Thursday, 31 January 2013

Don’t ever call me a liberal

Today would have been the 90th birthday of Norman Mailer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and journalist who also happened to write some enormously entertaining letters in his lifetime. Below are just three of the many thousands. The first was sent to one of his writing idols, Ernest Hemingway, along with a copy of The Deer Park; ten days later it bounced back, marked, according to Mailer, with the Spanish equivalent of "Address Unknown—Return to Sender." He never got his opinion. The second letter was sent to Playboy magazine seven years later; the last letter reached Robert B. Silvers, editor of The New York Review of Books, in 1965.

(Sources: Advertisements for Myself, The New Yorker, & Cannibals and Christians; Image: Norman Mailer, via.)

[To Hemingway, 1955, along with a copy of his new novel]


—because finally after all these
years I am deeply curious to know
what you think of this.

—but if you do not answer, or if you
answer with the kind of crap you
use to answer unprofessional writers,
sycophants, brown-nosers, etc., then
fuck you, and I will never attempt
to communicate with you again.

—and since I suspect that you're even
more vain than I am, I might as well
warn you that there is a reference to
you on page 353 which you may or may
not like



[To the Editor of Playboy]

December 21, 1962

Dear Sir,

I wish you hadn't billed the debate between William Buckley and myself as a meeting between a conservative and a liberal. I don't care if people call me a radical, a rebel, a red, a revolutionary, an outsider, an outlaw, a Bolshevik, an anarchist, a nihilist, or even a left conservative, but please don’t ever call me a liberal.


Norman Mailer


[To the Editor of The New York Review of Books]

February 22, 1965

Dear Bob,

Your letter, January 26, invites me to an "essay" of eighteen hundred words on the new Hubert Humphrey. In the last year you have also asked me to review biographies of Johnson (Jack) and George Patton. Since it is not easy to think of three books which could attract me less, I expect I must make my position clear. Forgive me for digging in old ground.

A year and a half ago, you asked me to review The Group. Said you had offered the novel to seven people—all seven were afraid to review it. You appealed to my manhood, my fierce eschatological sword. St. Mary's wrath (according to you) was limned with brimfire. Would I do it, you begged, as a most special favor to you. Perhaps, as you suggested, I was the only man in New York who had the guts to do it. A shrewd appeal. I did it. Two months later my book (The Presidential Papers) came out. You had given the copy to Midge Decter for review. Her submitted piece was, in your opinion—I quote your label—"overinflated." That is to say, it was favorable. Changes were requested. The reviewer refused to make them. The review was not printed. No review of The Presidential Papers appeared in The New York Review of Books. Only a parody. By a mystery guest. Now, we have my new book, An American Dream. I hear you have picked Philip Rahv to review it, Philip Rahv whose detestation of my work has been thundering these last two years into the gravy stains of every literary table on the Eastern Seaboard.

In the name therefore of the sweet gracious Jesus, why expect me to do eight words on your subject? To the contrary, experience now suspects that a state of cordial relations with The Review is congruent to a lack of cordial relations with The Review, and marks you, Bob, on this note: negotiations with your Editorship are, by open measure, inching, tedious, and impoverished as spit. But cheer up, dear Silvers. The letter is for publication, and so should enliven the literary history of your unbloodied rag.

Yours in trust,

Norman Mailer

cc: Barbara Epstein
Elizabeth Hardwick
Eve Auchincloss
Alexandra T. Emmet
A. Whitney Ellsworth
Terry Ehrich
Samuel N. Antupit
George Plimpton
Jason Epstein
Midge Decter
Malcolm Muggeridge

Monday, 28 January 2013

My own darling Child

On November 29th of 1812, 36-year-old Jane Austen wrote to her good friend, Martha Lloyd, and announced that her new novel, Pride and Prejudice, had been sold — for a one-off payment of £110:
"P. & P. is sold.—Egerton gives £110 for it.—I would rather have had £150, but we could not both be pleased, & I am not at all surprised that he should not chuse to hazard, so much.—Its' being sold will I hope be a great saving of Trouble to Henry, & therefore must be welcome to me.—The Money is to be paid at the end of the twelvemonth."
Two months later, on January 28th of 1813, Pride and Prejudice was published. To date, over 20 million copies have been sold.

A day after its release, Jane Austen wrote the following letter to her sister and spoke of receiving her copy of the book ("my own darling Child") in the post.

(Source: Jane Austen's Letters; Image via.)

Chawton Friday Jany 29.

