A low-keyed objective narrative of the novelist and journalist from enfant terrible to grizzled sexagenarian designed to seek out the literary artist behind the mask of self-advertisement. Complete with domesticity--sweethearts, wives, progency, and four-letter words. A veryi good read."--Leon Edel



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Rollyson, author of three other literary biographies, presents an accessible critical biography of Mailer, which will prove interesting to a general readership but provides somewhat less new information for Mailer scholars. Rollyson draws extensively from the two biographies that precede his--Hilary Mills's Mailer: a Biography and Mailer, His Life and Times ed. by Peter Manso --and from interviews in Conversations with Norman Mailer, ed. by J. Michael Lennon (1988), adding information from his own interviews and research. Similarly, he collates readings of Mailer's works from the many critical studies published during the past 22 years, and in synthesizing these contributes his own. Because Manso's book is limited to transcribed interviews, and Mills's offers little literary criticism, Rollyson provides a useful service here, despite an occasional error (e.g. Cherry's hideaway in An American Dream is not in Harlem). Although the book presents some harsh judgments of Mailer's personal notoriety, these are tempered by flashes of perceptive praise, as in the recognition that "There is a peculiar integrity to Maidstone that is like Mailer's own." This book, in its potentially controversial treatment of a decidedly controversial and significant author, ultimately seeks its own version of the elusive truth. Photographs, notes.--Choice, April 1992

Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic

Carl Rollyson was Norman Mailer's first literary biographer to draw on unpublished letters and manuscripts as well as on interviews with the writer's friends and foes. Rollyson provides a full account of Mailer's college years, especially his fear of being drafted. Here are the sources of Mailer's mental crisis in the 1950s that led to the stabbing of his second wife, Adele. Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic gets at the sources of Mailer's obsession with violence while also portraying a major literary figure in the making, from his fabulous debut war novel, The Naked and the Dead to his final bid for literary fame, The Castle in the Forest, a brooding foray into 20th century evil via an account of Adolf Hitler's early life. A final chapter rounds out a penetrating account of Mailer's final two decades of productivity which yielded books as various as a controversial biography of Picasso and a philosophical dialogue on the nature of God.

Reviews of The Lives of Norman Mailer: A Biography, revised as Norman Mailer: The Last Romantic

"[In] this amply researched and sharp-eyed study there's nourishing fare for both his admirers and his detractors. Rollyson, biographer of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman and Martha Gellhorn, aptly does a good deal of jabbing and weaving himself in trying to catch a man who seems to have made flight from the gentility of his background an obsession, who has kept inventing himself perhaps because he has never quite found himself." --Publishers Weekly

"Rollyson is in fine fettle in this first literary biography of Norman Mailer. ... Copious notes, photographs, and a bibliography are included. Index not seen. Recommended for both lay readers and scholars."--Library Journal

THE LIVES OF NORMAN MAILER (reviewed on August 1, 1991)
 Literary biography of Mailer by the well-received author of Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn (1990) and Lillian Hellman (1988). Rollyson (Art History and Literature/​Baruch) firmly engages the reader in a swift life of Mailer as if from 30 years hence rather than in the ``now'' vein of earlier biographies by Hilary Mills and Peter Manso. A touchstone event in Mailer's life took place in 1954 when Mailer's friend, editor John Maloney, stabbed his mistress in Greenwich Village, leaving Mailer aswim in Dostoevskian thought and envying Maloney: ``God, I wish I had the courage to stab a woman like that. That was a really gutsy act.'' What he envied, according to Rollyson, was the rebel act against received morality in which ``the shits are killing us''; when he later did stab his wife Adele, he found it morally indefensible. An oddly charming Brooklyn prodigy, Mailer went through childhood and early youth in a terribly professional way (building elaborate model planes), entered Harvard as a skinny little runt of 16, took up engineering, then was bitten by the James T. Farrell bug and began methodically engineering the short story and novel. In the army, he baldly interviewed troops for his future great war novel and, as at Harvard, tried to define himself against a larger entity--as he did in Ancient Evenings and is still doing in his current novel, Harlot's Ghost (see above). Mailer's life is all highlights, some of them abysmal, as with his abortive run for mayor of New York and later the Jack Abbott fiasco. On a literary level, Rollyson's best pages tie Mailer privately into the themes of Ancient Evenings, though his remark that Mailer hasn't had a major success since The Executioner's Song and at this late date may be past producing another triumph is unjust regarding both Ancient Evenings and Harlot's Ghost, which some already see as the high-water marks of Mailer's career. Mailer bounding larger than life--though the last word will be his in his long-promised autobiography, when and if.... --Kirkus Reviews

