Book Launch Exclusive: Lee Harvey Oswald Friend Debunks Norman Mailer's Epic 'Oswald's Tale'

 

Introduction: The Justice Integrity Project proudly presents the never-before-published recollections of Professor Ernst Titovets debunking his portrayal and that of his friend Lee Harvey Oswald in the late Norman Mailer's epic 1995 book, "Oswald's Tale," a near-800-page biography of Oswald, whom Mailer described as a psychologically tormented sole assassin of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

ernst oswald titovets cover Through the decades, Titovets researched and then published his own recollections of his friend Oswald, resulting in a 541-page memoir entitled Oswald: Russian Episode, published in multiple print and electronic editions. In 2024, the book is being published for the first time in a Russian-language edition. It debuts this week in a Jan. 25 lecture (postponed from Jan. 17) by the author at the Pushkin Library in Minsk.

The book refers the reader to the events of the early 1960s and the odyssey of Oswald, an alleged assassin of JFK. "In some uncanny way," Titovets says, "the norman mailer oswald bestfate of this book has crossed with that of Oswald’s Tale: An  American  Mystery, Mailer's book. In the center of both books is the greatest still-unsolved mystery of the 20th century, the assassination of JFK and the disputed involvement of Oswald in this act."

Both authors (Mailer and Titovets, shown below right in a recent photo) met in Minsk, the Belarus capital then within the Soviet Union, where Oswald once resided. Both authors interviewed a largely overlapping spectrum of people who knew Oswald, received the same information about his background, and his life in the Soviet Union. They acquainted themselves with the same official documents on relevant issues, although Titovets has largely confined his appraisals to Oswald's years in the Soviet Union, not the rest of his life and the vast numbers of commentaries by others about it.

Ernst Titovets newest 2024Surprisingly, each author arrived at mutually exclusive conclusions about Oswald’s character and guilt. Mailer portrays Oswald as a mentally unstable man with megalomaniac tendencies and as the assassin of JFK, in keeping with official statements by the FBI and Warren Commission in the year after the killing. On the other hand, Titovets portrays Oswald as a young, grassroots philosopher seeking ways to make life better for the poor and dispossessed, and a patsy in the JFK assassination. The emergence of these two polar-opposite Oswalds on the basis of similar sourcing within the Soviet Union should be a puzzling and important occurrence, and is thus the topic for this column.

In the autumn of 1992, Norman Mailer, age 69, was an esteemed American writer, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and the author of many books. When he came to Minsk his aim was to research his book about Oswald, who resided in the city for two-and-a-half years.

Oswald’s close friend Erich [Ernst] Titovets, who also lived in Minsk, prompted special attention from Mailer, doubtless because Titovets was a rare English-speaker in the city, thereby fostering an unusual amount of time spent with Oswald three decades previous.

At the time of the Mailer visit, Titovets, age 53, had earned both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees and served as the head of the Experimental Department at the Neurology and Neurosurgery Research Institute. At his department, Professor Titovets and his 21-person team were engaged in brain research, cerebral pathology and therapy. In his spare time, Titovets was working on his own book about his late friend Oswald.

The two authors met when Mailer and his entourage visited the professor at his office without preliminary notice in October 1992. We travel back in time to try to witness that meeting, with the rest of this account in the words of Titovets:

 

By Ernst Titovets:

There appeared before me two rather corpulent senior men in the formal suits of some couturier. An elegant, platinum-blonde woman accompanied them. The men introduced themselves as Norman Mailer and Larry Schiller. The English-speaking Russian woman, called Mila, was their interpreter.

Mailer, later speaking at D.G. Wills Books in 1995, would recall that his friend Schiller had prompted the research and publication of his Oswald’s Tale. Mailer would indulgingly refer to him as the "somewhat rascally" Larry Schiller. In the 1980s, Schiller had directed in Russia the picture Peter the Great and was thus familiar with certain aspects of the local culture and momentous changes underway when the Soviet Union started to disintegrate. Schiller had approached the KGB in Moscow and somehow managed to extract from them a promise to show their secret Oswald’s files to Mailer. Schiller argued that Mailer was a great writer, an American Tolstoy, and this seemed to have worked. Schiller then called Mailer, outlined the situation and persuaded him to write about Oswald's time in Minsk, a possibility that Mailer had already been considering. According to Mailer, Schiller showed that he could solve various research problems, including interview arrangements.

ernst titovets norman mailer 1992

Professor Ernst Titovets (left) and writer Norman Mailer at the professor’s office in Minsk (October 1992).

