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“These cartoons smell vaguely of shit. It will get so you don’t mind it.”

[ 36 ] February 25, 2013 |

A very entertaining piece from Glenn Kenny, who notes that David Mamet’s dismal career as a 28th-rate wingnut pundit wasn’t his first attempt to leverage his (justified) reputation as a playwright into getting compensated for some lazy hackwork in a field he has no talent or expertise in:

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I seem to recollect the early part of the current century. One of my colleagues at Premiere, the guy in charge of the front-of-the-book section “Action,” which was where we put the bitsy stuff, had heard from Mamet’s agent—with guys like Mamet it’s always the agent you hear from—who told him that Mamet had been experimenting with cartooning, and wondering if our magazine would be interested in running a monthly one-panel cartoon by David Mamet. We would pay for it, of course, and pay pretty heftily, because he was David Mamet. As I recall the fee would be something like the one a writer would get for a five-hundred word piece if he or she were to be paid a dollar a word.

Mamet’s drawing style, if it could be referred to as a style, made James Thurber look like Gustave Dore. The jokes animating the cartoons were mixed. I honestly can’t recollect any; I have a vague picture of a fake movie poster advertising a blockbuster picture about a giant octopus, and there was at least one lampooning movie executives, no duh, but that’s about all I can conjure. (I did go through my limited collection of Premiere back issues looking for an example but came up with zilch. I did find the issue containing my pan of The Good German, though, I better get rid of that…) The point is the cartoons were largely not great, and when they were worse than not great they were embarrassing. One thing I do recall, very clearly, and I think it’s something that really summed up Mamet’s contempt for the enterprise and contempt for us—contempt that, now that I think about it, we had, in a sense, wholly earned for indulging him this way—was that he submitted his “drawings” on lined notebook paper. He knew enough about magazine mechanicals to know these lines would be erased photographically. But the idea that he couldn’t even be bothered to invest a little of the money were were paying him to, you know, get some fucking drawing paper (which he then could have written off as a business expense, as I’m sure he must have known) speaks volumes. Fortunately he had a contract. I say fortunately because it was a short term contract, and it soon expired, and we did not pursue its renewal, and Mamet’s agent understood our not pursuing its renewal to mean that Mamet had tired of the enterprise himself and was busy with other things and so would not be able to continue. In other words, his contempt for us was such that he wanted us to understand that not continuing this exercise in mortification was HIS idea. This was the personal cherry on the top of his short con, and I have to give it to him: this short con was a nice one.

I especially like the bit about how he couldn’t even be bothered to submit his cartoons on unlined paper. I wonder if his musings about how James Madison and Thomas Jefferson never would have sullied themselves with elective politics are submitted in barely-legible longhand.

…via flederamus in comments, Mamet’s attempts at political cartooning (which I assume are different than the Premiere ones) can still be found on the intarwebs. Nothing I’ve read prepared me for how bad they were, and I’ve read Mallard Fillmore and seen Right Brothers videos.


Comments (36)

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  1. Todd says:

    I best remember Mamet from his essay (or maybe it was part of a book) where he used a hypothesis that the high prevalence of Jewish film directors and producers may be explained by Asperger’s Syndrome (wait, what?)to do his best impression of Jimmy the Greek reading from a Charles Murray book.

    • calling all toasters says:

      Maybe he mixed up Asperger and Ashkenazi.

      • He was probably thinking of this from the NYT

        As to how the disease mutations might affect intelligence, the Utah researchers cite evidence that the sphingolipid disorders promote the growth and interconnection of brain cells. Mutations in the DNA repair genes, involved in second cluster of Ashkenazic diseases, may also unleash growth of neurons.

        In describing what they see as the result of the Ashkenazic mutations, the researchers cite the fact that Ashkenazi Jews make up 3 percent of the American population but won 27 percent of its Nobel prizes, and account for more than half of world chess champions. They say that the reason for this unusual record may be that differences in Ashkenazic and northern European I.Q. are not large at the average, where most people fall, but become more noticeable at the extremes; for people with an I.Q. over 140, the proportion is 4 per 1,000 among northern Europeans but 23 per 1,000 with Ashkenazim.

        • rea says:

          Ashkenazi Jews . . . account for more than half of world chess champions.

          Not at all true. Steinitz was Jewish. Botvinnik was Jewish. Fischer was Jewish on his mother’s side, although he became a Christian antisemite. Kasparov was Jewish on his father’s side, although raised by his mom. Khalifman’s ancestry is obscure, and he hardly counts as a real World Champion, anyway. But Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Karpov, Kramnik, Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov, Topolov and Anand were not discernably Jewish.

