Adele Mailer was an artist and actor. Fairly or not, she is most often mentioned in connection with her ex-husband, writer Norman Mailer, who infamously stabbed her during a party at their own apartment in 1960. She died of pneumonia on Sunday in Manhattan at the age of 90.

Mailer, née Adele Carolyn Morales, was born to Spanish and Peruvian parents in Brooklyn on June 12, 1925. After studying art and literature with Hans Hofmann and at the New School and acting at the Actors Studio, she became embedded in downtown literary culture, dating Jack Kerouac and Edwin Fancher (a later co-founder of the Village Voice with Mailer and Dan Wolf).

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“I decided I was going to be that beautiful temptress who ate men alive, flossed her teeth and spit out the bones, wearing an endless supply of costumes by Frederick’s of Hollywood,” Adele wrote in her 1997 memoir The Last Party: Scenes From My Life with Norman Mailer. Relationships, she wrote, were treacherous: “You lived from crisis to crisis, sang love duets, and had screaming fights.”

The New York Times writes that Mailer’s fateful party was thrown in their Upper West Side apartment on November 19, 1960, in honor of his upcoming announcement that he would be running for mayor. Allen Ginsberg and Norman Podhoretz were among the guests. Reportedly, around 4 a.m., Mailer drunkenly confronted his wife:

In her memoir, Mrs. Mailer recalled having taunted her husband, bluntly deriding his manhood, and making an ugly reference to his mistress. Some guests recalled that the point of no return came when she told her husband that he was not as good as Dostoyevsky.

Mailer stabbed her in the stomach and back with a penknife, puncturing her cardiac sac.

“It is important for me not to be sent to a mental hospital, because my work in the future will be considered that of a disordered mind,” he said in court of the incident. “My pride is that I can explore areas of experience that other men are afraid of. I insist I am sane.” He spent 17 days in Bellevue Hospital and pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. The Mailers divorced in 1962.

While Mailer’s career continued uninterrupted, Adele ended up in a tenement.

“I can’t believe I’ve come to this, and a lot of that is due to him,because Mailer wouldn’t help me,” she said to the Times in a 2007 interview shortly after Mailer’s death. “I’m living in poverty.”

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After the marriage, Danielle Mailer told the L.A. Times, her mother focused on her art, favoring the medium of assemblages and using her home as a “giant installation.” “She lived and breathed her art and she passed it on to us,” said her daughter, who is a painter.

Mailer told the Associated Press that although she recognized her mother would be associated with the stabbing, “She wanted to be remembered as a gifted painter and actress and as a mother who was fiercely devoted to her [two] girls.”


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

Image via AP.