For Norris Church Mailer, it was love at first sight. She was a 26-year-old high school art teacher when she met Norman Mailer, then 52, in her hometown of Russellville, Ark. She later poured out her feelings to the philandering novelist in a love poem—which he sent back, copy-edited in red pencil. Undeterred, she moved to New York to become his sixth wife, stepmother to his seven children, and mother to his eighth. “I’d bought a ticket to the circus,” she told The New York Times. “I don’t know why I was surprised to see elephants.”
At first, she thought Mailer had given up his womanizing ways. Then she learned he’d been cheating on her with a “small army of women”—most of whom were either his age (70) or very overweight. He told her: “‘Sometimes I want to be the attractive one.’ I think he felt if it wasn’t somebody young and beautiful, he wasn’t betraying me as much. I kept saying to him: ‘Why didn’t I know?’ And he said: ‘It’s not hard to fool somebody who loves you and trusts you.’” She was crushed, but they stayed married until his death, in 2007. “The good outweighed the bad, and we loved those kids. I didn’t want to leave them, and I didn’t want to leave him because he was so interesting. If I had, I would always have wondered what he was up to.”
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