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Pearl or Jew?

In response to:

Report from the MLA from the February 17, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

In Richard G. Stern’s picaresquely written “Report from the MLA,” which included an account of the Cheever-Ellison-Mailer festivities (February 17) he also reported the following sentence about me—

In the carful of goggling professors, sloshing his drink, he [Mailer] called out “Nine” as the elevator hurtled from Ten, and when released at Seven, he fired genially at the uniformed auntie from his fortress of licensed clowning, “You Jew,” and rollicked like a sailor down the mirrored corridor, leaving behind a small carnage of titillated shock.

Note: James Yuenger giving an account of the same event in the Chicago Tribune Magazine, February 6, 1966—

As the 12th floor flashed by, Mailer suddenly said, “Stop—right—HERE.” It was on 10 already, and stopped at 7, and Mailer said: “O, boy, you’re a real pearl.”

A man I have never met happened to read these two somewhat separate versions, then told my friend, Robert Lucid, that as between pearl and Jew, I must have said to the elevator operator, “Oh, boy, you’re a jewel.” In fact, it is also my conclusion. I think Stern is wrong. I think I said, “Sweetheart, you’re a real jewel.” But I had a bit to drink (not a slosh—Stern writes like a man who has never held a glass), yes, a bit to drink in celebration, having read my paper to the ASA of the MLA, so I cannot be certain finally what I said. The elevator operator was, I recollect, one Wasp lady who could play tackle for the John Birch Society if and when they field a team, sallah! so I could indeed have said, “You pearl, you Jew,” much as once I said, “You Communist,” to a redneck Miami sheriff who was making us fight writers show our fight credentials in our hand as he passed us through. Which tradition encourages me to say now, “Stern, how could you, a Jew, do this to me, a fellow son of Samuel—you Ginzo, you Mafia, you Wop.”

Norman Mailer

Brooklyn, New York

Richard Stern replies:

Norman Mailer tells no lies and speaks few words, these crystal clear. How can I dispute the good man? Yet my sobriety, my excellent hearing, and my proximity to him on that memorable elevator ride cannot but tell against this sloshing old friend, against, even, the vivid, renowned precision of the Chicago Tribune, against, yes, the finetoothed, passionate illogic of his utterance. A longtime treasurer of Mailer words and Mailer deeds, I must submit my resignation to the local chapter (Jewish Abteilung).

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