No writer could've made up a character like Norris Church Mailer. With a life filled with so many twists and turns, any editor would've raised their eyebrows and said, "My God, what was this woman? Forrest Gump?"
Born Barbara Jean Davis, a Southern Baptist girl whose family went to church three times a week. Dated Bill Clinton when he and Hillary were on the outs. A single mother when Norman Mailer came into her small Arkansas town, the two of them connected and slept together hours after they first met. She followed him to New York where she became a mother figure to his six other children, then started modeling for the Wilhelmina modeling agency. In one famous picture, she posed naked in a fur coat with the "naughty bits" blocked out.
They finally got married after he divorced one woman, married the mother of his daughter Maggie, then divorced her,then married Norris. This reminds me of when George Carlin in Outrageous Fortune listened to Bette Midler's rant about an ex-boyfriend, then said "The sixties were good for you, weren't they?" It was Mailer who gave Norris her new name: Norris was her first husband's surname, Church for the fact her family was so religious when she was young and Mailer for him.
To celebrate their marriage, they cameoed in the movie Ragtime with Norman as Stanford White and she played his consort. She quietly disapproved when Norman got involved in trying to free Jack Henry Abbott, a talented writer who was serving time in prison. She made sure that he wasn't around her children. Yet she stood by her husband when Abbott was freed he killed someone with a pen.
They summered in Provincetown, where she earned a reputation as a talented artist. It wasn't always easy; she tried writing a novel but Norman's critique made her stop writing for years. She found out he had a mistress. Yet she forgave him and stayed together. And in 2000, her novel Windchill Summer, about recent high school graduate Cherry falling in love with a Vietnam vet. It was a wonderful debut, and she wasn't just Norman Mailer's wife anymore. She was an author in her own right.
However she developed cancer which left her at times bedridden. Her father died and she had to become a caretaker for her mother. She also took care of Norman his last years, all while writing Cheap Diamonds, a sequel to Windchill Summer.
In her final years she wrote a memoir that was published this year titled A Ticket to the Circus. When it came out I was honored to design her Red Room page. The cover of the book had Norris as a child, a red haired little girl with crossed arms, mouth open. It was like she was saying I know life is going to be an adventure for me, and I can't wait.
When Huntington sent me the email about her death, I thought oh no, now I won't know what happened next to Cherry. Yet I did know what happened to Cherry. She married a man she adored. It wasn't perfect, but she loved him and made it work. She wrote books. She had children and grandchildren. It wasn't always easy, yet she did the best she could.
The red-haired girl had a definite adventure. It's just over way too soon.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries