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
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.
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
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