A literary legend pays a visit to ''Gilmore Girls.'' Norman Mailer plays a ''cantankerous curmudgeon'' on The WB's hit show

By Ken Tucker
Updated October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Gilmore Girls: Danny Feld

”I said, ‘I hate sitcoms — I don’t wanna go near ’em.”’ That was the response of Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, 81, who’s written more novels and great books of cultural criticism than we have space to list, when his actor son Stephen asked if he’d like to appear in an episode of The WB’s Gilmore Girls. Yet there Mailer is, playing himself as a ”cantankerous curmudgeon” (his phrase) on the Oct. 26 episode of the fast-talking dramedy. So…how’d this happen?

Explains show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino: ”We’re not really a stunt-casty show, and The WB, they love their stunt casting. So we’re sitting around the writers’ room and I’m joking, saying, ‘Y’ know, we should get Tony Kushner, Stephen Sondheim, and Norman Mailer, and have our own Algonquin Round Table at Lorelai’s inn.”’ The writers narrowed their ambitions to Mailer — since one of them was friends with Stephen — and, says Sherman-Palladino, ” we sent him the outline. He calls and goes, ‘I like the story, I think it’s very cute. I like the Luke and Lorelai bit.’ I’m like, Oh my God, Norman Mailer is saying ‘I like the Luke and Lorelai bit!’ So God help us, we had a legend for two days in Stars Hollow.”

In the episode, Mailer chooses Lorelai’s Dragonfly Inn to give an interview to a journalist (played by Stephen, natch). ”We had him ad-lib a little bit,” says Sherman-Palladino, ” and he started talking about his favorite writers — apparently it’s Tolstoy, James Joyce, and Gabriel García Màrquez, and that’s it.” For the record, Mailer has a different recollection about the amount of his dialogue that was off-the-cuff: ”Oh, I’d say [except for] a couple of necessary transitional lines, 95 percent was improvised.”

While this casting coup may not register with much of The WB’s core audience, Sherman-Palladino thinks Mailer fits perfectly in the Gilmore universe. ”This is a series where we’ve said, implicitly, ‘Read a book, read the classics; I know you’ re cute, but you can still wear lipstick and read Dickens.’ So having someone like Mailer on was a blast.” Mailer’s version of ”a blast” is to say, ”I was not miserable.” And the title of the episode? ”Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant.” Why? ”Watch and find out,” laughs Sherman-Palladino. Well, it beats The Naked and The Dead