Norman Mailer, who died today in Manhattan, was perhaps an interviewer’s dream. One simple, even stupid question could elicit an answer of insight and eloquence, something that is rare in the programmed responses of today’s publicity mill, even among famous authors.
Memorials today will recall not just his literary high points, but his controversy and combat, as a regular guest on television talk shows, his coverage of the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions for Esquire and his fabled run for mayor of New York.
In 2004, director-writer James Toback interviewed Mailer for V Life, Variety’s consumer magazine, a philosophical exercise in which Mailer lamented the state of communication today.
An excerpt: “There is too much communication now…Mediocrity has prevailed. And all these new forms of communication often depress me rather than excite me. One reason is that I am too old to get into them. So part of it is spite. Annoyance that I’m off the board.”
And there was this great anecdote:
“I was interviewing (Henry Kissinger) over a period of time and we found an understanding. We didn’t agree on much but each could recognize the other’s strengths, put it that way. He is at his best when he gets slightly wicked, with a wicked grin, and he is telling you that he said something to somebody and then adds: ‘You know, Mailer, it had the additional virtue of being true.'”