In a Merry Marriage-Go-Round, Norman Mailer Plans a Double Wedding, to Wives Five and Six

updated 11/03/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST

What does the bride wear when she knows the groom is already planning to divorce her? (Well, not her heart on her sleeve.) Is a shower appropriate? (Possibly—of tears or titters.) But the sticky points of etiquette hardly concern Norman Mailer, who has been married and divorced four times, and now proposes to marry Mate No. 5, jazz singer Carol Stevens, 50, with whom he lived from 1969 to 1975. Then after a "civilized" and swift divorce, the 57-year-old writer will cap it all off by wedding Mate No. 6, Norris Church, 31, a former model and his companion since 1975.

The unconventional marriage-go-round is for an entirely conventional reason: Mailer and Stevens have a child, Maggie, 9, who will be legitimized by their brief union. Further, Mailer wants to "honor" the years he lived with Carol. That done, he will be free to wed Church, thus legitimizing their child, John Buffalo, 2½, and "honoring" their still thriving relationship.

News of these double nuptials was broken by columnist Liz Smith, who later quoted Ms. Church as finding it all "a bit disconcerting." But she is "behind Norman's decision, and I understand why he feels he must do this." As to the time and place of the Mailer-Stevens rites, the bride-to-be, from her home in Stockbridge, Mass., says only that "it's a private affair; there will be no formal announcement." Church speculates on late November. Until then she and her intended will be on the London movie set of Ragtime (he will play the role of Stanford White). Asked about the delay, Church says: "We want to let everybody calm down."

Last week Letitia "Tish" Baldrige, author of the newly revised Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette, proffered advice to friends of the betrothed former couple (that's Mailer-Stevens). Noting that it was impossible to go by the book, Baldrige recommends "no presents or congratulations. It's not a sacrament but just something one can enjoy reading about." Baldrige also discourages gifts when Mailer marries Church. "They've maintained their relationship all these years," she says. "It's not a formal time of ritual." Mailer may disagree in that the marriages will mean all eight of his children are legitimate—"every last one of the little buggers," as he told Liz Smith.

But Norman should not expect any benediction from fourth wife Beverly Bentley, who is filing motions in court to block his plans. "We're not divorced," she insists. "It's still in litigation. So how can he get married even once?"

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