Dick DeBartolo
Part One

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Part 1 of 2 series

By Dr. Keith E. Tubbs a.k.a. The Mad Doctor

I began talking with Dick DeBartolo in August of 2003 to initially set up this interview for Mad Mumblings. In the course of several conversations, over the span of six months, I was able to compile this exclusive feature. I have been a fan of Dick De’s work since my childhood so talking to him was a big thrill and literally a dream come true. I was overwhelmed with excitement as we talked about such topics as; The early years of Mad magazine, The fellowship of all the Usual Gang Of Idiots and memorable stories about Bill Gaines. I found Dick De to be exactly as I had imagined him to be from growing up reading his pieces in Mad. He is extremely warm, kind, and has a hilarious sense of humor, everything you would expect out of a Mad writer and more. I took in consideration that this man has probably been asked the same questions countless times over the years as he has made many public appearances to represent Mad as well as appearing on TV and radio several times. I decided to break up the format of our conversations into both story form and interview because of the hours of audio I had to edit through in the writing process. I obtained enough information from Dick to write a mini-biography and to address certain topics in question and answer form.


It is no surprise that Dick DeBartolo has been a very instrumental key player for Mad magazine for over 40 years. Dick’s brand of humor stands out above any other writer in Mad. He is not only a master of writing movie spoofs, but he has also dazzled us with other parodies displaying versatility in several areas. Newer readers to Mad are most familiar with his advertising spoofs that he has done since his very first submission to Mad in 1962. In Mad issue #69 he had a take-off on the "Live Imperial Margarine commercials" where they would have people sampling the margarine and commenting about it in supermarkets across the country.

Now, of course, these advertisements were never done actually live, so Dick dreamed up the idea "What if they actually were done live?. DeBartolo, a full-blooded Italian kid, was still in high school living with his parents in Brooklyn when he submitted his first piece to Mad. Dick grew up reading Mad and loved it so much he knew that he wanted to be part of the action and write the kind of stuff that he enjoyed the most. So he bravely sent in his first piece not knowing exactly what would happen. Many weeks passed until the day a self-addressed stamped letter he had sent was returned. Dick felt that he had surely been rejected since it was the return envelope he had submitted. He tossed it aside and went about his day thinking to himself that surely it was nothing more than his envelope mailed back to him. Soon his curiosity was piqued and Dick thought to himself, Maybe it contains at least a handwritten rejection letter? Perhaps a real human being had actually taken the time to read it? Dick De then ripped open the envelope that contained a piece of cardboard and scribbled on it was a note from then associate editor Nick Meglin who wrote "Ha Ha! Bet you thought you got rejected! Stapled to this cardboard is a check for your article. Please call us about Future work!

The note was dated September 1st 1961.

Dick De was ecstatic. He had actually sold something to Mad, and he wasn’t dreaming. Dick had no idea how long it would take for his article to appear in Mad, After all Mad magazine produced eight issues a year at this time and it was only September. Surely it would be in the next issue in either October or December? Each month that passed by seemed endless. Dick would go to the local newsstand and grab the latest issue off the rack flipping through the pages carefully as to not miss the section that would have his article. Even more agonizing was the fact that each new issue had a six and one half week span before the next issue would be at the stands. Each time Dick’s spirits would drop as he neared the last page to see that his article was not in that particular issue. It would be several months later when Dick picked up the April issue to find that his article was actually in print.

Excited would be putting his initial emotions mildly. Dick De was elated to say the least. He literally was jumping up and down in triumph. Not only did he finally get his article in print for the whole world to see, they had also added a fourth example to his "Imperial Margarine spoof" written by none other than Al Jaffee. What a rush that had to have been for Dick De to see his name alongside the legendary Al Jaffee, who even in Mad’s infancy was already a well-known contributor. After Dick jumped around for a while he bought at least a dozen copies. This historic event in DeBartolo’s life would never be forgotten. Despite having a few submissions rejected from Mad after his initial article Dick remained confident that he would again get something bought as long as he did not give up. Today Dick Debartolo holds the #1 position for consecutive contributions per issue then anyone else. As of this current issue he has appeared in every issue of Mad since March of 1966. Before his consecutive issue streak he managed to appear in Mad seventeen times from 1962 to 1966. This does not even include the non-credit writing he has done for other artists such as Don Martin, or all the Mad paperbacks he wrote in that time period.

Aside from his Mad magazine articles, he has written an outstanding tribute book to Mad and his memoirs about founder William M. Gaines, whose fond memories inspired him to pursue the project that he was at first reluctant to do. Literary agent Jim Hornfischer approached DeBartolo with the idea. At first, Dick was not interested in writing a book about his memoirs. The idea of writing a hardbound book was almost inconceivable at the time as it would be such a long and tedious process and a project of great proportions. The writing of such a book would likely involve a great amount of time and heroic effort in addition to all of his other obligations. Finally, Dick was convinced that he must take on the project because he wanted to document the era that Gaines ruled Mad and his personal relationship with Gaines that lasted over three decades. Who would be better for the job than Gaines closest friend Dick DeBartolo? The deal was done and Good Days and Mad "A memoir by Dick DeBartolo emerged in 1994. The Hardback edition was a success and retailed for $29.95. A softbound edition was later released. In my opinion this was the most heartfelt book ever published on the topic of Bill Gaines and the monumental days of Mad magazine. I personally thought it was brilliantly written in his own words.

