Norris Church Mailer: Life with Norman

The late author Norman Mailer was one of those larger-than-life characters who overshadowed everyone else in the room - and that definitely included his sixth and last wife, Norris Church Mailer. Shortly before her own death last fall, she spoke about their often tempestuous marriage with our Anthony Mason:

In the Brooklyn apartment she shared with her literary rock star husband, Norris Church Mailer, a small town Arkansas girl, would live a large and glamorous life.

He was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Norman Mailer. She became a model, an artist, and his muse.

Norris Church Mailer died last fall, three years after her husband.

She was frail, fighting cancer, and had only months to live when we interviewed her. But she had just published her memoir.

"Did you sort of feel like you needed to put all those memories someplace?" Mason asked.

"I did. I guess I selfishly wanted to relive the good ones and maybe try to sort out the bad ones," she said.

In what would be her last major interview, she talked about life with the charismatic but combustible Mailer, the author who won Pulitzers for both "The Armies of the Night" and "The Executioner's Song" - but who also stabbed the second of his six wives with a pen knife.

"You say in the book, 'Why was I so consumed by this old, fat, bombastic lying little dynamo?'"

"Right!" she laughed.

"Kinda sums it up," Mason said.

"Yes. That's what he was, totally. I don't know. I just loved him. No accounting for taste," Church said.

As she was fond of saying, " I bought a ticket to the circus. I don't know why I was surprised to see elephants."

A pugilistic literary literary lion remembered
Video: Norman Mailer dead at 84

She did have a life before she met Mailer.

Born Barbara Jean Davis, she grew up in Arkansas, and at age 3, she was crowned Little Miss Little Rock.

By 1975, she was a divorced high school art teacher with a young son when Norman Mailer came to town to promote a book:

"The last thing on my mind was romance, I swear," she said.

"So how would you describe the chemistry that occurred?" Mason asked.

"Well, there was something that happened from the moment I walked in the door. I mean, it was the old 'our eyes met across a crowded room' kind of thing," Church said.

She was 26. He was exactly twice her age. But she followed him to New York, changed her name, signed with the Wilhelmina Modelling Agency, and became a successful artist and writer herself.

But most of all she became famous for enduring Norman Mailer.

As the author himself said on "Sunday Morning" ten years ago, "She's given a certain dignity to my life that I've never had before."

Web Exclusive: To watch Martha Teichner's 2001 interview with Norman Mailer and Norris Church Mailer click on the video player below.

It wasn't easy: "He was on his fourth wife, living with another woman, had seven kids," recalled Church.

"I assume you did the math?" asked Mason.

"I did the math. It was complicated."

"Not a lot of people would sign up for seven stepchildren. What made you embrace that?"

"They were great kids - they embraced me," said Church. "I wasn't trying to be their mother. I wasn't trying to be their boss."

But New York society did not exactly embrace her.

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