WHEN author Norman Mailer died last week at the age of 84, it was noted that he had a bit of a connection to the Irish. First, there was his run for New York City mayor alongside legendary Irish American columnist Jimmy Breslin.

They ran on a plank which, among other things, advocated that New York City secede from the rest of America and become the 51st state.

Mailer also drank beside Denis Duggan and Pete Hamill at the Lion's Head, and was the star of perhaps the most memorable scene in Hamill's memoir A Drinking Life.

Some of Mailer's obituary writers also noted that his novel An American Dream, about a seemingly successful man who goes nuts and kills his wife, included the line: "The Irish are the only men who know how to cry for the dirty polluted blood of all the world."

Mailer's daughter-in-law Sasha Lazard even sang an Irish lullaby at Mailer's wake.

But Mailer's connection to the Irish was far deeper than all this. At times, it bordered on the bizarre.

Mailer's literary as well as public fixation with Irishness showed that he associated the Irish with toughness and grit.

But, to paraphrase that eminent Irish poet Shane MacGowan (himself quoting Churchill), Mailer also linked the Irish with cops, sodomy and crime. Yes, with an emphasis on sodomy.

But first things first. On a purely literary level it is widely acknowledged that one of Mailer's greatest influences was the Chicago Irish writer James T. Farrell, best known for his gritty Studs Lonigan trilogy.

"In the figure of Studs Lonigan, Mailer found the first of his many Irish alter egos," wrote Carl E. Rollyson in his 1991 biography The Lives of Norman Mailer.

"Studs swaggers. He is a small guy who has the nerve to take on bigger men. . . . He is a romantic who dreams of conquering the world and of mastering beautiful women, but he is also one of the boys, embarrassed by his mother's coddling of him."

After Mailer found fame with his 1948 novel Naked and the Dead (which includes a South Boston Irish character named Gallagher), he took on a series of odd public personas.

One day he'd talk like a gangster. Next, yes, it would be an Irish brogue.

Indeed, Mailer was obsessed with tough guys. This shows in his writing about the existential importance of hipsters, who lived, felt and experienced everything more deeply than the unhip squares out there.

It is some of Mailer's most inane writing, in my opinion, but that's a topic for another time.

One of Mailer's most, uh, forceful hipsters is Sergius O'Shaugnessy, from his short story "The Time of Her Time."

O'Shaugnessy is courting a young Jewish co-ed named Denise. She's a bit of a wild child but, as the author depicts it, never experienced true sexual pleasure.

Enter the vigorous Irishman. Following an anti-Semitic utterance and a bit of sodomy, Denise will never be the same again. Read the story yourself if you don't believe me.

Mailer never lost his fascination with these topics - sex, naughty behavior and, yes, the Irish.

One of his most famous journalistic pieces, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket," was published in the fall of 1960. It is a marvelously prescient piece about John F. Kennedy, who would become the first Irish Catholic president. Mailer saw early on that sex appeal was part of JFK's charm.

In fact, next week Mailer will appear in a new movie called Oswald's Ghost, about JFK's assassination.

Mailer's obsession with the Irish bled into a new obsession of his in the 1960s - filmmaking. He directed several movies and, in one of them, Beyond the Law from 1968, he played a corrupt Brooklyn Irish cop.

"Everybody alive has a cop or a crook in him," Mailer said about the role. To Mailer, it seemed the Irish, by definition, were saints and sinners.

A role Mailer could not script, however, was in Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life. The setting is the Four Seasons Hotel, and Mailer is celebrating his 50th birthday. He is extremely drunk and on a table, making a speech about "Orientals" and "an organization or movement or cult that he was founding."

Hamill, at this point, had stopped drinking. Mailer's performance reminded the author why he had stopped.

So, sing an Irish lullaby for Norman Mailer, a man with such a zest for life he opposed birth control, believing it came between men and women seeking passion.

Mailer had nine kids. Like any good Irish Catholic boy.

(Contact Tom at tomdeignan@verizon.net)

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