Brando and Mailer biographer Peter Manso dies at age 80

Peter Manso, an enveloping biographer of Marlon Brando and Norman Mailer and journalist whose piercing talks with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward I. Koch returned to haunt them when they ran for governor of California and New York, respectively, died Wednesday at his home in Truro, Mass., on Cape Cod. He was 80 years old.

The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Anna Avellar.

A native of New York who loved to run and write about fast cars, Mr. Manso preferred a scholarly, careful and unhurried approach to researching what turned out to be gigantic oral biographies, largely made up of transcribed interviews. The 768-page Mailer: His Life and His Time (1985) took him six years to write. He worked for eight years on his final title “Brando: The Biography” (1994), which weighed 1160 pages.

In the New York Times Book Review, Barbara Goldsmith called Mr. Manso’s book on Mr. Mailer “the quintessential celebrity biography.” Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in The Times that the size of the book “just seems ridiculous”, but “try to immerse yourself in Mr. Manso’s interviews without immediately getting hooked.”

Mr. Manso has written extensively for magazines (many of his articles have been translated into French and published in the Paris Match newspaper as well) and has authored several other books, including “Ptown: Art, Sex and Money on the Outer Cape ”(2003) and“ Reasonable Doubt: The Fashion Writer, Cape Cod, and the Trial of Chris McCowen ”(2011), in which he challenged the conviction of a 34-year-old garbage collector with a low IQ in death knife from Mr. Manso’s 2002 neighbor, Christa Worthington, a 46-year-old fashion writer and single mother from an old Cape Cod family.

His relations with his subjects and the critics of his works were often tumultuous.

He and Mr Mailer, who initially shared a home on Cape Cod, Provincetown, then exchanged insults over how the author was portrayed in what had started as an authorized biography. Oscar-winning screenwriter Jeremy Larner, a friend of Mr Manso’s, recalled that “Mailer quickly crossed the line of what could be forgiven” and Mr Manso returned the favor.

Critic Dwight Garner’s stint on “Reasonable Doubt” in the Times – he called the book “a disaster, both lumpen and bonkers” – prompted Mr Manso to write a 700-word letter to The Times in response.

He said later Daily women’s clothing: “This is a review designed to kill a book, not to describe a book or its flaws” – especially since Mr. Garner had tended to agree with the author’s conclusion that the accused in the case had been the victim of a railroad.

In 1982, shortly after Mr. Koch, the mayor of New York, declared his candidacy for the Democratic primary for governor, Playboy magazine published an interview carried out by Mr. Manso several months earlier. In it, the mayor mocked the suburbs as “barren” and life in the upstate as worse, even compared to the rigors of the metro and other plagues of city life.

“As opposed to wasting time in a car? »Said the mayor, laughing. “Or in the country, wasting time in a van?” When you have to drive 20 miles to buy a gingham dress or a Sears suit, Roebuck? This rural American thing, I’m telling you, it’s a joke.

Mr. Koch lost the Democratic nomination that year to Mario M. Cuomo, in part thanks to the interview.

In August 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor of California, he was embarrassed when a 1977 interview with Mr. Manso in Yes, an adult magazine, resurfaced. In the article, Mr. Schwarzenegger admitted to participating in group sex and using marijuana and hashish.

Confronted with the article, Mr Schwarzenegger explained that he was 29 at the time and, as an actor, had no intention of pursuing a political career at the time. Californians apparently accepted his explanation. They voted to recall Governor Gray Davis, a Democrat, and replaced him with Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Peter Manso was born on December 22, 1940 in Manhattan. Her father, Leo Manso, was a painter and collagist. His mother, Blanche (Rosenberg) Manso, was an Asian Indian antiques dealer.

His parents were immersed in the Provincetown artist and writers scene, and Peter frequently mingled with it. He graduated from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan at the age of 16.

“He was funny, he was jaded, he was hilarious,” his friend Eugene Fedorko said in Cape Cod Times. “He was a supernova among us fireflies. “

Mr. Manso received a bachelor’s degree from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1961 and a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins in 1962. After teaching for a year at Rutgers University, he turned to writing. , studied for a doctorate in American literature at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968 (although he never submitted a thesis for a doctorate) and helped manage Mr Mailer’s chaotic campaign for the mayor of New York in 1969.

He had homes in Berkeley and Provincetown where he was charged with possession of an unregistered firearm – retaliation, Mr Manso said, for criticizing the local prosecutor in “Reasonable Doubt.” A longtime friend, author David Reid, described Mr. Manso as “my rowdy neighbor.”

Besides Mrs. Avellar, whom he married in 2003, he is survived by his brother, Victor; two step-sons, Chad and Anson Avellar; and two grandchildren.

Before he died, he was working with Mr. Mailer’s son Michael, producer and director (and Mr. Manso’s godson) on a documentary film about an unsolved murder in Provincetown.

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