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Own of piece of literary history from Norman Mailer’s Brooklyn home.

April 27, 2011

Norman Mailer in the 1960s.

Norman Mailer’s fabulous Brooklyn Heights apartment is on the market at a cool $2.5 million, but if that’s too rich for you, cheer up: The contents will go on sale once the children have picked over them. Best of all, it’s a buyer’s market for memorobilia.

I use the word “fabulous,” not merely to connote “grand” or “extravagant,” but in its most literal sense. As The New York Times reports, Mailer remodeled the top-floor walk-up four decades ago to “resemble a jungle gym at sea.”

“The roof was raised and modeled after a crow’s nest on a ship, with a series of slender ladders leading up two flights, with landings and small rooms, resembling tiny galleys, on each level,” writes Times reporter Marc Santora.

The reason: Mailer, always deeply sensitive to matters of masculinity, felt a necessity to challenge his fear of heights.  When Mailer was young, a hammock hung from the rafters, a trapeze from the ceiling, while a rope ladder provided “a more adventurous way to scale the apartment.”

“He had a vertigo problem,” son Michael, a 47-year-old film producer. “So this was designed partially to conquer that fear.

Michael has lived in the apartment since the death of his mother, Norris Church Mailer, last year. She was Mailer’s sixth and last wife. Mailer died in 2007.

Michael would prefer to stay there, renting from his siblings — but with nine surviving children, he says, a sale is the fairest way to distribute the assets.

Needless to say, the house contains an enormous weight of  history. Mailer, of course, was one of the most important novelists, journalists and nonfiction writers in the post-World War II era, a time when a writer could still be at the heart of American culture. He knew everyone in literature, sports and politics, and even ran for mayor of New York in 1969.

Mailer wrote his Pulitzer Prize-winning “nonfiction novel” The Executioner’s Song in the apartment.

“It was a great party pad,” says Matthew Mailer, a 37-year-old screenwriter.

The guest list at one 1970s party, Michael recalls, included John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Hunter S. Thompson. In the morning Thompson was passed out in the hammock.

You can see photos of the apartment at the Huffington Post. An impressive dwelling it is, too, spacious, dramatic, packed with bookshelves and featuring an awesome view of Manhattan. I’m a little surprised by the living room in photo 2, stuffed with oversized furniture like a Victorian drawing room. But the rest of the space looks as modern as you please. The nautical touches are most visible in the latter photos.

It seems a shame this home should pass into private hands and closed, its contents dispersed to collectors. Maybe some philanthropist will step forward to open it to the public as a literary landmark. Not holding my breath.

If not, then Mailer’s library — minus the signed first editions — will go on sale, along with anything else not reserved by the children. Susan Mailer, the author’s oldest child, has already claimed the writing desk.

Other artifacts, according to the Brooklyn Paper,  include a 1960s-era juke box, African masks, an a button from Mailer’s 1969 campaign to become mayor of New York.

But the Brooklyn Paper turns to antiques dealer Rachel Leibowicz, who suggests the family has chosen to sell during a down market. At the moment, she says, everyone is selling, no one is buying.

“If you’re famous enough, part of the value is that alone,” Leibowicz said. “But I’m not sure how many young folks know about Mailer. I remember ‘Armies of the Night’ when I was in college — but that was a long time ago.”

So if you’re a Mailer fanatic, you may be able to get some tchotchke actually handled by your hero at a bargain price.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 12, 2014 11:52 am

    Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better!
    Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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