Sidney Offit: Memories of Norman Mailer
My memories of Norman Mailer drift back more than forty years to an evening we shared at one of the PEN cocktail parties. Held at the Pierre Hotel, these gatherings to honor writers with recently published books were most often identified as “receptions.” Norman arrived early because he knew John Dos Passos would be among the guests; and the Chute sisters, who were the presiding muses of PEN for many years and had gone out of their way to notify Norman and encourage him to join us.
“I don’t know why they summoned me here,” I recall Norman remarking with a grimace. “I admired The U.S.A trilogy, but I’m no fan of his later novels and current politics. Two drinks and I just might ruin the party.”
He didn’t. Before he excused himself to fulfill other promises, Norman briefly engaged Do Passos and managed to evoke the only smile, even laughter and a blush I observed from our distinguished guest that evening.
Years later, I fondly recall a conversation with Kurt Vonnegut and Mailer at a PEN event. Could it have been the Gala during the time Norman Mailer was our president? Kurt had announced to Mailer that I was his best friend. Without skipping a beat, Mailer clasped a hand to my shoulder and advised, “Don’t forget that, Sidney. It may be the greatest distinction of your literary life.”
During his term as president of PEN Norman seemed to regard me as an ally. He appointed me to the benefit committee and invited me to join him and Patty Bosworth when he made his pitch for a joint benefit with the Actors Studio.
Amony me treasures is Norman’s sketch of Madeleine Albright with his personal note reflecting his feelings about her politics. He also gave me a signed copy of The Executioner’s Song that I cherish, too, as souvenir of our friendship.
I mention these memories because my adventures as a member of PEN made this relationship possible. I’m sure Norman Mailer’s many friends, as well as admirers, at PEN join me in warmest sympathy to his family and devoted wife Norris.