This was the background when I first met Mailer in my office. The eminent writer struck me as a dignified man with an imposing, well-mannered presence. Schiller, by contrast, produced an impression of a shifty sort with somewhat aggressive and informal manners. We chatted for a brief time, with just small talk. Before they left, we agreed to see more of each other in the near future.

I was duly impressed and indeed happy with my new acquaintance. I looked forward to seeing more of Mailer, discussing things with him, exchanging ideas, learning about his vision of Oswald and of the JFK issues.

My euphoria turned out to be short-lived. Before we met again, I received an ice-cold shower in the form of a 1967 book, The Scavengers and Critics co-authored by Lawrence Schiller and Richard W. Lewis. My long-distance American friend David S. Lifton, the California-based author of The Best Evidence, had sent me a copy. The book was a harsh attack against authors who had voiced objections to the official treatment of the JFK assassination. The book  was based on an investigation by Lawrence Schiller, that very Larry Schiller who had accompanied Mailer to my office.

A review of this Schiller book stated:

The Scavengers and Critics, by Richard W. Lewis and Lawrence Schiller, 1967 [is] a full-frontal assault on critics of the Warren Commission. This book, published when Warren criticism was really taking off, pretends to be an objective look at the critics and their work. It is really a series of smears against the most prominent critics of the day, and an unabashed apology for the Commission’s deficiencies.

This was a blunt reminder for me of the political world, where high stakes brought clashes of interests and arguments to the public. But I, at least, had been warned about the Mailer team’s bias.

What was Mailer’s mission? We met many times over his stay in Minsk. Mailer would try to put on an air of an older friend who would occasionally try kidding me, as a younger one. When he felt that  did not work, he retained the image of a kind, older man who carried a benevolent smile on his face.

I wanted to learn more. Who was this renowned writer, a rare American bird visiting our city, where just a few dozen at most spoke English? Once I took him to Lenin Library, the biggest in the city, which contained some of his books. He seemed happy to sign a copy of his The Naked and The Dead, inscribing something to the effect, as I recall, that he was surprised to find his books here.

As my workaday life went on, I did not focus at first about the style of the book I was researching and writing. Instead, I believed that the story would flow naturally from me. My feeling was that I knew Oswald better than anybody else in Minsk, had interviewed many people about him. So, why bother learning about details of publishing and politics?

However, the moment I started to commit my thoughts to paper I realized I was in trouble. On one hand, I was a character in my book, a friend of Lee, living alongside other characters. This would require a first-person account. On the other hand, as an author, I had to be an impartial observer and chronicler of those events. That required a third-person presentation, which we in Belarus call “third-face” for any readers here who might be interested in such subtle cross-cultural nuances.

I told Mailer about my dilemma and asked him for advice. He responded with a mini-lecture on book writing for beginners. He provided some useful tips and I felt it very rewarding to learn from this great master realistic things about the writer’s trade.

Schiller, always present during our meetings with Mailer, said meaningfully:

“You are a writer now!”

“Not in his presence,” I responded as I inclined my head towards Mailer.

This seemingly innocent comment of Schiller’s sounded like flattery to test if I would swallow the bait. It reminded me of the undeclared confrontation looming between us.

Schiller carried a look of an innocently roguish type. He must have been aware of the impression he produced on others and seemed to cultivate this apparently harmless image of his. Nevertheless, I warned myself, "You better not fall for it!"

Schiller, who struck me increasingly like a consummate false friend and schemer, tried his best to persuade me to grant Mailer a full interview. His approach might have worked had I not been warned about his views of Oswald. Schiller told me that Mailer would prefer to learn about the most sordid sides of life of his characters. That perspective would serve the author to portray them realistically, I heard. This told me that Mailer was seeking material for a smear campaign. In effect, the rascally Schiller was thus instructing the interviewees about what was expected from them when they would meet the maestro. In my case, Schiller’s attempt seemed pathetic and proved unsuccessful.