  2. Fighting Words says:

    So, does this mean that David Mamet is really the guy writing Mallard Fillmore?

  3. Jason says:

    And then there’s Mamet’s children’s book, Henrietta, which my son, correctly, was bored out of his mind by. An audiobook version read by Blake from downtown might have spruced it up a bit, though.

  4. fledermaus says:

    If I remember correctly a few of these Mamet “cartoons” showed up on Huffington Post. They were really bad. Like corespondence art school test bad.

  5. Warren Terra says:

    They were much too kind. Given that they had David Mamet beclowning himself monthly for a mere $500 a pop, which is likely great money for a one-panel cartoon but maybe wasn’t so much to a glossy magazine, I’ll bet they could have rounded up contributions from Mamet’s detractors to keep the scheme going.

  6. Richard says:

    Mamet is certainly a jerk and his current political writings are horrible but Glengarry Glen Ross is a great play and the trailer for the upcoming HBO movie, Spector, which he wrote and directed look really, really entertaining and possibly very good.

    • Chatham says:

      I’ve never seen any of his plays, but I’ve been consistently underwhelmed by all the movies I’ve seen that he’s done the screenplays for (The Untouchables, The Spanish Prisoner, Wag the Dog, and Hannibal).

      • Richard says:

        I never saw Hannibal and didn’t know he wrote the screenplay. But the novel was so offensive that I would never see the movie (the novel left a bad taste in my mouth for weeks and weeks).

        I liked Wag the Dog but you should see House of Games, the first movie he directed. One of my favorite movies of all time. (Of course, you have to like movies about con men and neer do wells)

        Spector looks like its Pacino at his overacting best with Helen Mirren as his foil. And the enigma of Phil Spector could make for great cinema (or at least extremely fun cinema)

      • Anon21 says:

        Holy shit, Mamet did the screenplay for The Untouchables? I’m honestly a little shocked; so far as screenwriting goes, I didn’t think deliberate mediocrity was his style.

        • witless chum says:

          Untouchables is fun for all the ethnic insults (especially as delivered by Sean Connery) and DeNiro’s speechifying as Capone, I find.

          • Karate Bearfighter says:

            Never knew about Mamet’s role in the screenplay, but in retrospect, DeNiro’s speeches all have that self-conscious wordiness I associate with Mamet. I’m not sure the man knows contractions exist.

      • Tehanu says:

        Much as I hate to admit it, Mamet’s movie State and Main, about a movie company arriving in a small town to film, is really wonderful (especially when David Paymer arrives, and every scene with William H. Macy). Mamet is a jerk and a wingnut, but I hope I have more sense than to diss his work because of his politics.

      • Anonymous says:

        I have always loved The Spanish Prisoner, despite the fact that it has some very glaring plot holes, and that the main female lead is his wife who couldn’t act for shit. (Maybe I was just blinded by my love for Campbell Scott.)

  7. Shakezula says:

    Mamet does Day by Day?

  8. Tnap01 says:

    Nothing I’ve read prepared me for how bad they were, and I’ve read Mallard Fillmore and seen Right Brothers videos.

    Did you do these things during Liberal blogger Boot Camp? What else did those bastards make you do, stay awake while someone read a whole USS Clueless blog entry or make you play out a part of Liberal Fascism perhaps? totally understand if you don’t like to write about it.

  9. Origami Isopod says:

    Glenn Kenny, who has written that people were making too big a deal over what Roman Polanski did? I’ll pass, thanks.

  10. Jameson Quinn says:

    What’s with the Jew stuff? Is there seriously a group of people who believe that the librul media is eternally harping about a Jewish conspiracy?

  11. Data Tutashkhia says:

    I can’t believe that this could happen to the guy who wrote and directed Homicide. Curios what the mechanics of this reincarnation might look like. Must be an Invasion of the Body Snatchers sort of thing…

  12. Anyone else hear the interview where Mamet chewed out Terry Gross for not thinking his opinions were obvious?

    I kind of liked Spartan, actually, but that just means–when he wants to be and the material calls for it–he actually can write well enough. Not sure I could sit through it a second time, though.

    • Karate Bearfighter says:

      Spartan had a lot going for it, but David Mamet’s worldview ruined the suspension of disbelief for me. Seriously, the government selects the most highly skilled, valuable soldiers and intelligence officers, spends millions training them, and then pairs them up and makes them fight to the death as a final exam? What kind of jackass believes the world works like that? And what worthwhile statement — if any — does that jackass have to make about human nature?

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