THE LIVES OF NORMAN MAILER is an aptly named book, for the subject of Carl Rollyson’s biography is a constantly changing, ever elusive figure whose individual and literary histories are a record of mutation, adaptation, and reinvention. As well known for his combative personal life as for his often controversial writing, Norman Mailer receives, in Rollyson’s work, the sort of careful and nonprejudiced examination he deserves but has often been denied.

When the young Mailer published THE NAKED AND THE DEAD in 1948, he was instantly catapulted into the position of being one of the most promising of postwar American writers. Promises can be ominous things, and Mailer was determined not to mire himself of his talent in rewriting the same novel for the rest of his career. Instead, he began to re-create himself even as he re-created his writings.

As Rollyson shows with telling effect and careful attention to detail, the changes in Mailer’s prose style, his choice of subject, and his approach to art are all paralleled in his personal life. The result of all these changes has been a man who appears to be a walking contradiction. Originally hailed as a novelist, Mailer’s greatest achievements have been in imaginative journalism, such as THE ARMIES OF THE NIGHT, about the march on the Pentagon in 1968, and THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG, about murderer Gary Gilmore; a supporter of such progressives as John F. Kennedy, Mailer holds so many contradictory political views he must label himself a “left conservative.”

Nowhere are the controversies around Mailer thicker than in his relationship with women,k and the question of his talent. For years it has seemed that Mailer delighted in baiting the Women’s movement, provoking its members with outrageous comments about sex and equality. Rollyson’s examination of Mailer’s tangled views of creativity and sexuality is especially revealing in this context. As for Mailer and his talent, Rollyson clearly believes in them, and makes a balanced but persuasive case for both, in this lucid and very intelligently written account of the many lives of Norman Mailer.--Magill's Book Reviews

Selected Works: Click on titles for reviews and photographs

e.g. Fiction, History, Magazine Articles, etc. goes here
Carl Rollyson not only provides an introduction to her essays, novels, plays, films, diaries, and uncollected work published in various periodicals, he now has a lens through which to reevaluate classic texts such as Against Interpretation and On Photography, providing both students and advanced scholars a renewed sense of her importance and impact.
This first biography of Susan Sontag (1933–2004) is now fully revised and updated, providing an even more intimate portrayal of the influential writer’s life and career. The authors base this revision on Sontag’s newly released private correspondence, including emails, and the letters and memoirs of those who knew her best.
Chapters on Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, Sylvia Plath, Amy Lowell, Michael Foot, Jill Craigie, Dana Andrews, Walter Brennan, and Willam Faulkner.
A Private Life of Michael Foot adopts a no holds barred approach to biography, leaving a political figure stripped bare, and revealing a deeply complex, introverted man for all to see.

