Home » Curmudgeon » JEAN SHEPHERD-Down Norman Mailer’s Way–Again!

JEAN SHEPHERD-Down Norman Mailer’s Way–Again!


I remember one time talking to Norman Mailer who I used to see somewhat–a few years back, and Mailer said, “Don’t count on any close friends of yours or people around you to ever read anything you write.” He said, “Knowing an author personally makes people think you can’t write.”

That quote above is one more instance of Shepherd commenting on his having known Norman Mailer (They both wrote for the early Village Voice, and Shepherd said they’d sometimes meet down at the Voice offices in the Village. Mailer was also one of the Voice‘s founders. When I’d interviewed Mailer by mail for my first Shep book, he at first said he didn’t think he’d met Shep, then corrected himself saying he only vaguely remembered him. I’ve always been curious as to what their relationship was and what caused Shep to dislike Mailer and Mailer to only “vaguely” remember Shepherd.) I’ve previously written about all the many times Shepherd disparaged Norman Mailer on the air. Here are more–and maybe the last of them I choose to post!-

All the intellectuals went on a cruise to listen to Norman Mailer complain about how he was sick. …I still have an invitation to Norman Mailer’s fiftieth birthday, which only ranks with Mike Todd’s birthday as the great ripoff of our time. (August 3, 1975) 

Regarding the foregoing, note that indeed Mailer did charge admission to attend his birthday party that he himself had orchestrated.  At the time, more than one person disparaged this.  And in the following, remember that during the 1960s, Shepherd more than once had criticized what he considered the overly naive attitudes of many youths during this turbulent era.  He mentioned peace demonstrators such as Joan Baez, who questioned how one can have a sense of humor with all the problems in the world:

Ah, come on!  The world has always been in crisis.  It has never once stopped being in crisis.  Speaking of humorous people—poor old Norman Mailer.  Have you ever had the feeling that Norman Mailer [laughs as he says name] pours stuff out of a lead mold?  And it’s a lead mold that he’s somehow having trouble with—there’s a kind of gangrenous growth around the edges of it.  Totally un-humorous.  James Baldwin has no humor whatsoever.  His play—no humor at all….And yet, strangely enough, both sides are extremely funny to me.  Now why is that?  Why do I find Norman Mailer side-splittingly funny?  I can’t help it.  Every time I see Mailer glaring out—Mailer the architect, Mailer the dreamer, Mailer the great man, Mailer the god—wherever I look [laughs] I find him excruciatingly funny. (April 1965)

Regarding shedding a tear about the disappearance of the Great North Woods north of Minneapolis:

Norman Mailer would not shed a tear—but he will shed a tear over the passing of boxing.  He’ll get all upset—that the Queen Mary is gone—or some other cockamamie bit like that.  (September 1, 1967)

mailer boxing gloves

Have a little fistfight with Norman Mailer—and his eighteen friends, the middleweight contenders.  Have you ever noticed that all fist-fighters, all boxers today, want to be writers, and all writers want to be boxers.  It’s always thus.  Every man should stick to his last.  You’d get a fat nose, Normy. (August 3, 1968)

mailer boxing a lightbulb

Ian McEwan is quoted as having said

regarding Mailer:

“Boxing and writing were wonderfully

confused in his mind.”

Shepherd seemed to explore every variation he could think of to stick it to him, including Mailer’s penchant for aggression and bravery as part of his literary life—Shep probably felt that disparaging his writing would be the best way to upset poor Normy:

He’s read a couple of novels by Mailer.  Can you imagine what would happen if your idea of what America is like was by reading novels by James Baldwin and Norman Mailer and going to see Doris Day movies?  Wouldn’t that be a fantasyland of—really like Walt Disney! (June 1966)

I do feel very sorry for people who are completely hung up with examining and reexamining their own navel.  This is one of the reasons why I—I’m totally bored by so many writers who have that problem going.  Like I can’t get past the third page of Philip Roth.  Norman Mailer bores me.  Just bores the life out of me.  And I know I’m going to get thousands of letters from people who say “sour grapes—you’re a writer.”  No.  I’m just telling you the truth.  I find this view of life where, “it’s all essentially a plot that’s all bad news, and if there were only more like me—us, the sensitive people.”  I just find that not only boring, but I also find it vaguely repellent.  (March 27, 1971)

The following is the beginning of Shepherd’s humorous article titled “all hail the sovereign duchy of nieuw amsterdamme!”  Understand that although Mailer’s running for mayor in 1969 was true, this article is written tongue in cheek.

In his recent and abortive campaign for the mayoralty of the city of New York, the honorable Norman Mailer proved once again that his thinking, though often well intentioned, is nonetheless pitifully deficient in scope.  While not without merit, his plan to turn New York City into a separate State of the Union—due to its myriad distinguished attributes—was redeemed mainly by the fact that, in keeping with Mr. Mailer’s usual modesty and astute self-appraisal, he implied that he would be available for the governorship when statehood came to flower.  This appetite for public office, of course, is based on the enlightened contemporary concept of total talent:  A gifted novelist would obviously be a brilliant statesman; a great fullback could unquestionably play a superb Hamlet; a renowned pediatrician could easily master the complexities of global policy; an incomparable but self-effacing New York humorist, broadcaster, bon vivant and boulevardier is eminently qualified to become—But I‘m getting ahead of myself.  (Playboy, September, 1970)

Regarding Mailer and columnist Jimmy Breslin’s run for office (in 1969) and wanting to make New York City into the fifty-first state, one must realize that they were very serious, yet kept a sense of humor.  (I have a couple of their campaign buttons: “Vote the Rascals In,” and “No More Bullshit/M.-B.”)


During this period, Shepherd, completing his thought at the end of his Playboy article quoted above that he himself was “eminently qualified to become—,” suggested in a radio broadcast during the mayoral campaign that in throwing his own hat in the ring and upping the stakes, he, Shepherd, was running to have the city declared a separate country with himself as king.

A while back I posted here the Jean Shepherd page in the graphic treatment of John Wilcock’s biography by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall. The following Norman Mailer page from that graphic treatment makes references to Jean Shepherd in the first panel:




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