The Executioner's Song
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|The Executioner's Song|
1st edition cover
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The Executioner's Song is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Norman Mailer that depicts the events surrounding the execution of Gary Gilmore by the state of Utah for murder. The title of the book may be a play on "The Lord High Executioner's Song" from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. "The Executioner's Song" is also the title of one of Mailer's earlier poems, published in Fuck You magazine in September 1964 and reprinted in Cannibals and Christians (1966).
Based almost entirely on interviews with the family and friends of both Gilmore and his victims, the book is exhaustive in its approach. Divided into two sections, the book focuses on the events leading up to the murders and the trial and execution of Gilmore, including full documentation of Gilmore's court appearances and his decision to demand his execution rather than to continue the appeals process.
In April 1976, Gilmore, 35, was released from prison after serving 12 years for robbery in Indiana. He was flown to Utah to live with Brenda Nicol, a distant cousin of his who tries to help him find work. Gilmore soon meets and becomes romantically involved with Nicole Baker, a 19-year-old widow with two young children. Despite his efforts to reform himself, Gilmore's self-destructive behavior leads to him getting into fights, stealing items from stores and abusing drugs. After Nicole breaks up with him, he murders two men in two separate robberies. Gilmore is turned in by his cousin and is sentenced to death. Gilmore becomes a national media sensation after he fights to have his execution performed as soon as possible. On January 17, 1977, Gilmore is executed by the method he chose, firing squad, making him the first person to be judicially executed in the United States since Luis Monge died in the Colorado gas chamber June 2, 1967.
The first section of the book deals with Gilmore's early life and his numerous detentions in juvenile crime facilities and, later, prison. It details his release some months prior to his first murder and the relationships he establishes during that time.
The second section focuses more extensively on Gilmore's trial, including his refusal to appeal his death sentence, his dealings with Lawrence Schiller and his attorney's refusal to accept his refusal and their continued fight on his behalf. Gilmore was executed by firing squad on January 17, 1977, after appeals filed by his lawyers (in defiance of Gilmore's wishes) were rejected. The execution had been stayed on three previous occasions.
Notable not only for its portrayal of Gilmore and the anguish surrounding the murders he committed, the book also took a central position in the national debate over the revival of capital punishment by the Supreme Court as Gilmore was the first person in the United States executed since the re-instatement of the death penalty in 1976.
The Executioner's Song was later turned into a TV movie starring Tommy Lee Jones, (a role for which he won an Emmy), Christine Lahti and Rosanna Arquette, and directed by Lawrence Schiller, who is a main character in the second section of the book. Schiller went to great lengths to convince Gilmore to give him the exclusive media rights to tell his life story.