If you enter the search terms “Norman Mailer” and “hammer” on YouTube, you will be directed to a clip titled “Norman Mailer vs Rip Torn—on camera brawl.” Click on the link and an amazing series of frames rolls across the computer screen: Torn, the accomplished and respected actor, bonks Mailer, the novelist and trailblazing New Journalist, over the head with a hammer, drawing blood. The two men tussle on the grass, grunting and cursing. Then Mailer bites Torn’s ear half off in retaliation.
Four of Mailer’s children (three of them under the age of 10) can be heard screaming and crying in terror as Mailer’s fourth wife, Beverly Bentley, bursts into the frame, shouting obscenities at Torn and smacking him repeatedly in the head.
It’s the horrifying climax of Maidstone, Mailer’s third experimental film, which was released in 1971. He called it “a guerrilla raid on the nature of reality.”