Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
To call David Mamet a “Chicago boy, bred and born” would not be entirely accurate, but he did live the formative years of his childhood and youth in the embrace of that giant Midwestern hub of the free enterprise system—the “hog butcher of America.” Mamet was reared by his mother, who was a teacher, and his father, who was a labor lawyer, in a Jewish neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and attended grade school and high school in the city. Following his parents’ divorce when he was eleven, Mamet lived with his mother and sister, his high school education then split between a suburban high school and Francis W. Parker School in Chicago.
Various odd jobs taught Mamet how the working world operated and exposed him to the rough and colorful language of the streets. Much has been made of his early experience at Second City (an improvisational comedy group) as a busboy, where he saw the improvisational artists and, more important, learned the language of the stage. As a backstage volunteer in neighborhood playhouses, he furthered his interest in the theatrical world. His father, Bernard, a Chicago lawyer, was an early influence in Mamet’s sensitivity to the musical rhythms of natural language
Although his father had a law degree in mind for Mamet, the young high school graduate preferred the broadening education of Goddard College in Vermont (where he received a B.A. in English in 1969), where the liberal arts were taught in an experimental atmosphere. He intentionally interrupted his graduate education to spend more than a year in New York City, taking acting classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse by day and working at night as house manager for an Off-Broadway musical, the long-running success The Fantasticks (1960). This coincidence, together with his earlier accidental discovery of Second City in Chicago, convinced him that the theater world had something to offer him, and although he was never successful as an actor, he continued in the theater from that time on.
Mamet’s stage writing had begun in college with a musical revue called Camel, but his first serious stage effort was Lakeboat (1970), written on demand for an acting class he was teaching at Marlboro College. When that teaching job was over, Mamet returned to Chicago for a series of nontheater jobs; once again, his sensitivity to the rhythms of business was to stay with him during his playwriting hours. Especially notable was his stint with a real estate development company selling Florida lots from Chicago, an experience that was to be dramatized in Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross (1983). College teaching still appealed to him, however, and he returned to Vermont, this time to his alma mater, Goddard College, where for three years he taught theater and served as artist-in-residence. During these years his writing became more clearly articulated, and he began to write scenes for his students to work with in acting classes.
As an offshoot of his combining actor training with playwriting, he formed the St. Nicholas Company, but he moved to Chicago in 1972, where this company, under the name St. Nicholas Players, was re-formed in 1974. Mamet began in earnest his grassroots research into the nature of human discourse, wandering the streets of the city, visiting his father’s law offices, trying out on paper the dialogues and ideas that flooded into his head. From that period came Duck Variations (1972), produced in Vermont in...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Mamet’s plays might appear on the surface to be all rough language, superficial relationships, static or absent plots, and unpleasant characters, but they deserve a closer look. The language is often quite beautiful when heard with a sensitive ear to the sensitivity of the rhythms of ordinary speech. Relationships that appear to be superficial are, in fact, deep and complex. Actions of a very subtle kind drive the plays forward, embedded in speech and in unspoken bonding. Often, the violent climax of the play comes as an inevitable release of tensions built up through the whole play’s structure. Mamet can never be said to be loveable, but behind his facades and protections, he is an astute observer of the human parade and, ultimately, a believer in life.
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Born on the South Side of Chicago on November 30, 1947, David Alan Mamet became interested in the theater as a teenager. He worked at the Hull House Theatre and at Second City, one of Chicago’s richest improvisational performance sites at the time, experiences that he recognized as having exerted an important influence on his language, characterizations, and plot structures. His mother, Lenore Silver, was a schoolteacher, his father, Bernard Mamet, a labor lawyer and minor semanticist, and though the parents’ intellectual awareness of language plainly influenced their son, their divorce seems to have affected the young Mamet even more greatly. Exiled to what Mamet saw as a sterile suburb of Chicago—Olympia Fields—his geographical move seemed all the more complicated because of his familial dislocations. His stepfather apparently (Mamet revealed in a 1992 essay entitled “The Rake”) physically and psychologically abused the Mamet family, and it seems as if the world of the theater offered the playwright some form of reprieve and, later, recognition from a tension-filled youth. As a boy, Mamet also acted on television, an opportunity made possible by his uncle, who was the director of broadcasting for the Chicago Board of Rabbis. Mamet often was cast as a Jewish boy plagued by religious self-doubt and concerns.
