Norman Mailer’s Open Letter to JFK


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April 27, 1961, Vol. VI, No. 27

An Open Letter to JFK

By Norman Mailer

Dear Jack:

Back in a certain nice Summer before a long Fall, I wrote an essay for one of our large garish national magazines about the Democratic Convention, the city of Los Angeles, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In that piece, I may have made the error of sailing against the stereotype that you were a calculating untried over-ambitious and probably undeserving young stud who came from a very wealthy and much unloved family.

I took a hard skimming tack against the wind of that probability and ventured instead into the notion that you gave promise of becoming the first major American hero in more than a decade. I also upheld the private hope that you were – dare I use the word, it has become so abused – that you were Hip, that your sense of history was subtle because it extracted as much from the flesh as fact. Finally, I suggested that America’s mutilated vision of a renaissance might find new and necessary life in that inevitably romantic and rather royal image you and your wife would furnish all us minor-league soap operas with our malnourished electronic psyches.

Obviously, I hoped you would get in. I did my best to help you. I wrote 13,000 words  of rich chocolate prose to balm the flaccid hearts of all those sick little Democrats I know, and I think I even made the club. I may be one of the 5000 charter members who can boast that: Jack would not have gotten in without me. Of course Jim Farley, Jake Arvey, Lyn Johnson, J. Edgar, and even old Dick Nix (America can’t stand pat) also figure they made the real difference in your 100,000 votes. But blow it. I don’t know that my Narcissism is kept tasty any longer by being part of the club. I don’t get much pleasure in saying this, but I think you are beginning to act a little like all bad hippies – responsibility is turning you to plumber’s lead.

I mean: Wasn’t there anyone around to give you the lecture on Cuba? Don’t you sense the enormity of your mistake – you invade a country without understanding its music.

You listen to intelligence agents and fail to interpret the style of the prose in which they submit their reports. You, with your shrewd sense of character, neglect to see that none of your boys and men can tell you the truth about Cuba because it would flagellate them too psychically to consider the existential (that is, indescribable) quality of what they report. So they turn nuances into facts, and lose other nuances, and mangle facts into falsities. It keeps you perhaps from recognizing what all the world knows, that we have driven Cuba inch by inch to alliance with the Soviet, as deliberately and insanely as a man setting out to cuckold himself.

But allow me to offer you an unsolicited guide. Six months ago, I intended to run for Mayor of New York. I planned to publish an open letter to Fidel Castro as the first rocket in the campaign. Through October and the beginning of November, I worked at the letter, polished it here, cut it there. Then a rocket went off in a direction I had not anticipated and I smashed a thousand pieces in people around me. That letter is one of the broken pieces. It made no sense to publish it any longer since I had lost the right to use my name in any happy way.

Now, however, you come to my aid. It occurs to me that that prose, now half a year old, will help you to understand Cuba no less well than you have managed to do so far on the basis of those marvelous reports which come in from your Mr. Allen Dulles. I mean: think of all the studs and girly-goos in CIA who held hands and toes and told each other the invasion was bound to succed. Success, America!

[What follows is Mailer’s several-thousand-word open letter to Castro which he had sent that week to the New York Post, the Herald Tribune, and the Times — and was printed by none of them. For the rest of the piece, see it here at Google’s archives of the Voice — T.O.]

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