In a desperate attempt to correct the situation, Schiller told me that Mailer’s interest in Oswald was only collateral. His main objective was to write a book about Belarus immediately after the World War II. A good try! The stalemate went on.

On one occasion, Mailer quoted Shakespeare, “To be or not to be. That is the question.” I pricked my ears: I knew this Hamlet soliloquy by heart. Ordinarily, I would be happy to discuss Hamlet and Shakespeare, my favorite bard, with Mailer, a representative of the American literary elite. I conveyed this idea to Mailer. However, he suddenly changed his mind and started on something else. I would have been impolite to press on with my wish.

I observed that Mailer would avoid those topics where he might have felt himself out of his depth. Thus, he evaded debating Shakespeare and philosophical issues. He was evasive about his own views of Oswald and the JFK assassination.

Probably to probe into my inner mind, Mailer, very mindful of what he said, would drop sideways a derogatory remark about Oswald, such as Mailer’s impression that Oswald had been a presumptuous “nobody.” For an aside, that was a far-reaching comment.

He must have expected that I would start hotly protesting my friend’s good character and thus open a way to a full interview. Possibly, he thought that there might have been some rift between the two friends and I would start complaining how unfair Lee was. Mailer desperately needed juicy “evidence” coming from Oswald’s closest English-speaking friend ("straight from the horse’s mouth," as the expression goes) to taint both of us as black. I preferred to ignore such remarks. Thus, a disgruntled Mailer would give vent to his frustration later in his Oswald’s Tale, writing:

Titovets, a well-knit, well-built man who gives off a contradictory aura, prissy yet macho at once, that he was living in as sly and unique a manner as a much-pampered cheetah. . . While he was obviously capable of talking to us for hours . . . he would impart nothing he did not care to tell.

During Mailer’s last visit to my office, unannounced as usual, he and his entourage settled themselves around the table and deployed recording devices. With his stay in Minsk drawing to an end, Mailer was all set to finally get what he wanted. Just as they were set up, a research colleague entered my office and asked me to join our “Learned Council Session,” which was scheduled to start in a few minutes. I provided my apology to the visitors. All stood up and left with frozen faces. Later Mailer described this episode in his book as a set-up scene to send him off packing empty-handed. He was just speculating.

Mailer must have been incensed with such an outcome: the closest English-speaking friend of Oswald, whose interview he so desperately needed, had shown him to the door. I had nothing personal against Norman Mailer. It was a matter of principle. Mailer was siding with those who would make Lee an assassin, disregarding all the evidence to the contrary.

***

In a couple of months after Mailer had left Minsk for good, Larry Schiller, of all the people, unexpectedly materialized at the door of my office. He was all alone this time. A truly surprising visit!

He asked me if I would talk about Oswald now. To cut the story short, I asked him if he would inscribe a book for me and handed him a copy of The Scavengers and Critics. Visibly shocked at the sight of it, Schiller muttered under his nose: “It explains all!” In a kind of trance, he hastily inscribed the book and dashed out of my office almost missing the door. The rascally Schiller had been hoisted with his own petard! He certainly never would have expected that one day his book would find its way to Minsk and ruin his and Mailer’s game.

***

For the rest of this column, I shall resume a third-person narration:

Oswald: Russian Episode (Eagle View Books, updated in 2020 and 2021, with Oswald shown on the cover at center with friends at ernst oswald titovets cover a Minsk factory) describes how the American Oswald and his Russian friend Erich Titovets met and became friends. This was at the time of political confrontation between their respective countries, when the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union at its height. The official propaganda in both countries justified the necessity of this absurd confrontation while the nuclear weapons, in the arsenals of both countries, served an ominous predict of pending mutual annihilation. The FBI and the CIA in America and the KGB in Russia were spy-obsessed and vigilant, always ready to snub any dissent and to restrain anybody resisting the official propaganda.

