Pugilistic American novelist Norman Mailer knew the fight game
The books of Norman Mailer, who died today at 84, proved of such little interest to filmmakers that he directed adaptations of some of them himself including “Maidstone” (1970) and “Tough Guys Don’t Dance” (1987). Lawrence Schiller made an Emmy-winning NBC miniseries of “The Executioner’s Song,” starring Tommy Lee Jones as death row convict Gary Gilmore in 1982. The only other feature of note was Raoul Walsh’s 1958 version of Mailer’s World War II novel “The Naked and the Dead” starring Aldo Ray and Cliff Robertson.
For my money, Mailer’s best writing was his journalism as in “The Executioner’s Song” but especially in his superb boxing yarn “The Fight,” which described the 1974 encounter between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire known as the Rumble in the Jungle. Here’s an excerpt:
“Foreman’s arms flew out to the side like a man with a parachute jumping out of a plane, and in this doubled-over position he tried to wander out to the center of the ring. All the while his eyes were on Ali and he looked up with no anger as if Ali, indeed, was the man he knew best in the world and would see him on his dying day.
Vertigo took George Foreman and revolved him. Still bowing from the waist in this uncomprehending position, eyes on Muhammad Ali all the way, he started to tumble and topple and fall even as he did not wish to go down. . . . He went over like a six-foot sixty-year-old butler who has just heard tragic news. . . .”