NEW YORK CITY—Those who've been around veteran adult actress Gloria Leonard for a while are bound to have heard her tell about her run-in with the late novelist Norman Mailer during her days in New York's adult video scene, but now a writer for The L Magazine has splashed the tale across the internet.
The year was 1982; New York and San Francisco were still major nodes of adult film and video production, though the usually warm, usually rainless (and fogless) climate of Los Angeles had captured producers who wanted to be able to shoot outdoor scenes on mansion-bearing estates. But with companies like Video-X-Pix and Command Video shooting and releasing in New York, and others like VCA and Caballero distributing movies shot in New York, Manhattan was still a mecca for both actors and producers—and it was there, according to Leonard, that she was confronted by an admiring Norman Mailer as she was exiting the ladies room at a swanky New York restaurant.
The meeting was rumored to have led to a brief affair between the semi-retired actress (then also publisher of High Society magazine) and the author, but it didn't last long. However, Leonard remembered Mailer when she was approached by a group of adult distributors from the Midwest to bankroll what they described as "the world's first million-dollar pornographic movie." (Little did they realize that Bob Guccione's 1979 production of Caligula, with its mainstream actors and inserted hardcore footage, dwarfed that amount, costing $17.5 million by the time it was completed.)
"I told them they'd never see a dime on the project, that I could put together ten real money-makers for that kind of dough, but, no, they wanted the Gone With the Wind of fuck films," Leonard told reporter Lili Anolik. But in order to try to fulfill her investors' dream, Leonard decided that what the film needed was a top mainstream author to write the screenplay—and she quickly thought of Mailer, whose first novel, The Naked and the Dead—about his experiences during WWII—was highly acclaimed and later made into a Hollywood blockbuster, and whose fourth novel, An American Dream, had been serialized in Esquire, then considered a classy adult-oriented magazine.
The pair discussed Mailer's role in the project over lunch one day in 1983, and according to Leonard, when she'd broached the subject of hiring him to write the movie, "He sat straight up in his chair and said, 'I always knew I'd one day make a porny,'" she told Anolik.
But, it turned out, timing was a problem. Mailer was finishing one novel, had just begun writing another (Tough Guys Don't Dance, a murder mystery featuring plenty of sex), and had already committed to writing a Broadway play (never completed), so after many delays beginning the screenplay—for which Mailer was to be paid $250,000—Leonard's investors pulled out and the project died a year or so after its "birth." Leonard, whose final hardcore scene was in 1984, and who continued as publisher of High Society until 1991, reportedly lost touch with Mailer shortly after the project collapsed. Mailer continued to write novels and non-fiction books until his death in 2007.
Leonard, who lives in Hawaii near her daughter, currently has little contact with the adult industry beyond keeping in touch with some longtime friends—and according to Anolik, she's "between cell phones." Attempts to contact Leonard by email were unsuccessful.