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


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.

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