After graduating from Francis Parker, a private school in downtown Chicago, Mamet attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, where he majored in theater and literature. At Goddard, he wrote his first play, Camel, which fulfilled his thesis requirement for graduation and was staged at the college in 1968. During his junior year (1968-1969), Mamet moved from Plainfield to New York City, where he studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner, one of the founding members of the Group Theatre in the 1930’s. While his...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
The entrance of David Alan Mamet (MAM-eht) into American theater marked a new generation of dramatic output from what might be called the postmodernists. He was born to Lenore Silver, a teacher, and Bernard Mamet, a lawyer, and was reared in Chicago’s predominantly Jewish South Side. After undergraduate work at Goddard College, Vermont, where he studied literature and ventured into playwriting with a comical revue, Camel, Mamet studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse and worked as house manager for Harvey Schmidt’s The Fantasticks (pr. 1960) Off-Broadway. Several odd jobs later (including high-pressure telephone solicitation for worthless Florida swampland, the subject of Glengarry Glen Ross), Mamet returned to his hometown of Chicago in 1972 with several short plays in hand, including Duck Variations, which was produced by The Body Politic. Receiving the Joseph Jefferson Award for the best new Chicago play of 1974 for Sexual Perversity in Chicago encouraged Mamet to join with three young friends to re-form the St. Nicholas Theater Company, later called the St. Nicholas Players. There, Mamet added the missing ingredient, a live audience, for his unorthodox and uncommercial plays; by 1975, several of his works had found their way to the Off-Off-Broadway St. Clements Theatre and the Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre. The success of American Buffalo, which was voted the best American play of the 1976-1977 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle, brought him national coverage, and as a result of the publicity, Sexual Perversity in Chicago was made into the successful film About Last Night . . . (1986).
Once Mamet’s reputation spread past its Chicago origins with Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo, his work became more innovative with each play. A Life in the Theater is different in locale from his other plays and features the metalinguistic, self-examining device of a play within a play, but its critical reception was mixed. His Pulitzer Prize-winning...
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David Mamet was born on November 30, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, to Bernard Mamet, a labor lawyer, and his wife, Leonore. As a child, Mamet’s parents had high expectations for their son and his younger sister, Lynn. Mamet’s father especially emphasized the importance and potency of language. The family spent hours arguing for the sake of argument, and Mamet learned the subtleties inherent to well-spoken words. This experience had a direct bearing on Mamet’s plays, for he is known as a master of dialogue.
Mamet’s parents divorced when he was eleven, and he subsequently lived with his mother for four years before moving in with his father. At this time, Mamet got his first taste of theater, working backstage and doing bit parts at Chicago’s Hull Theatre. At first Mamet wanted to be an actor, and to this end he studied the craft in New York City’s famous Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner. When it became evident that acting was not his true calling, Mamet returned to college (Goddard in Vermont) and began writing. His first full-length play, Camel, was his senior thesis and was performed as a student production.
Mamet continued to write following his graduation. He supported himself with small acting roles as well as working part-time teaching acting at Goddard and Marlboro, another college in Vermont. During this time, he began writing what would become his first hit: 1974’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago. The play won the Joseph Jefferson Award for the best new Chicago play before it moved to Off-Off Broadway and Off-Broadway productions in New York City. Appraising the New York version of the show, Time named it among the ten best plays of 1976.
Mamet’s next play, American Buffalo, was regarded as an ever bigger smash. As with its predecessor, the play debuted in Chicago. When the production moved to New York City in 1977, however, it went directly to Broadway. Several years later, in 1984, Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize for one of his most well-respected plays, Glengarry Glenn Ross. The story revolves around survival in a dog-eat-dog business environment: real estate. Similarly, Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow (1988) revolves around another cutthroat business: Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Mamet wrote a number of screenplays, many of them adaptations of other’s work, throughout the 1980s and 1990s and he became well-versed in the harsh business of film.
In 1992, Mamet produced one of his most controversial works, Oleanna. The play concerns the unfounded allegations of sexual harassment by a young, female student against a male college professor. Mamet directed the original Broadway production as he had previously done with several of his plays. The playwright also branched out into directing films. He has helmed (as well as written) such motion pictures as House of Games (1987), Things Change (1988), and The Spanish Prisoner (1997); he has also written the screenplays for The Verdict (1982), The Untouchables (1987), The Edge (1998), (with Hilary Henkin) Wag the Dog (1998), and Lansky (1999), among others. By the end of the 1990s, Mamet was regarded as one of the contemporary masters of the dramatic form, an emerging power in Hollywood, and a virtuoso of dialogue.
IntroductionPerhaps the most influential playwright in contemporary theater, David Mamet writes a style of dialogue so unique that it has its own name: “Mametspeak.” His plays are also characterized by quick, often vulgar characters and masculine themes. Mamet's first taste of the theater was as a busboy at The Second City in Chicago. Mamet was a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company and first gained success in 1976 with three plays: The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and American Buffalo. In 1984, Mamet won the Pulitzer Prize for Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet has also written screenplays, three novels, several nonfiction pieces, and children’s stories.
- Mamet’s themes of machismo and male dominance have often incited controversy and drawn criticism from feminists.
- Mamet was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983 for his screenwriting work on The Verdict and again in 1998 for cowriting Wag the Dog.
- Despite Mamet’s penchant for foul language in his plays, most interviewers describe him as self-controlled and serious without resorting to swearing.
- Mamet was vocal about his dislike of the film Schindler’s List. He felt that it was exploitative.
- As of 2008, Mamet blogs at The Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.com).