Adele Mailer, Visual Artist Once Stabbed by Husband Norman Mailer, Dies at 90

Mailer's second wife lived in poverty and obscurity after their divorce.

Adele and Norman Mailer in court in 1960, after he stabbed her at a party at their apartment.
Photo: via Jezebel.

Adele Mailer, a visual artist, actor, and memoirist who rose to notoriety when her then-husband, writer Norman Mailer, stabbed her at a party in 1960, died this past Sunday at age 90.

Mailer, née Adele Carolyn Morales, was born to Spanish and Peruvian parents in Brooklyn in 1925. According to Jezebel, she studied art and literature with Hans Hofmann at the New School. She also studied acting at the Actors Studio, and dated writer Jack Kerouac, Village Voice co-founder Edwin Fancher, and Dan Wolf.

According to the New York Times, Wolf introduced Morales to Mailer in 1951. They married in 1954, in what became Mailer’s second marriage, and had two daughters. Their relationship was turbulent, punctuated by heavy drinking, hostile fights, and passionate reconciliations.

“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,” Mailer wrote in her 1997 memoir The Last Party: Scenes From My Life with Norman Mailer. “You lived from crisis to crisis, sang love duets, and had screaming fights,” she explained.

 Adele and Norman Mailer during their marriage.<br>Photo: via Paris Match.

Adele and Norman Mailer during their marriage.
Photo: via Paris Match.

According to the NYT, the ultimate fight, which would culminate in the stabbing, took place on November 19, 1960, in their Upper West Side apartment. Mailer, who had decided to run for mayor of New York, hosted a party to celebrate the announcement of his candidacy, to which some of the city’s cultural luminaries—including the poet Allen Ginsberg and the editor Norman Podhoretz—were invited.

With alcohol flowing freely, Ginsberg and Podhoretz reportedly got into a fight. Mailer, who had ominously donned a bullfighter shirt, repeatedly taunted his guests and confronted his wife at about 4 am, who reciprocated his attacks by questioning Mailer’s manhood and telling him he was not as good a writer as Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Blind with rage, Mailer stabbed his wife in her stomach and back with a penknife. According to the Independent, as Adele Mailer lay bleeding on the floor, Norman Mailer told a guest who had crouched down to help her: “Get away from her. Let the bitch die.”

Adele first told doctors that her wounds, which included a punctured cardiac sac, were the result of a domestic accident. But later on at intensive care she told the police that her husband had stabbed her, though she never pressed charges against him.

Adele Mailer in her youth.<br>Photo via Gente Que Necesita Terapia.

Adele Mailer in her youth.
Photo: via Gente Que Necesita Terapia.

Regardless, the author of The Naked and the Dead (1948) was charged with felonious assault and committed to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric observation.

In court, Mailer insisted he was perfectly sane, but the judge clearly thought otherwise, declaring: “Your recent history suggests that you cannot distinguish fiction from reality.”

Norman Mailer was released from Bellevue after 17 days, and in 1961 he received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of third-degree assault. The couple divorced in 1962.

Adele Mailer continued to paint in an abstract expressionist style, and experimented with box assemblages and collages later on. She also appeared in several Off-Broadway productions, including Mailer’s theatrical adaptation of his novel The Deer Park in 1967, and in the 1970 film Maidstone, written, produced, and directed by her ex-husband.

After their two daughters went to college, however, Norman Mailer reduced his ex-wife’s alimony dramatically, and she lived in a rent-stabilized one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side for the rest of her life, struggling to make ends meet.

“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 told the NYT in 2007. “I’m living in poverty.”

“I see her as a tragic figure, but an artist to the core,” her daughter Danielle, who is also a visual artist, said of her mother.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.