Born on Jan. 31, 1923, in Long Branch, New Jersey, Mailer decided to become a writer while attending Harvard University in the early 1940s. His best known literary work is probably the bestselling 1948 World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, though much was said about his fannish Marilyn, as he was accused of plagiarism by other Marilyn Monroe biographers.
Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Armies of the Night, a 1968 account of the peace march on the Pentagon, and twelve years later won another Pulitzer, for The Executioner’s Song, about the life and death of petty criminal Gary Gilmore.
Raoul Walsh directed the – reportedly bowdlerized – 1958 film adaptation (by Denis and Terry Sanders) of The Naked and the Dead, starring Cliff Robertson, Aldo Ray, and Raymond Massey, while Mailer’s An American Dream was turned into a 1966 movie (adapted by Mann Rubin), directed by Robert Gist, and starring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, and Eleanor Parker.
Mailer himself appeared in a handful of film productions, among them Milos Forman’s 1981 Ragtime, in which he played murder victim Stanford White. He also directed four movies, most notably the 1987 flop Tough Guys Don’t Dance, which he also adapted from his own novel, starring Ryan O’Neal and Isabella Rossellini.
While not writing books, Mailer befriended Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, wrote for The Village Voice, married six times, had nine children, ran for mayor of New York, stabbed his second wife at a party, feuded with Gore Vidal, bashed the women’s liberation movement, and was called a “male chauvinist pig” by Time magazine.
Actor Stephen Mailer and producer Michael Mailer are his sons.