Lee, a metalworker at the Minsk Radio Plant, was gripped with an idea of finding a way to raise the poor in his native country from their pitiful existence. He came to the USSR, a socialist country, to study the system and find an answer. He learned Russian to remove the language barrier on the way of carrying out his self-imposed humanistic mission.

Erich, a student at the Minsk Medical Institute, an enthusiastic member of the Student Research Centre, was looking forward to his discoveries in biochemistry that would help to cure people. Erich was fluent with his English. It was a necessity in his research and was also a means to earn some money by translations. English was the language the two friends tacitly agreed to speak between themselves.

The two friends would debate many issues. These included the better societal organization, philosophical perception problems, military drills (Lee had been a Marine), music, preferred girl types and so forth. Lee had a remarkable ability to come with a mutually acceptable compromise if and when a debate would turn out too hot. The opponents would simply agree to disagree, with neither losing face. In Oswald: Russian Episode, the reader will find more about Lee in various situations, both the sad and the hilarious. There was no Cold War at their level, but a keen interest to learn more from each other about their respective countries. All of that went on under unobtrusive KGB observation typical of the time and place.

In Oswald’s Tale, Mailer cites an evaluation of Oswald by his older friend George de Mohrenschildt, right, a life-experienced Russian george de mohrenschildtémigré in Texas who was well-connected with the oil industry and other elite sectors during his eventful life. The émigré, descended from a once-noted Russian family prominent in oil extraction, spent considerable time with Oswald in Texas and recalled:

Only someone who never met Lee could have called call him insignificant. 'There is something outstanding about this man,' I told myself. One can detect immediately a very sincere and forward man. Although he was average looking, with no outstanding features and of medium size, he showed in his conversation all the elements of concentration, thought, and toughness. This man had the courage of his convictions and did not hesitate to discuss them. …Lee’s English was perfect, refined, rather literary, deprived of any Southern accent. He sounded like a very educated American of indeterminate background....it amazed me that he read such difficult writers like Gorky, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Turgenev in Russian… I taught Russian at all levels in a large university and I never saw such proficiency in the best senior students who constantly listened to Russian tapes and spoke to Russian friends.

De Mohrenschildt gave the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations a copy of his draft manuscript about Oswald called I Am a Patsy! I Am a Patsy! In the manuscript, he wrote that his dear, dead friend Oswald was rarely if ever violent and would not have been the sort of person to have killed Kennedy.

This evaluation fully corresponds to Lee in Oswald: Russian Episode.

Let me address also a more minor point that puzzles some. After Lee returned to the United States in 1962 some people noticed that his speech sometimes carried features of an English accent. In Minsk at the Language Institute, everyone spoke British "RP" (Received Pronunciation, the only officially accepted English accent in Russia that was taught all over the country). Lee was in touch with female students at the Language Institute. I spoke British RP too. So, it seems as though Lee’s Russian experience was not lost on him.

***

As a general matter, it appears that Mailer was very sensitive to what he might have believed to be an unfair treatment of him. His emotions might have overcome his sense of reason to the point of making him act irrationally. I suspect that Mailer’s response would have been to start on a revenge crusade, no matter what.

A 1971 confrontation by Mailer of critic Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show broadcast by ABC-TV reveals that side of Mailer’s character, which had been concealed from me during the author's stay in Minsk. The debate featured a red-faced Norman Mailer, brimming with rage.

Let's watch and reexperience a remarkable 25-minute confrontation that surely was rare as a broadcast over American network television of that era:

In the segment, Mailer reminds one of a feline poised to attack and scratch anyone in the way. At the start, Mailer ignores Vidal’s effort to shake hands, as customary among guests. Mailer usurps conversations, interrupts people, makes rude personal remarks, starts petty wrangling over words, and insults the audience, which shouts back insults at him. He is a torrent of accusations and mockery against Vidal, the host, and audience members. In his barely controlled state, he looks pathetic and makes a laughingstock of himself.

