Obituary: Adele Mailer
Writer Norman Mailer's second wife who chronicled their violent marriage in a salacious memoir
Published 29/11/2015 | 02:30
Adele Mailer, who died last Sunday aged 90, was the second of the American writer Norman Mailer's six wives - the one he stabbed at a party in 1960; this was her chief claim to fame until 1997 when she published a memoir, The Last Party, a lurid series of vignettes of their tumultuous years together.
Adele Morales was a 25-year-old New York party girl with dreams of becoming an actress or artist when, in the early hours of a morning in 1951, she was telephoned by a friend who invited her to come and meet Mailer.
Initially, she demurred, but then Mailer took the telephone. "He said he would love to meet me," she recalled. "He quoted some passage from F Scott Fitzgerald." Within an hour or so they were in bed together.
Mailer was 28 and struggling to re-establish his reputation as the bad boy of American literature. He had enormous success with his first novel, The Naked And The Dead in 1948, but his second novel, Barbary Shore (1951), had flopped and his first marriage was breaking up.
He found Adele Morales "primitive and elemental" and they were soon living together. They married in 1954, beginning what Adele described as "my trip into the light fantastic with a nice Jewish boy genius".
In The Deer Park (1955), the one novel Mailer wrote during their marriage, the character of Elena, "a girl who's composed of hurts and emotion and dirt and shining love", was clearly based on Adele.
But Mailer wanted to go out every night and Adele, nervous of his intellectual friends, could only cope by getting drunk or high. Within a few years she had become an alcoholic. Mailer was drinking too and using drugs, and their lifestyle soon began to take its toll on their relationship.
Mailer, who saw himself as a "sexual revolutionary", persuaded Adele to join in orgies, during one of which she recalled an infuriated husband stubbed out his cigarette on Mailer's "mechanically gyrating rear" with the words: "Mr Mailer, that's my wife you're having sex with."
Towards the end of 1960, Mailer conceived the unlikely idea of running for mayor of New York and arranged a party to launch his campaign on November 19, to which he invited not only the usual assortment of writers, sportsmen and celebrities, but prostitutes, pimps and winos he had picked up from the streets.
It was a disaster from the start. Mailer was soon roaring drunk and challenging people to fight. By four in the morning, there was hardly anyone left and he was covered in blood and had a black eye. "He charged into the living room like a crazed bull, looking for anyone, anything on which to vent his psychic pain and rage," Adele recalled.
She goaded him, shouting: "Where's your cojones?" He rushed at her with a dirty penknife, stabbing her close to the heart and several times in her back. Eventually someone called an ambulance - Adele Mailer was on the critical list in intensive care for three weeks.
Nearly all of Mailer's friends blamed Adele and in the literary world, his violence only seemed to enhance his literary cachet, providing proof of his tortured genius. Mailer himself played up to this useful narrative: "I came in contact for the first time in my life with the depths of my own rage," he said later. He even published a one-sentence poem, Rainy Afternoon With The Wife: "So long as you use a knife, there's some love left."
Psychiatrists concluded that Mailer was a paranoid schizophrenic with homicidal and suicidal tendencies. Eventually, however, he was deemed fit to stand trial, but Adele had been persuaded by Mailer's friends not to give evidence against him and in the end he got five years' probation.
Amazingly, she went back to him, only to find that he had begun an affair with Lady Jeanne Campbell, daughter of the 11th Duke of Argyll, who would become his third wife. After a few more unhappy months, Adele finally left and got a divorce.
Adele Carolyn Morales was born on June 12, 1925 in Brooklyn to a mother of Spanish descent and a Peruvian-born father. After education at Washington Irving High School she earned a living making papier-mâché models for shop windows, took art classes and threw herself into the bohemian life of Greenwich Village.
Before meeting Mailer she had an affair with, among others, Jack Kerouac (he was "nothing to write home about").
In her memoir, Adele was sketchy about her life after the break-up of her marriage to Mailer. She spent many years drinking, until she eventually plucked up the courage to become teetotal.
She spent a good deal of time in therapy and tried again to make it as an actress or artist. When she did find paid employment, however, it seems that it was as a shop assistant. She ended up living in an Upper East Side tenement.
Adele Mailer is survived by her two daughters.