The first biography of the prodigiously hard-working actor who embodied the Western ideal
A documentary approach to the life and legend. With details of her childhood, her young adult years, her ascent to superstardom, and the hour by hour moments leading to her tragic early death, this volume supplements—and, in some cases, corrects—the accounts of previous biographies.
A riveting examination of Amy Lowell’s private life and lover, Ada Russell, who did so much to make Lowell’s career possible The startling discovery of a new Amy Lowell lover who perished on the Lusitania. A compelling window into Lowell’s gregarious character. Concise readings of Lowell’s most important poems reveal the depth and range of her erotic imagination. An astute analysis of the way biographers and critics have maligned Lowell as a person and poet.
A revisionist view of the poet, her fellow writers, and their biographers. In this series of essays, beginning with a look at how her own biographers have behaved, I have tried to re-conceive the familiar anecdotes and episodes, circling back again and again to certain incidents and contretemps, as the point of view shifts from one writer to another. As a kind of coda to my quarrel with biographers is an essay, “Remembering Amy Lowell,” in which I assess the varying degrees to which the memoirs of her present a credible person and poet. I have not paused to define in any great detail terms such as Imagism, although I’ve included an essay on the Imagists in an appendix as well as the full texts of the poems discussed in this book. These appendices provide a context for the discussion of Lowell and her contemporaries and serve, I hope, as an inviting introduction to her work.
A biography of the great film noir actor. Here at last is the complete story of a great actor, his difficult struggle to overcome alcoholism while enjoying the accolades of his contemporaries, a successful term as president of the Screen Actors Guild, and the love of family and friends that never deserted him. Based on diaries, letters, home movies, and other documents, this biography explores the mystery of a poor boy from Texas who made his Hollywood dream come true even as he sought a life apart from the limelight and the backbiting of contemporaries jockeying for prizes and prestige. Called “one of nature’s noblemen” by fellow actor Norman Lloyd, Dana Andrews emerges from Hollywood Enigma as an admirable American success story, fighting his inner demons and ultimately winning.
Here, at last, is the true story of Sylvia Plath's last days and her estate's efforts to shape her husband's role in her death and the world's understanding of Plath and her work. Here, too, is a new Sylvia Plath, immersed in popular culture and proto-feminism, presaging the way we live now.I wrote this biography because there were aspects of Sylvia Plath that other biographers have overlooked or misunderstood. But as I wrote I re-read my predecessors. I checked to see how others had handled the same material. I think my practice in doing so is worth mentioning because I have dispensed with a good deal of the boilerplate that most biographers feel compelled to supply. I say little, for example, about the backgrounds of Plath’s parents. I don’t describe much of Smith College or its history. I do very little scene setting. Previous biographers do all this and more, and what strikes me about their work is how distracting all that background is for someone wishing to have a vision of Sylvia Plath, of what she was like and what she stood for. To put it another way, since earlier biographers have done so much to contextualize Plath, I have not wanted to repeat that exercise, as valuable as it can be for the Plath novice. Instead, I have concentrated on the intensity of the person who was Sylvia Plath, restricting my discussion of her writing only to the truly crucial pieces that advance my narrative. I have tried to write a narrative so focused that a reader new to Plath biography may feel some of the exhilaration and despair that marked the poet’s life. I wrote this biography because there were aspects of Sylvia Plath that other biographers have overlooked or misunderstood. But as I wrote I re-read my predecessors. I checked to see how others had handled the same material. I think my practice in doing so is worth mentioning because I have dispensed with a good deal of the boilerplate that most biographers feel compelled to supply. I say little, for example, about the backgrounds of Plath’s parents. I don’t describe much of Smith College or its history. I do very little scene setting. Previous biographers do all this and more, and what strikes me about their work is how distracting all that background is for someone wishing to have a vision of Sylvia Plath, of what she was like and what she stood for. To put it another way, since earlier biographers have done so much to contextualize Plath, I have not wanted to repeat that exercise, as valuable as it can be for the Plath novice. Instead, I have concentrated on the intensity of the person who was Sylvia Plath, restricting my discussion of her writing only to the truly crucial pieces that advance my narrative. I have tried to write a narrative so focused that a reader new to Plath biography may feel some of the exhilaration and despair that marked the poet’s life.
