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COLLECTION Identifier: hfa00006

Norman Mailer Collection


This collection contains materials related specifically to the filmmaking career of Norman Mailer (1922 – 2007). In addition to projection prints and some access copies, a majority of the collection consists of pre-print materials, including workprint, original camera rolls, and audio recordings. This includes 16mm and 35mm projection prints and original sound and picture elements from Mailer’s three underground films of the 1960s (Wild 90, Beyond the Law and Maidstone), a 35mm projection print accompanied by sound and picture elements from Mailer’s 1971 re-edit of Beyond the Law, Beyond the Law (Blue), Mailer’s personal 35mm projection print of Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987) and the internegative of Mailer’s first film from 1947, restored in 2008 by The Harvard Film Archive and The Harry Ransom Center through a grant from the National Film Preservation Board. Finally, a 16mm projection print of D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ Town Bloody Hall was deposited into this collection in March 2008 by Mailer’s archivist J. Michael Lennon. Providing further context, digital copies of several of Mailer’s most significant television appearances have been compiled and added to this collection by Michael Chaiken, Film and Video Archivist for the Norman Mailer Estate.


  • Creation: 1919-2005

Language of Materials

Material is in English.

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions on physical access to the paper portion of this collection. Collection is open for research. The Harvard Film Archive's manuscript collections and paper-based materials are accessed through the Houghton Library Reading Room. This material is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Researchers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine retrieval policies and times.

Access to posters and audiovisual material is by appointment only. Applications to consult this material should be directed to the staff of the Harvard Film Archive. Film prints are made accessible in close consultation with HFA staff. Although materials do not circulate for individual use, students, filmmakers, artists, and researchers are encouraged to use the collections on-site.

Use Restrictions

Reproduction and/or publication of materials subject to copyright requires written permission from a) the copyright owner, his/her heirs or assigns and from b) the Harvard Film Archive, owner of the original material.


1 collection (16mm film prints, videotapes, audio tapes, digital files, and 2 boxes of paper materials)

The Norman Mailer Film and Media Collection at the Harvard Film Archive is the largest single holding dedicated to Mailer’s work in film. It includes elements from Mailer's first film experiment, a poetic short he shot and edited in the months leading up to the publication of his debut novel, projection prints and original sound and film elements from his ‘sixties trilogy’: Wild 90 (1967), Beyond the Law (1968) and Maidstone (1968 – 70), prints and original elements from Mailer’s unreleased second edit of Beyond the Law, Beyond the Law (Blue) (1971), copies of Mailer’s annotated dialogue transcripts, a hard drive containing several of Mailer’s television appearances between the years 1966 – 2003, the director’s personal 35mm print of Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987) and a 16mm print of ‘Town Bloody Hall’ (1972/79) directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker.

Shooting/Release Timeline:

  1. Untitled (1947)

    Filmed Spring 1947

    Edited Spring/Summer 1947

  2. Wild 90 (1967)

    Filmed 1967 March 20 - 1967 March 21

    Edited 1967 July-October

    Premiered 1968 January 7 at New Cinema Playhouse, New York City

  3. Beyond the Law (1968)

    Filmed 1967 October 9 - 1967 October 10

    Edited 1967 November - 1968 February

    Premiered 1968 April 2 at Notre Dame University

  4. Maidstone (1968-1970)

    Filmed 1968 July 18 - 1968 July 22

    Edited 1968 November - 1970 June

    Premiered 1970 August 24 at New Art Cinema, Provincetown

  5. Beyond the Law (Blue) (1971)

    Additional sequences filmed with Norman Mailer, Lee Roscoe, Mickey Knox and Buzz Farber Summer 1970 and amended to Beyond the Law (1968)

    Edited Fall 1970

    Private Premiere at The Rizzoli Store (NYC) 1971


  6. Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)

    Filmed Winter/Spring 1987

    Premiered 1987 September 18 at the New York Film Festival


A Brief History of Norman Mailer by J. Michael Lennon, Professor of English, Wilkes University

No career in contemporary literature has been at once so brilliant, varied, controversial, public, prolific and misunderstood as that of Norman Mailer. Few American writers have had their careers on the anvil of public inspection for such a lengthy period; none (excepting Edgar Allan Poe) has been so regularly and simultaneously celebrated and reviled.

