Dick DeBartolo, Mad’s Maddest Writer, Won't Grow Up


Friday, July 25, 2014

Dick DeBartolo Dick DeBartolo (Dennis Wunderlin)

Dick DeBartolo — you’re welcome to call him Dickie D. — bills himself as Mad’s maddest writer. Maybe that’s a boast, but he’s been one of the core creatives at Mad Magazine for nearly half a century. He’s written for almost all the regular features, and brainstormed everything from the Alfred E. Neuman covers to the fold-in at the back. He practically invented Mad’s movie parody. DeBartolo’s bathroom (apparently the place of honor) displays a letter from George Lucas offering an Academy Award for satire to DeBartolo and Mort Drucker’s “Star Bores.”

“I started out back in high school reading Mad, and after about three issues I said, ‘I don’t want to read this, I want to write this,’” DeBartolo explains. “So I wrote a takeoff on some ads. Six weeks later I got back my own envelope, and I was so depressed. So I opened the envelope, and it was just stuffed with cardboard. And on the cardboard it said, ‘Thought this was your story being returned? We have bought your script.’ Stapled to this cardboard is a check for $100.”

What keeps a man at a kids’ magazine for decades? “I did some therapy, and the analyst said, ‘You probably developed a great sense of humor to overcome depression, or take yourself out of your life situation by creating crazy things.’ So it’s served me well.” DeBartolo’s childhood, as he recounts it, was no picnic. His father, an Italian immigrant, owned a metal working business in Brooklyn, and expected Dick to take over. “A writer is not an occupation,” he told the boy; “an occupation involves tools.”

His occupation as a writer got him out of Brooklyn, across the river to Manhattan, where he lives with his husband Dennis. Mad’s key demographic of preadolescent boys may not be known for their enlightened attitudes toward sexuality, but the offices — long before gay marriage — were accepting. He wasn’t exactly out, but says “I never hid anything. You would just know, because I would say to Bill [Gaines, the publisher], ‘Have a great weekend, say hi to Annie.’ And Bill would say, ‘Have a great weekend, say hi to Dennis.’”

DeBartolo has kept up with the times with a blog and podcast called The GizWiz. He indulges his love of gizmos and gadgets in a soundproof studio filled with microphones, cameras, weird toys, you name it. At 68, Mad’s maddest is still keeping adulthood at bay.

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David Kipen

Comments [5]

It's wonderful at long last to find out that one of the mainstays of Mad Magazine is an Out Gay man. As an Out Gay man myself since the late 1970s, I'm a bit sad/angry I didn't know this already, but gay media hasn't covered DeBartolo's life or career, nor given it proper credit. (At least not that I'm aware of, not that his name and accomplishments ever come up in discussions of Gay creators - and I've paid attention.) It's now more assumed than it was when the phrase initially made its impacts, but indeed We Are Everywhere. I'm perpetually grateful when the record of who did what is made more accurate.

Aug. 01 2014 05:39 PM
Jeffrey Slott from Philadelphia

Without taking anything away from Mr. DeBartolo's accomplishments, to say he practically invented MAD magazine's movie satires is just plain wrong. They were a MAD staple long before he came into the scene.

Jul. 29 2014 02:17 PM
David from NYC

I grew up loving and devouring every Mad magazine that came out. I bought it was funny and insightful and spoke directly to me as a little precocious NYC kid...it gave me insight into what was going on and articulated things I wondered about. I could not have grown up without it....maybe I never grew up and I have Bill Gaines and the whole crew to thank. And thank you Kurt for featuring an important part of American culture.....who knew?

Jul. 28 2014 08:51 PM
Beckee from M.V., MD

So great that you did an article and podcast about one of my all-time favorite people! Dickie D. is such an incredibly fun and gracious person and the world needs more like him!

Jul. 26 2014 11:54 AM
Matt from FL

Fantastic writer and a great human being. I was going through an awful time in life and was talking about a gadget on his web site's comments page and happened to mention in passing that the thing he reviewed had really cheered me up. The guy personally jumped in and asked me for my address and sent me a package in the mail full of amazing autographed MAD stuff (been a fan my whole life). I'll never forget that. He must actually be that down-to-Earth, genuine, zany, happy guy he always is on TV. I have all that stuff he sent framed and will never part with it.

Jul. 24 2014 10:00 PM

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