David Mamet

Active - 1981 - 2021  |   Born - Nov 30, 1947 in Flossmoor, Illinois, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Thriller

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Biography by Rebecca Flint Marx

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet is one of a handful of American playwrights whose work has found almost as much success on the screen as it has on the stage. Noted for his spare, gritty work that reflects the hardened attitudes of his native Chicago and often revolves around domineering male characters and their macho posturing, Mamet has time and again spurred both discussion and controversy, inciting particularly angry reactions from feminists.

Born in Chicago on November 30, 1947, Mamet studied at Vermont's Goddard College and the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York. He returned to his hometown to found the St. Nicholas Theatre Company and also worked for a time as the artistic director of the famed Goodman Theatre. Mamet first earned acclaim in 1976 for a trio of Off-Off Broadway plays, The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and America Buffalo. The latter two works were later adapted for the screen, the first becoming About Last Night (1986, it was not adapted by Mamet), and the latter released in 1996 with a script by the playwright himself.

Mamet began writing for the screen in 1981 with a re-make of The Postman Always Rings Twice, his script emphasizing the base sexuality and brutal violence of the material in a way that the original 1947 film could not. After winning a Pulitzer for his play Glengarry Glen Ross in 1984 (a damning indictment of American business practices, it was made into a film in 1992 with Mamet's own script), Mamet had his first true screen success as a screenwriter with Brian De Palma's The Untouchables in 1987. That same year, he earned further critical acclaim for his directorial debut, House of Games, a crime thriller starring Mamet's then-wife Lindsay Crouse as a psychologist caught up in an elaborate con game.

After directing two more celebrated features, the (uncharacteristic) comedy Things Change (1988) and Homicide (1991), Mamet turned primarily to screenwriting (stepping back behind the camera to direct an adaptation of his controversial play Oleanna in 1994), giving voice to such films as Hoffa (1992), Malcolm X (1992), and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994). In 1997, his screenplay for Barry Levinson's political satire Wag the Dog earned Mamet both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Screenplay. That same year, he returned to directing with The Spanish Prisoner, a twisting, inventive thriller that had the added attraction of Steve Martin in an uncharacteristically dark performance.

After writing the fairly unsuccessful The Edge (1997), an adventure drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, Mamet returned to the screen in 1999 with The Winslow Boy. Despite a radical change in material for Mamet -- an Edwardian courtroom drama originally written by Terence Rattigan, it was worlds apart from the raw, foul-mouthed work to which Mamet owed his fame -- it was widely embraced by the critics, and stood as a sizable testament to the playwright's versatility. If the subsequent State and Main didn't quite live up to expectations, Mamet could at least his screenplay for the popular Silence of the Lambs sequel Hannibal yielded a box office hit. The following year Mamet once again stepped behind the camera for the incisive crime drama Heist to moderate success. Embraced by crime buffs but largely ignored by the rest of the moviegoing public, Heist nevertheless offered memorable performances by such notable actors as Gene Hackman, Danny De Vito and Sam Rockwell. As the prolific writer/director became increasingly comfortable pulling double duty, audiences eagerly anticipated the release of the political thriller Spartan in 2004. In 2006 he tried his hand at the small screen as executive producer and overseer of the CBS drama The Unit. Two years later he wrote and directed the martial-arts drama Redbelt.

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  • Chaired the student disciplinary committee in high school; also acted and played football.
  • As a teenager, acted in Jewish instructional films (an uncle was the broadcast chairman of the Chicago Board of Rabbis), and worked backstage at Chicago theaters and as a Second City busboy.
  • Began writing the plays Sexual Perversity in Chicago, The Duck Variations and Reunion while a student at Goddard College.
  • His post-college job at a Chicago real-estate company provided material for the Pulitzer-winning play Glengarry Glen Ross.
  • After college, taught drama at Goddard; students included William H. Macy.
  • Directed first wife, Lindsay Crouse, in his movie directorial debut, House of Games (1987); directed second wife, Rebecca Pidgeon, in a number of plays and movies, including the 1991 crime thriller Homicide.
  • Published a book of poetry, The Hero Pony, in 1990; published first novel, The Village, in 1994.