When talking to Dick he tells the stories that are in the book verbatim, as the memories of those days are forever locked into his mind. Reading the book was an awesome experience for me when it first came out though actually hearing these stories come out of Dick De’s mouth is priceless. In the book Dick reveals his deep passion for his former boss and friend with great admiration. The title of the book says it all. They truly were good days when Gaines was running the ship. I was most impressed hearing the sincerity in Dick’s voice as he expressed his loyalty and respect for both Bill Gaines and his dear wife Annie who was perhaps the sweetest woman that anyone could ever know. It had been ten years since I first read the book and Dick brought all the memories back to life so vividly in our conversations. It really was at that point I realized with out any doubt that Dick DeBartolo really puts his heart and soul into writing. If you do not have the book already it is a must have. It is enjoyable to read and almost makes you feel as if you were there somehow by the way DeBartolo tells a story. It brings both tears and joy as you read through stories from a man who literally poured his heart out for the world to see.

Aside from writing for Mad, DeBartolo has many other interests. He was with Mad magazine for only a short time, when he wrote to Powerboat magazine’s founder Bob Nordskog in 1969, asking to write for his publication. Nordskog accepted his offer, and DeBartolo then soon started writing monthly articles in the magazine that has now run uninterrupted for more than thirty years.

Dick is a devoted boating enthusiast. Despite never actually owning a car to this day, (DeBartolo prefers the public transit system) he has invested his earnings into several boats over the years. I was astonished to learn Dick has owned at least two-dozen different boats since he has been with Mad. One such house boat he converted into a disco back in the seventies complete with swirling lights, high tech sound system, and of course a fog machine. DeBartolo was a disco nut back then and after frequenting all the New York hot spots for dancing he realized the thing that he despised the most from these clubs was taking in second hand cigarette smoke from these places. So he strived to create his own disco atmosphere minus the tobacco stench on his own boat. This private little club would be smoke-free for all his friends to enjoy. Naturally, there were some Mad parties there with the Usual Gang Of Idiots getting into the action. Bill Gaines provided magic tricks as alternate entertainment at these crazy events. Dick De still has boats to this day though he phased the disco boat out. This year will mark the 34th anniversary Dick De has been writing for Powerboat magazine, which was only about two years old when he came aboard as a regular writer.


Dick DeBartolo and Television

In between the time Dick De started writing for Mad magazine and Powerboat magazine, he broke into television as an office boy at Barry-Enright Productions. DeBartolo was juggling his classes in Manhattan and working at the studios during the day. He didn’t think it could get any better writing for Mad, and working in the same studios that produced such popular 60's games shows like, Twenty One, Dough Re Mi and the long running Tic Tac Dough. It was this first job that Dick began establishing good contacts to begin writing some humorous monologues for up-and-coming comedians. Soon DeBartolo was writing sketches for kid’s shows and his salary tripled the amount he was being paid as an office boy. He became financially independent and moved out of his parents place in Brooklyn to his own pad in Manhattan. He was now on his own, and could have as many dogs as he wanted, because he loved animals, as well as buy his first boat. DeBartolo had then advanced to Goodson-Todman Productions. Dick started writing for the sixties "Match Game", Family Feud and "To Tell The Truth" which he was able to get Bill Gaines on as a contestant. The guests on the show were not able to tell that Bill Gaines was telling the truth on the show so they did not guess him as the publisher of Mad magazine.

Dick DeBartolo shared an interest for gadgets with Bill Gaines. This gadgetry fascination began with everything from the first Digital watches, answering machines to VCR’s. He would often tell Gaines about the latest gizmo he had researched and his Mad boss would often front the cost to buy it. Dick had a knack for finding bargains. He would purchase the item, figure out how it worked, and then instruct Bill Gaines about it. Gaines would often then have Dick order several more to give out to staff members as gifts. The passion for the latest gadgets and gizmos would soon take Dick De on another exciting journey as being one of the countries leading authorities on high tech toys. Dick appeared on had appeared over a hundred times on the popular morning show "Live! With Regis & Kathie Lee", offering gadget, gizmo and gift buying advice. In addition, Dick De has covered events live for ABC's Good Morning America, including, The Atlanta Super Sports Show, and the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Recently Dick was at The Miami International Boat Show taking pictures as the event, as he has many times in the past. I found Dick De to be a very busy man dividing his time between writing and preparing material for his guest appearances on Tech TV, ABC's World News Now, radio shows and still finding time to make it into the Mad offices once a week. He has done several talk shows over the years both displaying his expertise in the field of electronic products and his association with Mad.

He was been known as "The Gizmo Wizard" on CNBC's Steals & Deals over six years, and now is the Gizmo Guy (a.k.a. The Giz Wiz) monthly on both World News Now on ABC, and The Screen Savers on Tech TV.
Discuss the interview here.

All information in this feature was provided by Dick DeBartolo over a course of six months and several phone interviews.

Part II of this Exclusive Feature will be in interview format from additional questions I asked to Dick De during one of our phone conversations.
Coming early April 2004 to Mad Mumblings.com

Images courtesy of
Copyright © 2004 Keith E. Tubbs

Publishing and Formatting: Boris A. Zharekhin

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