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On the Scene: Norman Mailer's memorial at Carnegie Hall

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Pennmailer_l

Pennmailer_lNorman Mailer‘s memorial service last night at Carnegie Hall was, I think, a lot like dinner at his Provincetown home must have been: rowdy, bawdy, argumentative, loud, angry, funny, and rip-roaring fun. The near-capacity crowd in the gilded old concert hall listened raptly for hours as family and friends remembered the novelist, the father, the friend who died on November 10 at 84.

Mailer’s nine children captivated the crowd, each engaging in long, heartfelt, wickedly funny memories of their dad: his love of oysters, pot roast, and dirty jokes, or the way they brought him rum and orange juice on his deathbed. Michael Mailer remembered how they connected through boxing.  Susan Mailer, the oldest, said her father talked of the family as a tapestry. “To others, he was a great writer. To me, he was a great weaver.” Kate Mailer described the grandiose, often dangerous schemes her dad insisted the family undertake. Once, when she refused to climb Mt. Katahdin in a storm, her father told her, “We should all be lucky enough to die on a mountaintop!” But it was Stephen Mailer who brought down the house. After identifying himself as the wild card of the family, he proceeded to fall to the floor and writhe, then got up and announced her was channeling his dad. As his siblings — and the crowd — convulsed with laughter, he grabbed the podium and shouted, “Carnegie Hall? Well, why the f— not?”

A somber Sean Penn (pictured), clad in a dark suit, read from a text he’d hastily tapped into his Blackberry: “The sentence ‘Norman Mailer is dead’ is a lament for what greatness once was, and what greatness should aspire to.”  The novelist Don DeLillo remembered his dear friend as “a spectacle in three dimensions — or maybe four — or maybe five.” Then, holding up his battered 50-year-old Signet edition of The Naked And The Dead, he said, “[Mailer] was a great novelist, figuring out the world sentence by sentence.” Tina Brown remembered how she was mesmerized by him when she moved to New York: “There was no writer like him in England… he subscribed to the Hemingway model, novel as pugilist, as beater of words.” Novelist William Kennedy, a friend since 1968, said, “Who else was as rewarding, as brilliant, as exasperating?” But it was a wraithlike Joan Didion who perhaps put it best, in her trademark whisper: “I can think of no other writer who risked so much — and brought it home.”

addCredit(“Sean Penn: Stephen Chernin/AP”)

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