Adele Mailer, Artist Who Married Norman Mailer, Dies at 90
Adele Mailer, an artist and actress who made headlines in 1960 when her husband, the novelist Norman Mailer, stabbed and seriously wounded her at a drunken party in their apartment, died on Sunday in Manhattan. She was 90.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter Danielle Mailer.
Adele Morales was an aspiring painter in 1951 when she met Mailer, the author of “The Naked and the Dead,” who was on his way to becoming recognized as one of the pre-eminent postwar American novelists. The two began living together and married three years later. It was Norman Mailer’s second marriage.
The relationship, marked by heavy drinking and ancillary love affairs on both sides, was stormy.
“I decided I was going to be that beautiful temptress who ate men alive, flossed her teeth and spit out the bones, wearing an endless supply of costumes by Frederick’s of Hollywood,” she wrote in her memoir “The Last Party: Scenes From My Life with Norman Mailer,” published in 1997. Her notion of romantic life, she wrote, was the opera “Carmen”: “You lived from crisis to crisis, sang love duets and had screaming fights.”
On the verge of announcing his improbable candidacy for mayor of New York, Mailer decided to celebrate with a party at their apartment on the Upper West Side on Nov. 19, 1960. The guest list was unusual. Since the author thought of his natural constituency as the disenfranchised, he invited several strangers off the street.
At the same time, he instructed his friend George Plimpton to summon the city’s power elite, handing him a list that included the police and fire commissioners, the banker David Rockefeller and the Aga Khan. None of them came, but the party could still be described as glittering, with attendees that included the poets Allen Ginsberg and Delmore Schwartz, the editor Norman Podhoretz and the actor Tony Franciosa.
With the liquor flowing, it all made for a volatile mix. Ginsberg and Podhoretz got into a fight and had to be separated. Drunk and belligerent, Mailer, wearing a ruffled matador shirt, repeatedly tangled with his guests. Around 4 a.m., he confronted his wife in an incoherent rage.
In her memoir, Mrs. Mailer recalled having taunted her husband, bluntly deriding his manhood, and making an ugly reference to his mistress. Some guests recalled that the point of no return came when she told her husband that he was not as good as Dostoyevsky.
Mailer stabbed her in the stomach and back with a penknife, puncturing her cardiac sac.
Mrs. Mailer initially told doctors that she had fallen on broken glass. Later, in the intensive care unit of University Hospital, she told the police that her husband had stabbed her.
Mailer was charged with felonious assault and committed to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation.
“In my opinion Norman Mailer is having an acute paranoid breakdown with delusional thinking and is both homicidal and suicidal,” Dr. Conrad Rosenberg, the doctor who first treated Mrs. Mailer, wrote in a medical report to the judge.
In court, Norman Mailer argued, “Naturally I have been a little upset, but I have never been out of my mental faculties.
“It is important for me not to be sent to a mental hospital, because my work in the future will be considered that of a disordered mind,” he added. “My pride is that I can explore areas of experience that other men are afraid of. I insist I am sane.”
The judge disagreed. “Your recent history suggests that you cannot distinguish fiction from reality,” he said.
Mailer was released from Bellevue after 17 days and in November 1961, after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree assault, received a suspended sentence. The couple divorced the next year.
Speaking to The New York Times Magazine in 1979, Mailer said, “A decade’s anger made me do it. After that, I felt better.” In a documentary shown on PBS in 2000 as part of the series “American Masters,” he took a more remorseful tone. “It changed everything in my life,” he said. “It is the one act I can look back on and regret for the rest of my life.”
Adele Carolyn Morales was born on June 12, 1925, in Brooklyn. Her mother, Consuela Rodriguez, known as Mae, was of Spanish descent. Her father, Albert, who came to New York from Peru as a teenager, was a typesetter for The Daily News and a semipro lightweight boxer who taught his son-in-law a good deal of what he knew about the sport. Some lessons were emphatically hands-on, with Norman Mailer going down for the count in one early sparring session.
After graduating from Washington Irving High School in Manhattan, Ms. Morales moved to a cold-water flat in Manhattan and earned a living making papier-mâché models for department store windows.
She took art classes with Hans Hofmann, studied literature at the New School for Social Research and threw herself into downtown cultural life, frequenting artists’ hangouts like the San Remo and the Cedar Tavern. She had a romance with Jack Kerouac and, before meeting Mailer, was in a relationship with Edwin Fancher, who later founded The Village Voice with Mailer and Dan Wolf.
It was Wolf who introduced Ms. Morales to Mailer, calling her late one night and putting Mailer on the phone.
“I started to object but then he quoted a beautiful line from Scott Fitzgerald — I wish I could remember it exactly — something about adventure and getting up and going out into the night, and that did it,” she told Peter Manso for his book “Mailer: His Life and Times.”
After the divorce, Mrs. Mailer, who had studied at the Actors Studio, appeared in several Off Broadway productions, including Mailer’s theatrical adaptation of his novel “The Deer Park” in 1967. She also appeared in a small role in his 1970 film “Maidstone.”
She continued to paint in an abstract expressionist style and in later years made box assemblages reminiscent of Joseph Cornell. After their two daughters went to college, payments from her ex-husband were reduced sharply, and she lived precariously in a rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side.
Besides her daughter Danielle, she is survived by her other daughter, Elizabeth Mailer, and two granddaughters. Norman Mailer died in 2007.
Elizabeth Mailer said of her parents, “She admired him and loved him and enjoyed him, but there were periods when she could only say things that were bitter and angry.”
“After he died,” she said in a telephone interview, “all she could say was, ‘He was a monster.’ ”
On a walk around her neighborhood in 2007 with a writer on assignment for The Times, Mrs. Mailer said, to no one in particular: “This is Norman Mailer’s wife. It’s riches to rags, honey.”
Her daughter Danielle said, “I see her as a tragic figure, but an artist to the core.”
“That was her identity,” she said in a telephone interview. “That is who she was.”