The Beauty Trap: Hillary Clinton And Norman Mailer's "Last Wife"


“[Hillary] wore enormous thick glasses, no makeup, and rather ugly colorless baggy clothing. Someone whispered that she was the girlfriend. I said, “Really?” Norris Church Mailer was sleeping with Hillary’s boyfriend Bill. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

Known mostly for being able to stay with Norman Mailer for the last 33 years of his life, Norris Church Mailer has published a memoir, and the portion relevant to her sleeping with Bill Clinton has been excerpted by The Daily Beast. (Incidentally, the headline, “My Date With Bill Clinton,” is a rare example of Internet underpromising. Unless of course “date” is synonymous with “lots of late night booty calls” when Bill Clinton is involved.)

Mailer, an Arkansas native, was involved with Clinton during his failed Congressional campaign, when she was a young divorcee and hadn’t yet met Mailer. And while it is easy to bristle at the way she describes Hillary Clinton, reading more about Mailer’s life and how she saw Hillary is instructive.

After the physical description quoted above, Mailer continues,

[I was] surprised at first, but as the evening wore on, I could see there was something extraordinary about her. She had an intelligence that none of the prettier girls in the room had. If I ever had a pang of jealousy, it was for that, when I knew he and she must have had a relationship that was fired by intellect. I would have so liked to be able to talk to him about world affairs and politics, or art or literature, or anything, really. I had the conceit that I had a good mind, too. But we frankly never talked much.

The two women are of the same generation, but the last Mrs. Mailer and Secretary Clinton took very different paths, as elucidated in Alex Witchel’s profile of Mailer in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, in which Mailer, who also worked as a model, says she puts on makeup even when she’s alone: “If I walk by a mirror, it’s just too dispiriting.” She was also thwarted in all of her literary ambitions by Norman Mailer, who returned her first love poem to him covered in red pencil corrections and whose dismissal of her novel led her to put it away for 20 years.

Her looks had gotten her out of Arkansas, she freely admitted, but they were also a trap:

“Let’s face it, I was attractive,” she said. “That’s a large part of where I got to. ‘Would you be with him if he wasn’t Norman Mailer?’ No. Would he be with me if I weighed 300 pounds? No. I used to have this conscious thought when I was younger and going to all these dinners and parties that one day I’ll just be able to stay at home and write and read and do what I want to do. It was a real conscious thought that when my looks leave, I can do other things. Isn’t that funny?”

It’s instructive to think about Norris Church Mailer’s attitude to Hillary Clinton in reading this as well:

When Norris discovered the scope of Mailer’s infidelities, she was struck by how many of the women were either his age – he was near 70 then – or significantly overweight. “He made the remark, ‘Sometimes I want to be the attractive one.’ I think he felt if it wasn’t somebody young and beautiful, he wasn’t betraying me as much. He just couldn’t resist someone who told him what a great man he was and what a great writer he was. Every time he fell for it.

By the way, Norris Church Mailer says she and her husband would go on to double date with Hillary and Bill Clinton in New York: “Norman liked them, especially Hillary, and would have supported her in the presidential primaries if he had lived. He said she had earned it.”

My Date With Bill Clinton [The Daily Beast]
The Last Wife [NYTM]

Earlier: Another Mailer Wife On The “Old, Fat, Bombastic Lying Little Dynamo”

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