a novel biographical novel would certainly satisfy his basic, elemental concept, that the acquisition of knowledge for a literary man was best achieved in those imaginative acts of appropriation picked up by the disciplined exercise of one’s skill (Mailer KE:I). Quite possibly the preceding was and still remains the single most convoluted and complex rationalization for telling lies ever written.
Thus, he aimed for a literary hypothesis of a Marilyn Monroe that was possible by rendering some factoidal ma-gic; and this despite his professed prohibition against invention. And yet, by his own admission, he certainly invented stuff, which was acceptable as long as he underlined his speculations, which, of course, Mailer did not do. Then in one of his characteristic about face admissions combined with his personal approval, he admitted to writing a story that could never be anything but fictional since within his text, he would ideate, even fantasize about the interior of many strangled and silent lives; and with the sanction of a novelist, him, Mailer focused his imagination upon the unspoken impulses of his real characters and thereby rendered them fictional. Of what value, then, his overwrought lavender prose and literary intrigues in establishing the facts, the truth about Mari-lyn’s life or her death? Mailer’s Marilyn: A Biography amounts to a writer’s sanctioned fabrication and is, in fact, filled to the brim with factoids, and by definition, filled to the brim with lies.4
But in order to be reasonably fair to Mailer, I must note that in the 1975 paperback version of his factoidal Marilyn biography, Mailer appended a chapter in which he admitted to using the incomplete story of Marilyn’s death, admitted to using conjecture and inaccuracy. Mailer’s confession in 1975 fell well short of actual truthfulness, however: he simply lied for financial gain.
In the opinion of gonzo journalist and author, John Gilmore, Mailer represented the least reliable of Marilyn’s biographers. Gilmore also claimed that he enjoyed a relationship with the actress, the flavor of which was strictly platonic and resulted in a memoir pertaining thereto entitled, Inside Marilyn Monroe, published in 2007. During an interview featured in that memoir, Gilmore asserted: Norman Mailer is perhaps the worst of the lot, the originator of the “Let’s trash Marilyn for a fast-buck profit” scenario. Which of course Mailer admitted publically. […] There are many others in the line; in fact, most every biography on Marilyn is part baloney sandwich peppered gingerly with so-called invention.5
So, all things considered, an important question must be asked: was his publisher unaware of Mailer’s dishonesty as the celebrated novelist pushed various nouns against various verbs? And despite his better-late-than-never-admissions, even to this day, his conjecturing and rumoring remain on the leaves of his still-for-sale dubitable tome. Perhaps Mailer’s publisher was, and remains, simply unconcerned: what did, and what does it matter if Mailer lied? Personal integrity notwithstanding, neither writer nor his duplicitous publisher faced little if any legal repercussions, or other reprisals, had Mailer actually accused Robert Kennedy of murdering Marilyn. By the time Mailer published his novel biographical novel, Robert Kennedy had been dead for five years, John Kennedy for ten and Marilyn for eleven. The matriarch of the Kennedy family, Joe Senior, perhaps the only Kennedy that might have considered seeking an injunction to stop Mailer’s publication, had the senior Kennedy not suffered his debilitating stroke, had died in 1969. Still and all, the damage done to the memories of both Marilyn Monroe and Robert Kennedy by Mailer’s fictionalized, fraudulent account of romance and murder cannot be exaggerated; but intrigue established, Dorothy Kilgallen’s kindling achieved ignition. And so it smoldered like a back draft just waiting to be oxygenated by Robert F. Slatzer and Jeanne Laverne Carmen.