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Before the Literary Bar

MAILER: It is Marilyn Monroe’s unrecorded years in Hollywood. They must make up a large-size bag of foul encounters and small ruthless impulses that wakened in her one by one. In later years, I believe they were like a psychic cyst within her. Memories so bad cannot be called upon. It is exactly the memories we cannot face that destroy us. We are always carrying them uphill.

DEFENSE: So you felt it was fair to invent this extraordinary episode at the home of Bobby de P.?

MAILER: Yes. Fair to the reader, that is I wanted the reader to be jarred into comprehension of the size and spectrum of a movie star’s soul. There is more to a movie star than we think, not less. I wanted to deepen the legend of Marilyn Monroe, not sweeten it. I thought it would be better for our comprehension of many things if we understood that art comes out of more contracts than are written, and the artist’s inner negotiations with evil are often as comprehensive as the generosity of the artistic offering. So I do not think I was unfair to her at large. I expect the total of the little horrors she committed in those years would equal the one large horror I gave her. But whether I caught the taste and tone of her personality by that episode, or lost the flavor of her voice for a little while, is another matter.

DEFENSE: We rest.

THE COURT: A question. How would you feel, Mr. Mailer, if some other author were to characterize you in such extreme fashion after your death? Let me say I do not wish to rush that occasion. Still, how do you think you would feel?

MAILER: Your Honor, I have already been characterized in many books as if I were dead. Jacqueline Susann, from what I am told, depicted me as the improbable and repulsive villain of one of her novels. Mario Puzo once portrayed me as a fat man who smoked cigars and strangled a poodle with his bare hands on an airplane. That sounds more like a description of Puzo than myself. I also resent what Puzo’s fiction had me doing. I owned a standard poodle once, and he was a great dog and lived to be eighteen years old. I do not go around killing poodles. Another writer gave one of his characters my name, literally!, and then had him drop his pants obediently at gunpoint, for which compliance, he—I should say I—was shot in the anus and killed. There have been other such portraits. I do not say that because I have been, on occasion, poorly treated in print I have a right, therefore, to distort Marilyn Monroe’s life. I say, rather, that I think uneasily of her opinion, and I hope she accepts, wherever she is, the equation I drew between her many lost episodes and the single one I gave her. For if I have been unfair to her, as I believe those authors have been unfair to me, then I must shift uncomfortably before any bar of judgment, since I know how deep is the contempt I hold for authors who would write about me and yet do not have the imagination to come up with some equivalent of my life that may be extreme but is fair. I would not like to think Miss Monroe feels an equal contempt for me. I guess that is all.

DEFENSE: Can we ask for an immediate verdict of exoneration?

THE COURT: Some might think your client lucky to escape hanging. I am going to take this under advisement. There is a lot to mull over here, and I am hardly going to let you off on the spot. I will say that I have read the book and consider it a serious enough work to give Mr. Mailer a fair opportunity of avoiding outright censure. But there is no escaping the conclusion that what he has done is downright dangerous. He almost certainly will be reprimanded for making up false and sordid episodes concerning public figures. What if a lot of bad authors were to act as Mr. Mailer has?

DEFENSE: They have, Your Honor. Ever since Gutenberg.

THE COURT: Well, I’m going to have to live with this for a while. Let me tell you that once again Mr. Mailer has done his best to take over my weekend. I’m going to close this court for now.

[Adjournment]


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