The first biography that truly shows the actress at work.-- Ellen Burstyn A new edition, revised and updated, from University Press of Mississippi. In American popular culture Marilyn Monroe has evolved in stature from Hollywood sex symbol to tragic legend. Most books about Monroe stress the sensational events that surrounded her-this book is the first to deal honestly and critically with Monroe as an actress, evaluating her moves as crucial forces in the shaping of her identity. Through careful examination of her performances, from her small appearances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve to her memorable roles in Bus Stop, Some Like It Hot, and the The Misfits, the author traces her development from cover girl innocent to an actress devoted to her craft. Based on extensive interviews with many of Monroe's colleagues, close friends, and mentors, this comprehensive, critically balanced study describes her use of Method acting as well as her instruction with Michael Chekhov and, later, the Strasbergs. Carl Rollyson has written a refreshing analysis and appreciation of Marilyn Monroe's enduring and, until now, underestimated gifts as a creative artist.
America's most controversial radical playwright. Through diaries, letters, government files, and interviews Carl Rollyson draws a vital and vibrant portrait of the life, the work, and the legend of Lillian Hellman, America's most controversial radical playwright. Rollyson explores the sources and backgrounds of her best-selling memoirs, the development of her politics, her successful screenwriting career, and her famous appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He provides entertaining and informative accounts of her feud with Mary McCarthy, her many love affairs and surprising friendships. He also provides a provocative and compelling portrayal of this complex and brilliant woman, who was called everything from a "viper", "a goddam liar" to "an empathetic genius with a highly original and penetrating mind." Near death, Hellman spoke of being blocked; this biography will show what got in her way.
The first biography of Gellhorn, relying on key archival sources and interviews with her friends and associates. Martha Gellhorn died in February 1998, just shy of her 90th birthday. Well before her death, she had become a legend. She reported on wars from Spain in the 1930s to Panama in the 1980s, and her travel books have become classics. Her marriage to Ernest Hemingway and affairs with legendary lovers like H. G. Wells, and her relationship with two presidents, Roosevelt and Kennedy, reflect her campaigns against tyranny and deprivation, and her outrage at the corruption and cruelty of modern governments. This controversial and acclaimed biography portrays a vibrant and troubled woman who never tired of fighting for causes she considered just.
Delves beneath the surface to examine the forces that made Sontag an international icon, exploring her public persona and private passions, including the strategies behind her meteoric rise to fame and her political moves.
The first book to survey the broad range of Sontag's work. Includes a comprehensive glossary of Sontag's extensive allusions to literary figures and ideas.
Twenty-five years of writing about female icons and biography. Female Icons: Marilyn Monroe to Susan Sontag Bits and pieces that resulted not only in a biography of Marilyn Monroe but also in much of the work subsequently done on Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and on the nature of biography itself. This book includes New York Sun book reviews dealing with female icons such as Mary Stuart, Mary Wollstonecraft, The Brontës, Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Sylvia Plath.
The standard biography of one of the 20th century's greatest prose stylists.. What is new in this second edition of Carl Rollyson's standard biography? It begins with a portrait that attempts to evoke the living person in all her dimensions. It concludes with an interview with one of her favorite secretaries, Elizabeth Leyshon, who eluded him in the 1990s but provided new insights into her employer's character for this book. The biography's new title emphasizes that Rebecca West was a prophet-one not always appreciated in her own day. As early as 1917, she understood where the world was headed and realized that the revolution in Russia held out false hope. Because she took this view as a socialist, those on the left scorned her as an apostate, whereas she understood that Communism would result in a disaster for the British left. Readers wishing to gauge the range of West's fiction and nonfiction should read Woman as Artist and Thinker, published by iUniverse. Rollyson has read his words anew, sharpening sentences, omitting words and paragraphs-sometimes entire sections-in order to provide a refreshing, more engaging, and spirited account of one of the world's major writers.
The first book to explore the entire corpus of her extraordinary career.
Religion, politics, and the writing of biographies.
Filmmaker, feminist,, wife--a twentieth century woman.
The first literary biography of Norman Mailer, updated and revised
Essays in Biography is a play on words conveying an attempt to explore the nature of biography in pieces about the history of the genre and in portrayals of biographers (Plutarch, Leon Edel, and W. A. Swanberg), literary figures (Lillian Hellman, Jack London), philosophers and critics (Leo Strauss and Hippolyte Taine), political figures (Winston Churchill and Napoleon), and artists (Rembrandt and Rubens).
For those addicted to reading biography, enhancing their pleasure by providing insight (or you might say, the inside word) on how biographies are put together.
Provocative reviews of American subjects, originally appearing in The New York Sun.
A candid and revealing account, by an expert in the minefield of the biographer’s contentious work
A terrific companion for biography writers and lovers.-- James McGrath Morris, editor of the monthly "The Biographer's Craft"