I hope you received my little parcel by J. Bond on Wednesday eveng, my dear Cassandra, & that you will be ready to hear from me again on Sunday, for I feel that I must write to you to day. Your parcel is safely arrived & everything shall be delivered as it ought. Thank you for your note. As you had not heard from me at that time it was very good in you to write, but I shall not be so much your debtor soon.—I want to tell you that I have got my own darling Child from London;—on Wednesday I received one Copy, sent down by Falknor, with three lines from Henry to say that he had given another to Charles, & sent a 3d by the Coach to Godmersham; just the two Sets which I was least eager for the disposal of. I wrote to him immediately to beg for my two other Sets, unless he would take the trouble of forwarding them at once to Steventon & Portsmouth—not having an idea of his leaving Town before to day;—by your account however he was gone before my Letter was written. The only evil is the delay, nothing more can be done till his return. Tell James & Mary so, with my Love.—For your sake I am as well pleased that it shd be so, as it might be unpleasant to you to be in the Neighbourhood at the first burst of the business.—The Advertisement is in our paper to day for the first time;—18s—He shall ask £1- 1- for my two next, & £1- 8 for my stupidest of all.—I shall write to Frank, that he may not think himself neglected. Miss Benn dined with us on the very day of the Books coming, & in the eveng we set fairly at it & read half the 1st vol. to her—prefacing that having intelligence from Henry that such a work wd soon appear we had desired him to send it whenever it came out—& I beleive it passed with her unsuspected.—She was amused, poor soul! that she cd not help you know, with two such people to lead the way; but she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, & how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.—There are a few Typical errors—& a "said he" or a "said she" would sometimes make the Dialogue more immediately clear—but "I do not write for such dull Elves"

"As have not a great deal of Ingenuity themselves."—The 2d vol. is shorter than I cd wish—but the difference is not so much in reality as in look, there being a larger proportion of Narrative in that part. I have lopt & cropt so successfully however that I imagine it must be rather shorter than S. & S. altogether.—Now I will try to write of something else;—it shall be a complete change of subject—Ordination. I am glad to find your enquiries have ended so well.—If you cd discover whether Northamptonshire is a Country of Hedgerows, I shd be glad again.—We admire your Charades excessively, but as yet have guessed only the 1st. The others seem very difficult. There is so much beauty in the Versification however, that the finding them out is but a secondary pleasure.—I grant you that this is a cold day, & am sorry to think how cold you will be through the process of your visit at Manydown. I hope you will wear your China Crape. Poor wretch! I can see you shivering away, with your miserable feeling feet.—What a vile Character Mr Digweed turns out, quite beyond anything & everything;—instead of going to Steventon they are to have a Dinnerparty next tuesday!—I am sorry to say that I could not eat a Mincepie at Mr Papillon's; I was rather head-achey that day, & cd not venture on anything sweet except Jelly; but that was excellent.—There were no stewed pears, but Miss Benn had some almonds & raisins.—By the bye, she desired to be kindly remembered to you when I wrote last, & I forgot it.—Betsy sends her Duty to you & hopes you are well, & her Love to Miss Caroline & hopes she has got rid of her Cough. It was such a pleasure to her to think her Oranges were so well timed, that I dare say she was rather glad to hear of the Cough.

[Second leaf of letter missing; postscript upside down at top of p.1]

Since I wrote this Letter we have been visited by Mrs Digweed, her Sister & Miss Benn. I gave Mrs D. her little parcel, which she opened here & seemed much pleased with—& she desired me to make her best Thanks &c. to Miss Lloyd for it.—Martha may guess how full of wonder & gratitude she was.

[Miss Austen

Monday, 21 January 2013

The Alien Father is H.R.Giger

In November of 1997, shortly before the release of the fourth Alien movie, Alien: Resurrection, H.R. Giger — the award-winning Swiss artist responsible for designing the Alien itself for the original movie — learned that he wasn't to be named in the credits of the franchise's latest installment. Understandably, he was furious, and responded to the news by writing the following letter to 20th Century Fox.

Don't miss the last couple of lines.

See also: James Cameron's letter of apology to Giger in 1987.

(Source: Jim Wheeler; Image: Giger at work, via.)

November 13, 1997


The Alien Quartet has, from the very beginning, contained my unique and personal style. For the first film ALIEN, I was awarded an Oscar for "Best Achievement for Visual Effects". In ALIENS, a film I was not asked to work on, I still received a screen credit for "Original Alien Design". On ALIEN 3, I was cheated out of the Oscar nomination received by that film because 20th Century Fox gave me the credit, "Original Alien Design" again, instead of "Alien 3 Creature Design", as it was my rightful title in accordance to my contract and the work I had performed on the film. In 1976 I had completed two paintings, "Necronom IV" and "Necronom V", in which two long-headed creatures appeared. In 1977 these paintings were published in my book, NECRONOMICON, by Sphinx Verlag, Basel, in German. It was in this version of the book that Ridley Scott, in his search for a credible Alien creature, came across these two paintings and decided on them for the full-grown Alien, using the words "That's it!" The statement has been graciously repeated by Ridley Scott in almost every interview about his work on ALIEN.

The creatures in ALIEN: RESURRECTION are even closer to my original Alien designs than the ones which appear in ALIENS and ALIEN 3. The film also resurrects my original designs for the other stages of the creature's life-cycle, the Eggs, the Facehugger and the Chestburster. ALIEN: RESURRECTION is an excellent film. What would it look like without my Alien life-forms? In all likelihood, all the sequels to ALIEN would not even exist! The designs and my credit have been stolen from me, since I alone have designed the Alien. So why does Fox not give me the credit I rightfully earned?