The fully composed Vidal manages to explain the situation. He refers to Norman as his friend, with whom he is rather fond. It transpired that the cause of Mailer’s angry display is Vidal’s recent review of some of Mailer’s works whereby Mailer mocked the then-emerging women's liberation movement. Vidal stresses that he is mindful of Mailer's tendency to celebrate violence and hate. He observes that Mailer seems to have taken his criticism too personally.

norman mailer oswald bestOswald’s Tale supplies many examples of what seems like a similar emotionally biased approach by Mailer in his treatment of his characters. To be blunt, I must have given him plenty of reasons to hate my guts. I refused him a much-coveted interview of the close, English-speaking friend of Lee. I inadvertently send him packing at our last meeting. Mailer did not forget it and described this episode in Oswald’ sTale with his own interpretation. Because of my undiplomatic but necessary actions, Mailer held a personal grudge. Lee and Erich became Mailer’s favorite hated characters in his Oswald’s Tale.

What are larger lessons? An author’s preformed opinion may play a decisive role in selecting the evidence to portray a character.

Both positive and negative evidence about might come from either different people or from the same person but at different times. It might be negative about Oswald at first, yet reversed later.

In this kind of serious matter, a change of a person's mind can find its explanation in terms of cautious statements during official investigations immediately in the aftermath of JFK assassination. People naturally distanced themselves from Oswald, the alleged presidential killer, out of fear of being implicated. But with the passage of time, when they believed they were free to speak their real mind, they would modify or reverse earlier statements. With such varied information available to choose from, a biographer could easily present any character of Oswald.

To create an impression of his objectivity, Mailer widely uses contrast. Positive information about Lee and Erich would be overweighed by negative introduced by Mailer or put by him into the mouths of others. Mailer’s own negative evaluation, often based on distorted evidence, was meant to crush the positive ones about his targets.

Oswald: Russian Episode presents the material that, when compared with Oswald’s Tale, clearly undercuts Mailer’s supposedly “objective” approach to facts. Here are examples:

To study Lee’s Southern American accent, I arranged some recording sessions with him. In the middle of one session, we decided to have some fun away from tedious reading of various texts. Why not make some interviews, mock ones? On the spur of the moment, Lee made me a senator of Texas, "Senator Titov." Having assumed the role, I started by making some pompous pronouncements directed at my invisible audience, having no idea how I would finish.

“You speak with British accent, Senator Titov,” Lee said with a giggle. Somehow, I managed to extricate myself from this situation and complete my speech with some hackneyed phrase.

The fun was on. As a comeback, I made Lee a serial killer, with the invented name “Jack Marr,” who was confined to a prison cell while I, a reporter, entered to interview him. I thought that was very smart of me to thus baffle Lee with a complex role change. However, my American friend was not easy to perplex. So, he played “Jack Marr” as a villain. Jack Marr carried on with some disturbing, make-believe stuff -- about how he killed people -- that would horrify any normal man. To introduce justice, Lee, momentarily out of his role, put the criminal "Jack Marr" on the electric chair.

Next, I made Lee a maverick “Professor Pepper.” Lee liked the idea and, before long, he was giving his learned opinion on the negative influence of rain on the potato growth, watermelons on an apple tree, and offering other funny comments to my inane questions.

At the time, it never occurred to me that anybody in one’s good senses would misuse that mock “Jack Marr” skit outside its original context, and then use it as an incriminating evidence against Lee and his crony Erich. But Norman Mailer did it, using the three mock interviews.

The Jack Marr interview appealed to him most for his purpose in Oswald’s Tale. Mailer  truncated this interview by removing the electric chair part and putting the doctored segment in a wrong context. The roguish Mailer substituted the names "Oswald" and "Titovets" for the original "Jack Marr" and the "Reporter," respectively.

The reader now should have no doubts about who is who -- and who said what. That was one of Mailer’s patent lies about Oswald and Titovets.

Incidentally, Mailer unfairly used the recorded mock Jack Marr interview, which should have been regarded as copyrighted material, especially since I was writing my own book. Copyright law was virtually nonexistent in Belarus after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Both Mailer and Schiller must have been fully aware of this deplorable legal situation. Mailer could rest assured that no legal consequences would follow if he infringed the copyright by using the Jack Marr interview in his book. At present, the audio recordings of all the above interviews are available on the Web (see the references).

