“Come on, you little faggot, where’s your cojones.” It was 4:30 a.m., and a drunken Adele Morales Mailer was berating her drunken husband at their own party for once more playing the belligerent fool in front of the literary Establishment. His shirt already torn and his eyes wild, Norman whipped out a penknife with a two-and-half-inch blade and stabbed her.
That fall of 1960, the barrel-chested writer and provocateur had hatched the idea that he should run for New York City mayor, despite a recent arrest after he hailed a police cruiser as if it were a taxi. Mailer planned to form a coalition consisting of a newly mobilized mass of “the disenfranchised”—criminals, Bowery bums, hipsters—and the city’s elite. Having infamously celebrated the “courage” of hoodlums in the essay “The White Negro,” he was unlikely to win the up-the-middle voter anyway.
For a November 19 party to kick off the candidacy, Mailer rounded up the disenfranchised—many of them homeless people—and enlisted George Plimpton to gather the “power structure.” The results weren’t enough for Mailer, who was expecting at least a Rockefeller. He challenged Plimpton and several others to fight as the night went south, with a hostile, ragtag crowd setting the tone.
High-level literary types who witnessed the stabbing got Adele safely to University Hospital for surgery. Mailer had punctured her cardiac sac. Yet nearly everyone in the know, women included, immediately focused on Norman’s fate rather than Adele’s. He was One of Us—an intellectual, not a criminal—and after all, he was three sheets to the wind. Surely this could all be worked out privately. After hiding out for a day, Mailer appeared as scheduled, incredibly, on Mike Wallace’s morning TV show and spoke strangely of the sword as a symbol of manhood.
Much of Mailer’s coterie thought that the stabbing “would be the end of Norman,” as one friend said, but in the end he got off lightly, with the law and his peers. Years later, he marveled in this magazine at his reception at a party within a week or two of the crime. “Five degrees less warmth than I was accustomed to. Not fifteen degrees less—five.”