Barney Rosset

The Most Dangerous Man in Publishing

Evergreen 51 (February 1968)

When talking about the major obscenity trials of the mid-19th century, Norman Mailer once said, "There's a wonderful moment when you go from oppression to freedom, there in the middle, when one's still oppressed but one's achieved the first freedoms. By the time you get over to complete freedom you begin to look back almost nostalgically on the days of oppression, because in those days you were ready to become a martyr, you had a sense of importance, you could take yourself seriously, and you were fighting the good fight."

There seemed to be some justice to this comment, and so I asked Rosset what he thought of it. He waved the question away. "That was Mailer! He would have been crazy in any time," he said. And then he launched into another story, about the time Mailer filmed a movie, "Maidenhead," in the Hamptons. Rosset picked up a small wooden block onto which a photograph of his East Hampton Quonset hut had been laminated, and told me about how Mailer had bit off a chunk of an actor's ear while filming at a nearby estate after the actor had gashed Mailer's head with a hammer. "What was his name? Tony?" he asked Myers. (Rip Torn was the answer.) Myers went over to a cabinet of old VHS tapes, took out "Maidenhead," and pulled off the cover. "What a terrible movie," she said, and smiled.

-- Louisa Thomas, "The Most Dangerous Man in Publishing," Newsweek, December 6, 2008.


Film was a short film commissioned for Evergreen Theatre. The script appeared in the spring of 1963 as a fairly baffling when not downright inscrutable six-page outline. Along with pages of addenda in Sam's inimitable informal style: explanatory notes, a philosophical supplement, modest production suggestions, a series of hand-drawn diagrams. Involving, in cosmic detail, his principal characters, O and E, the question of "perceivedness," the angle of immunity, and the essential principle that esse est percipi: to be is to be perceived. All composed with loving care, humor, sadness, and Sam's ever-present compassionate understanding of man's essential frailty. I loved it even when I wasn't completely sure what Sam meant. And I suddenly decided that my early academic training in physics and geometry was finally going to pay off in my directorial career.