As for those responsible for this conspiracy: All I can wish them is an Alien breeding inside their chests, which might just remind them that the "Alien Father" is H.R.Giger.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

MTV, you spineless twerps

In July of 1988, almost immediately after their world première of Neil Young's "This Note's for You" — a song and video in which various high profile musicians are mocked for endorsing brands such as Pepsi and Michelob — MTV placed a station-wide ban on the video due to "problems with trademark infringement." In response, Young offered to re-shoot the video; however, MTV claimed the lyrics were just as problematic. Furious, he wrote the following open letter to the station's executives.

The stand-off was big news, and MTV eventually reversed the ban. "This Note's for You" went on to win Video of The Year at the MTV Video Music Awards.

(Source: Adweek, July 1988; Image via NME.)

6th July, 1988

MTV, you spineless twerps. You refuse to play "This Note's For You" because you're afraid to offend your sponsors. What does the "M" in MTV stand for: music or money? Long live rock and roll.

Neil Young

Friday, 11 January 2013

My name is Sidney Poitier

In January of 1943, 15-year-old Sidney Poitier left his poverty-stricken family in Nassau and headed for the United States, the "land of opportunity," in search of a better life for himself and, ultimately, his loved ones. Months of low-paying jobs in Miami followed, and then countless nights sleeping rough as he slowly made his way to Harlem. Once there, still only 16 and unable to find a job to keep him afloat, he lied about his age and joined the U. S. Army, from which he was discharged after a year. Very quickly his money was gone and he was ready to give up. Desperate to return home but unable to scrape together enough money with which to buy a ticket, he wrote the following letter to President Roosevelt and asked for a loan.

No reply came. He soon joined the American Negro Theater and slowly made an impression as an actor. In 1963, 18 years after writing to President Roosevelt, Sidney Poitier became the first black person to win a Best Actor Oscar, for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.

(Source: This Life; Image via Ebony.)

Dear President Roosevelt,

My name is Sidney Poitier and I am here in the United States in New York City. I am from the Bahamas. I would like to go back to the Bahamas but I don't have the money. I would like to borrow from you $100. I will send it back to you when I get to the Bahamas. I miss my mother and father and I miss my brothers and sisters and I miss my home in the Caribbean. I cannot seem to get myself organized properly here in America, especially in the cold weather, and I am therefore asking you as an American citizen if you will loan me $100 to get back home. I will send it back to you and I would certainly appreciate it very much.

Your fellow American,
Sidney Poitier

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Then I recorded Space Oddity...

In November of 1970, a month after signing a five-year publishing deal with Chrys­alis Music, 24-year-old David Bowie wrote the following letter to Bob Grace, the man who signed him, and briefly filled him in on his life so far.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Any Day Now; Image: David Bowie in 1970, via.)

November 17th, 1970
Haddon Hall

Mr. Bob Grace
Chrysalis Music Ltd
388/398 Oxford Street
London W1

Dear Bob

I was born in Brixton and went to some Schools thereabout and studied Art. Then I went into an Advertising Agency which I didn't like very much. Then I left and joined some Rock 'n' Roll Bands playing Saxophone and I sang some which nobody liked very much.

As I was already a Beatnik, I had to be a Hippie and I was very heavy and wrote a lot of songs on some beaches and some people liked them. Then I recorded 'Space Oddity' and made some money and spent it which everybody liked.

Now I am 24 and I am married and I am not at all heavy and I'm still writing and my wife is pregnant which I like very much.



Friday, 4 January 2013

Does IBM know that HAL is psychotic?

In August of 1966, 2 years prior to the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick wrote to the vice president of his production company and asked whether IBM — a company with whom Kubrick consulted during production, and whose logo briefly appears in the film  — were aware of HAL's murderous actions in the story. His letter, and Roger Caras's reply, can be seen below.

It's worth noting that both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke have since denied that HAL represented IBM, and have claimed that the "one-letter shift" between the names "HAL" and "IBM" is purely coincidental.

Transcripts follow.

(Source: LACMA; Image: HAL 9000, via.)


31st August, 1966.

Mr. Roger Caras,
Polaris Productions Inc.,
239 Central Park West,
New York 24.

Dear Roger,

Does I. B. M. know that one of the main themes of the story is a psychotic computer? I don't want to get anyone in trouble, and I don't want them to feel they have been swindled. Please give me the exact status of things with I. B. M.

Best regards,

(Signed, 'Stanley')

MGM Studios
Boreham Wood

September 13, 1966

Mr. Stanley Kubrick
Hawk Films Ltd.
MGM Studios
Borehamwood, Herts

Dear Stanley,

Here is your status report on IBM and the nervous computer:

Sometime ago I explained to IBM at great length the change in the script as effects HAL. To be absolutely certain that the situations was clear and in the open I called C.C. Hollister their Corporate Director of Public Relations again today and repeated the story going so far as to explain to him that HAL actually causes human deaths. I made it very clear, and this is completely true to the best of my knowledge, that the name IBM is never associated with equipment failure but that is is obviously not an IBM machine.

IBM's position is that if IBM is not associated with the quipment failure by name they have no objection if it is decided to give screen credit to the advising companies (and I hope you do decide to do this) they will not object to getting screen credit as long as their name is buried in a list with others and they are not specifically listed as being technical advisor for the computer.