After the Jack Marr interview, I wondered if Mailer was able to go any further to escalate his black, mythical image of Oswald. It turned out that he managed to surpass himself. This time he associated Oswald with Hitler, this prime example of archetypal evil incarnate and the darkest figure in modern history. Mailer entitled a chapter as "Oswalds’ Kampf," a subsection in his book pregnant with ominous meaning. This was a specific  allusion to Hitler’s Mein Kampf and to Hitler himself as supposed role models for  Oswald. To bring Hitler into the picture, Mailer claims that Hitler’s memoir Mein Kampf was among the books that Oswald had read. Mailer thereby brands Oswald with being megalomaniac, similar to Hitler – an unsophisticated literary device to “expose” Oswald as a villain.

Mailer, who gained fame with his novel about World War II, was fully aware that in people’s minds Hitler was associated with Nazism and fascism, and with the wartime death of millions of people. Most of them were civilians, victims of such crimes as the genocide of Jews and Gypsies, and suppression of democracy. Nazi ideology glorified violence at all levels. Hitler praised violence in young men who should be the beasts of prey and ready to fight. Nazis believed that war was indispensable in resolving conflicts between nations; the war was healthy, necessary and even majestic.

Nazism professes race superiority of the German nation, the master race. Fervently anti-Semitic, Nazis believe the Jews to be an inferior race, the pests and menace to Germans. During World War II, Nazis exterminated around six million civilian Jews, including children and women, by working them to death, starving, staging medical experiments on those human guinea pigs, by putting them into gas chambers, and so forth. Nazism presents authoritarian ideology, opposed to free market economy, democracy and Marxism.

How would Oswald himself have responded to Mailer’s insinuations? Curiously enough, Mailer’s book presents Oswald’s Athenian System as the answer to this question. There Oswald writes of his ideal system, which would be governed by these principles: that “... fascism be abolished,…nationalism be excluded from every-day life … racial segregation or discrimination be abolished by law …the dissemination of war propaganda be forbidden as well as the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction....”

In direct opposition to the authoritarian fascist regime, Mailer quotes Oswald as seeking, “Democracy at a local level with no centralized State.”

It seems as though Mailer is unaware of what he gives to the reader in various parts of his book and of his own lack of consistency. He seems to deny the reader the sense of reason and ability to see through his devices.

lee harvey and marina oswald archivesMailer, to give an all-round presentation of Oswald’s unsavory character, describes, in some detail, the quarrels taking place between Marina and Lee (shown as they departed from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1962). Mailer uses recordings, supplied by the KGB, eavesdropping on the rough scenes taking place between them in the confinement of their flat in Minsk. Mailer also gives much prominence to their continued quarrelsome family life also in the United States. This time Mailer's sources are word-of-mouth coming from the Oswald’s friends and acquaintances.

In defense of my friend Lee, but with no animosity towards his young wife who came from difficult circumstances, I must share my observation that Marina during that period presided over a sloppy household that bordered on being unhygienic. Lee, on the other hand, was a stickler for order and hygiene. Marina was chain-smoker while Lee was non-smoker. Upon the arrival of their first baby, whom Lee adored, Marina’s ways would likely have caused tension, as common in everyday family life.

Marina did not share her husband’s socio-political views, nor did she care to understand any of them. They were simply boring for her. For her, Lee seemed to be a ticket to what she envisioned as a fairy-tale life in the United States, where there seemed to be an abundance of fancy clothes, good food and the rest of a better life.

Mailer needed Marina to be an innocent victim of domestic violence to add more black paint to Oswald’s character. He featured Marina as a romantic Russian girl with the blue-shining, diamond-like eyes of a young woman who might have erred in her life but was good at heart. The implication being that her inner character matches her looks. By contrast, in Mailer's portrayal, she had a common-looking and insignificant husband, portrayed further as a short-tempered troublemaker.

Back in Minsk, with a high proportion of pretty girls, Marina’s attractiveness was part of the background. In her native surroundings, Marina (whom I knew from the time of Lee's first meeting with her) was a chatterbox always ready to pass her unsolicited judgment on everything. In the States, her poor English imposed on her a kind of reserve that might have been misinterpreted by her American acquaintances as reflecting a demure character.

