Dick DeBartolo — you’re welcome to call him Dickie D. — bills himself as Mad’s maddest writer. Maybe that’s a boast, but he’s been one of the core creatives at Mad Magazine for nearly half a century. He’s written for almost all the regular features, and brainstormed everything from the Alfred E. Neuman covers to the fold-in at the back. He practically invented Mad’s movie parody. DeBartolo’s bathroom (apparently the place of honor) displays a letter from George Lucas offering an Academy Award for satire to DeBartolo and Mort Drucker’s “Star Bores.”
“I started out back in high school reading Mad, and after about three issues I said, ‘I don’t want to read this, I want to write this,’” DeBartolo explains. “So I wrote a takeoff on some ads. Six weeks later I got back my own envelope, and I was so depressed. So I opened the envelope, and it was just stuffed with cardboard. And on the cardboard it said, ‘Thought this was your story being returned? We have bought your script.’ Stapled to this cardboard is a check for $100.”
What keeps a man at a kids’ magazine for decades? “I did some therapy, and the analyst said, ‘You probably developed a great sense of humor to overcome depression, or take yourself out of your life situation by creating crazy things.’ So it’s served me well.” DeBartolo’s childhood, as he recounts it, was no picnic. His father, an Italian immigrant, owned a metal working business in Brooklyn, and expected Dick to take over. “A writer is not an occupation,” he told the boy; “an occupation involves tools.”
His occupation as a writer got him out of Brooklyn, across the river to Manhattan, where he lives with his husband Dennis. Mad’s key demographic of preadolescent boys may not be known for their enlightened attitudes toward sexuality, but the offices — long before gay marriage — were accepting. He wasn’t exactly out, but says “I never hid anything. You would just know, because I would say to Bill [Gaines, the publisher], ‘Have a great weekend, say hi to Annie.’ And Bill would say, ‘Have a great weekend, say hi to Dennis.’”
DeBartolo has kept up with the times with a blog and podcast called The GizWiz. He indulges his love of gizmos and gadgets in a soundproof studio filled with microphones, cameras, weird toys, you name it. At 68, Mad’s maddest is still keeping adulthood at bay.
What Me WorryArtist: St. VincentAlbum: Marry MeLabel: Beggar's Banquet