One of the details in the Norman Mailer obits that always seemed a little strange is how he quit The Village Voice, a paper he help found, because of typographical errors in his copy. These things happen every day in the newspaper business, but it just seemed a little odd, anti-climactic even, that the copy desk and Mailer couldn’t work things out. Or maybe it was destined to end that way with the volatile and pugnacious Mailer.
In his last column, Mailer wrote “In the four months I have been writing this column, similar (for me) grievous errors have cropped up in all but two of the pieces I have written, and these editors have made for steadily increasing friction….”
Mailer later confesses that underlying differences about the direction of the Voice may have also played a role as “They wish this newspaper to be more conservative, more Square—I wish it to be more Hip.”
But in an obit in The Villager newspaper, Jerry Tallmer, another Voice co-founder, recalls the other side of the typo story.
I picked it up. A raging voice — Mailer’s voice — said: “Tallmer, you schmuck, why don’t you take your thumb out of your asshole? It’s ‘nuance … nuance,’ not ‘nuisance.’ ”
I said: “Norman, don’t talk to me like that,” and hung up, still body-weary and half-asleep, not having the least idea what the hell he was talking about.
And thus began the great Village Voice battle of the typo, an internal war that almost strangled that infant newspaper in its cradle.
Brief explanation. Norman Mailer, the silent partner (“I’m only in this for the money”), waited about 15 minutes after Volume I, No. 1 of The Voice, to launch himself as a weekly columnist, beginning with a great quote from Gide: “Please do not understand me too quickly.”
He wrote the columns — an exploration of hipness intermingled with sneering put-downs of Village intelligentsia — by hand, in pen or pencil, in a sort of looping, grade-school script, and brought or sent them in, always too late, much beyond deadline, and always, always, far exceeding the allotted space.
Our two secretaries, Susan Ryan and Flo Ettenberg, the only paid staffers ($50 each a week), would decipher them, type them, and off we’d all go at 6 in the morning, having had little or no sleep whatever the past 72 hours, all the way across New Jersey, myself or publisher Ed Fancher at the wheel, to the printers in Washington, New Jersey.
Somewhere along in there, the three words “nuances of youth” in Norman’s column that issue, had come out
“nuisances of youth.” Nobody had caught it. We were lucky, in our blinding exhaustion, to have caught “t-h-e.”