To an uninvolved observer with any experience of family life, these scenes would likely show that the Oswalds' marriage was not exactly a happy one but that was typical for most families.The aim of Mailer’s approach here is transparent: he is preparing the reader to accept Oswald as an intrinsically marginal character capable of extreme violence.

***

One need not to have any powerful imagination to see how infuriated Mailer must have been not to have obtained more data on such points from me. Yet I was not proud of my situation with Mailer. As an author myself, I knew how deeply disappointed he must have felt. However, I could not bring myself to discuss Oswald with him after I had learned about his bias. One needed not to possess superintelligence to foresee, that whatever I would have told him would be doctored to fit Mailer’s idea of Oswald’s character and serve to justify his vision of JFK assassination. I did not want to be part of his game and betray my friend Lee. My conduct was to protect Oswald’s memory and his good name.

In Oswald: Russian Episode, Oswald is featured as an aspiring grassroots philosopher. The young Oswald was looking for a way to make his life meaningful. As a teenager, he was fascinated with Marx’s teaching and the theory of Communism. Coming from a poor background, Oswald must have decided that he would dedicate his life to the course of improving life for the poor, dispossessed and underprivileged in his country.

Soviet Russia became for him a symbolic University of the Soviet Type Socialism. At the age of nineteen, he entered this “university” with might be regarded as hard-won studies of the system beginning the moment he stepped on Russian soil. He majored in the organization and workings of the Soviet system, acquiring a first-hand knowledge about the subject of his interests.

Oswald got a job at a factory, constantly keeping in touch with proletariat, a historically revolutionary force, according to Karl Marx. After two-and-a-half years of the local experience, he emerged from this “university” as an enlightened person, having shed his initial idealistic views of Soviet Russia. He was disappointed but ready to move on.

His 50-page essay, The Collective: Life of a Russian Worker,” might be equated to an undergraduate thesis. He wrote on such topics as: Speech Notes on the Far Right, On Communism and Capitalism, The Communist Party of the United States, and The Athenian System.

Back in the United States, Oswald delivered a talk before an academic audience of Jesuits at Spring Hill College on Contemporary Russia and the Practice of Communism. He was reported to have produced a positive impression on his listeners. Even the professionals in attendance believed that he possessed a college education, according to a press report at the time. He organized a New Orleans Chapter for the Fair play for Cuba Committee and later appeared on the New Orleans radio program "Latin Listening Post," where he skillfully defended his views in a debate against antagonistic opponents.

Oswald demonstrated all the features of an independent thinker. In direct opposition to Marx’s Communist Manifesto, Oswald insisted on preserving the right to private property. He expressed his disagreement with the orthodox Marxism by pointing out that the withering of the state, as predicted by Marx’s doctrine, was not taking place under socialism.

In his The Athenian System, Oswald presented his conceptual vision of a better societal organization. Nowhere on the way to the societal transformation under his theory did Oswald called for violence.

Oswald had all the makings of a grass-root philosopher and certainly had the potential. He was fluent in Russian, familiarized himself with Russian classical literature, and studied various philosophical teachings looking for what might help to promote his beliefs. Oswald professed and practiced moderation in his life, patience and stoicism in achieving his socio-political goals.

Mailer seemed not to take Oswald’s socio-political views seriously. He failed to take into account that Oswald’s works came from a bright young man who had had unique personal experience in the Soviet Union before coming to his conclusions. Mailer cites from Oswald’s works and then comes up with his “devastating” comments. Thus, Mailer cites Oswald as saying: “We have no interest in violently opposing the US Government, why should we manifest opposition when there are far greater forces at work, to bring-about the fall of the United States Government than we could ever possibly muster?”

To this Mailer responds with a sarcastic comment: “…there will be help from cosmos.”

Oswald, having written the above statement, doubtless meant the course of events predicted by Marx’s theory of historical materialism. Mailer’s comment clearly demonstrates that this renowned author, having ventured to criticize Oswald, is sadly ignorant even of the basics of Marx’s teaching. In a dismissive way, Mailer says that Oswald with his libertine pronouncements would have been well received and embraced in the late Sixties among the hippies in Haight-Ashbury.