Mailer has not only published 41 books (including 12 novels), he has written plays (and staged them), screenplays (and directed and acted in them),poems (in THE NEW YORKER and underground journals), and attempted every sort of narrative form, including some he invented. No record of "new journalism" is complete without mention of his 1960s ESQUIRE columns, essays and political reportage. He has reported on six sets of political conventions (1960, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1992, 1996), participated in scores of symposia, appeared and debated hundreds of times on college campuses, boxed (and fought) in several venues and led a vigorous public life in New York and Provincetown, Massachusetts. His passions, feuds, imbroglios, litigations and loyalities are numerous, notorious and complex. Married for nearly a quarter of a century to Norris Church, he was wed five times previously and has nine children all told. A stalwart on radio and television talk shows, he may have been interviewed more times than any writer who has ever lived. Without being paid for his pains, he has given advice to several presidents, has run for office himself (mayor of New York),served as president of the American chapter of the writers organization, P.E.N., and won most of the major literary awards, but for the Nobel. Co-founder of THE VILLAGE VOICE, he also named it, and has been the equivalent of a decathalon athlete in the effort to break down barriers between popular, elite and underground publications. He has written for at least 75 different magazines and journals.

Born in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1923, but raised in Brooklyn, Mailer graduated from Boys High School in 1939. He entered Harvard in the fall of that year as the German army marched into Poland. Mailer received his S.B. degree, with honors, in engineering in 1943, and was drafted in early 1944. He served as a rifleman in the South Pacific and wrote the huge best-seller, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD (1948) based on his experiences. Catapaulted into instant fame, he has been at the center of our national cultural consciousness ever since. Mailer is, among other things, an unfrocked prophet full of foreboding about contemporary life; he celebrates the intuitional and instinctive and castigates corporate greed, plastic and the rape of nature. His disagreements with feminists are, of course, legendary. But Mailer is also, in the words of Joan Didion, " a great and obsessed stylist, a writer to whom the shape of the sentence is the story."

After a stint in Hollywood writing screenplays, Mailer wrote two more novels, BARBARY SHORE (1951), a novel of the Cold War, and THE DEER PARK (1955), a Hollywood novel about artistic integrity. In 1959 he published ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF, a showcase of all his previous work and his ambitious pans for the future, which uses his personality as the volume's armature. Its huge influence on a generation also seeking to achieve creativity and self-realization gave Mailer a new audience and set the stage for the sixties, Mailer's happiest, most tumultuous, and productive years. He published 17 books between 1962 and 1972, including five books nominated for the National Book Award in four different categories. THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT (1968) a non-fiction narrative of the anti-Vietnam War March on the Pentagon, won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize and a Polk Award. He followed with OF A FIRE ON THE MOON (1971), a careful study of the Apollo 11 moon shot, and THE PRISONER OF SEX (1971), a response to the women's liberation movement. The pace of his writing slowed in the mid-seventies as he worked on his novel set in the Egypt of three thousand years ago, ANCIENT EVENINGS, which appeared after a decade of work in 1983. He won a second Pulitzer for his critically acclaimed 1979 best-seller, THE EXECUTIONER'S SONG, a 1,000-page "true life novel" which chronicled the life and death of Utah murderer Gary Gilmore. In the nineties Mailer published the best-selling HARLOT'S GHOST, the first part of a CIA novel, nonfiction narratives on Pablo Picasso and Lee Harvey Oswald, and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SON, a first-person retelling of the four gospels. He closed the decade out with a massive retrospective of his entire career, THE TIME OF OUR TIME (1998). Perhaps he best summed up his protean abilities when he said in ADVERTISEMENTS FOR MYSELF, "I become an actor, a quick-change artist, as if I can trap the Prince of Truth in the act of switching a style."


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Moving Image Materials
  2. II. Paper Materials

Acquisition Information

Immediate source of acquisition: Sent by Frazer Pennebaker in September 2008 as “Norman Mailer film materials, gift of Norris Church Mailer and the Norman Mailer Estate.”

Prior to their Fall 2008 donation by the Norman Mailer Estate, the films and their constituent elements were held by Pennebaker-Hegedus Films (formerly Leacock-Pennebaker Films).

Related Collection

An extensive archival collection related to Norman Mailer's work and life as a writer is available to researchers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin:

Mailer, Norman. Papers, 1919-2005.1919-2005.

An online guide to this collection is available at the Harry Ransom Center website.

Processing Information

Processed by: Michael Chaiken, 2009-2010

Encoded by: Amy Sloper, April 2010

Norman Mailer Collection, 1947-2007 : An Inventory
Harvard Film Archive, Harvard University
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard Film Archive, Harvard Library, Harvard University Repository

The Harvard Film Archive is one of the largest university-based motion picture collections in the United States, with a collection of 40,000 audio visual items, a growing number of manuscript collections, and nearly one million still photographs, posters, and other promotional materials from around the world and from almost every period in film history. The HFA's collection of paper materials, including the documentation of individual filmmakers as well as promotional materials such as posters, film stills, and ephemera are accessible to Harvard affiliates as well as to outside researchers.

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