In response to:

Death for Sale from the December 6, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

My review of Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song (NYR, December 6) contains several statements which should be corrected or clarified.

  1. “You don’t hear if the widows of Gilmore’s victims got anything from anywhere.” The book actually refers to the remuneration of the widows in two places. On page 618, Larry Schiller is quoted by Mailer as saying, “Besides I think there should be money to provide for the families of the victims,” and on page 723, a character named Tamara is represented as seeing that “Cardell liked the thorough way Schiller had handled the contracts so that there would be something substantial for Nicole’s children and the heirs of the victims.” The editors have been informed, moreover, by Mr. Mailer’s assistant that the widows of Gilmore’s victims received $10,000 each and will receive a “substantial percentage” of future royalties.

  2. “This account of the exploitation of the poor convict and his relatives is so appalling that the author of the end product—the book you are reading—must seem to be innocent of it, must seem not to be writing it at all, let alone making a reported half a million for starters out of it.”

In fact, Mr. Mailer has notified the editors that his share of the half million advance was only $250,000 with the rest going to Schiller among others. Third, it should be said that Mr. Mailer, by his own account, did not agree to write the book until after the execution took place. He could not therefore have collaborated with Schiller in making most of the arrangements and deals he describes in his book; and I did not intend to suggest that he had done so. In a part of his “Afterword” that I did not mention in my review, he writes:

Maybe he wanted the best book he could get, but Schiller stood for his portrait, and drew maps to his faults. He exposed his secrets in the confidence, doubtless, that old methods revealed, he would now be spurred on to more cultivated techniques, and so he not only delivered the stuff of his visions but the logic of his base schemes, and in the months that followed, he did not feel regret, or seem to have second thoughts. If he did, he kept them to himself.

Diane Johnson

Paris, France

This Issue

February 21, 1980