 

Conclusion

Mailer used his talent and writing skills primarily to stir emotions. However, a reasonable reader will not fail to observe many logical gaps in his writings and that Mailer might be self-contradictory and biased. Mailer may meddle with facts, is not averse to doctoring the original text and to cite it out of context to fit his view of events and people. All that would pass in a fiction novel but is unacceptable in documentary writings.

Mailer portrays his Oswald in Oswald’s Tale as a dreamer, hater and loser who can get only low-prestige jobs that barely provided for his family. Mailer’s Oswald is not all there but believes that he is destined to become famous. He is prone to violence and, generally, is an unfeeling character. Mailer’s mythical character of a marionette Oswald was thus created. Mailer sends his vicious marionette on a killing spree. The total count is eleven deaths. To follow Mailer, the nine kills took place in New York by Oswald as Jack Marr. According to Mailer, there were two more kills in Dallas: President John Kennedy and police officer J.D. Tippet, along with an abortive attempt at assassinating the fascist-minded General Edwin A. Walker. Please recall that Mailer’s friend Gore Vidal would criticize him as the one who glorifies hate and violence in his works. Judging by Mailer’s Oswald’s Tale, it surely looks like the leopard could not change his spots

In one of Mailer's promotional appearances for Oswald’s Tale, Mailer told his audience that the Russians treat their national writers with respect and much love. Pushkin occupies a special place in their hearts, Mailer said. The quotation below from Pushkin’s Boris Godunov might have served as a warning to Mailer regarding his Oswald’s Tale:

Thou will not escape the judgment even of this world

As thou will not escape the doom of god


Looking back from my present advanced age at Mailer of the 1990s, I wonder what might have caused this gifted writer to stray from candor's path. Mailer (who had claimed on the 1971 Dick Cavett show that he reigned as America's greatest writer following Hemingway's death) spares no efforts to convince the reader that his opinion is the ultimate truth not to be contested. In masterly strokes, Mailer would “expose” Oswald’s inner despicable character while simultaneously demonstrating his own prodigious gift of deep penetration into what has been concealed form the eyes of others. To believe Mailer, the reader must overlook the fact that his “damning evidence” might be of his own concoction meant for the gullible and uninformed.

Gifted with powerful imagination, Mailer seems to have succumbed to his negative emotions that obscured his vision. From his personal meetings with John F. Kennedy, Mailer carried a favorable impression of that young, charismatic politician. As for Oswald, Mailer thought of him as an ambitious loner and loser with hyper-maniac tendencies who must have believed that killing JFK would raise him out of obscurity to become famous.

Was it that his inner unacceptance of Oswald, on the one hand, and adoration of JFK, on the other, made him divorced from reality?

Is it that the famous, when overwhelmed by their emotions, might be prone to overestimating their infallibility?

Norman Mailer remains a renowned and much-acclaimed American writer. Oswald’s Tale presents his masterfully written work of epic length.

Unfortunately, it distorts some important evidence along with Oswald’s character. One can only remark about Norman Mailer that nobody is perfect.

 

References:

ernst titovets portrait looking downErnst Titovets (shown at right). Oswald: Russian Episode, Eagle View Publishing, Washington, DC (Third Ed. 2020, hardcover 2021). ISBN 97985 70499255.

Norman Mailer. Oswald’s Tale: An American Myster. Random House, New York, NY (1995). ISBN 13978-0679425359.

Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer and Janet Flanner on the Dick Cavett Show, Dec. 1,  1971: (

).

Norman Mailer Interview. Why Did Lee Harvey Oswald Kill JFK? (1995): (A YouTube link for this interview is listed as expired.).

Norman Mailer at D.G. Wills Books, Part 1 (1995):

 

Lee Oswald and Ernst Titovets. Audio recording of mock interviews:

 

ernst titovets 2024 russian edBook Launch

Oswald: Russian Episode has been scheduled for debut in its first Russian-language translation (a fourth edition overall, with a new cover shown at right) with lecture by Professor Titovets at the historic Pushkin Library in Minsk on Jan. 25, 2024 (originally scheduled on Jan. 17). To contact the author for interviews and lectures (including via remote video), write the Justice Integrity Project at this email address: andrew (at) justice-integrity.org.