David Mamet: Biography, Plays & Books

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
His parents divorced when he was eleven, and he studied Literature and Theater in college. He wrote numerous successful plays and even a book about the Bible. He was also nominated for a Tony Award and an Oscar. Read on to learn how one man, David Mamet, managed to do all this and more.

David Mamet

Mamet's Early Life and Education

David Alan Mamet was born on November 30, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. He is the only son of Bernard and Lenore Mamet, though he has a half-brother, Tony Mamet. He also has a younger sister, Lynn Mamet. Mamet's father was a labor lawyer, and David did office work for him, such as typing letters and making phone calls.

A portion of David's childhood was unhappy after his parents divorced. This happened when David was eleven years old. Sometimes children of divorced parents seek a creative outlet in art or music. For David Mamet, that outlet was acting. At the age of 15, he started working at the Hull House Theatre, and things began to look up for him.

Eventually, he studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in New York in 1968. He also attended Goddard College in Vermont and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969.

Off-Broadway Plays

In 1976, he wrote three off-Broadway (a small theatre out of the Broadway district that seats more than 100 but fewer than 500 people) plays that spread the word about his work. The plays were The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and American Buffalo. Sexual Perversity in Chicago was adapted into a film in 1986. We know it as About Last Night.

Mamet focuses on strong male characters. In his play, Glengarry Glen Ross, all of the characters are men. They brag often and use multiple curse words in every sentence. Underneath their dominant personalities, however, they are aware that they are really insecure individuals, hoping that others won't notice their many flaws.

Various Books

In later years, Mamet began writing books. He did not limit himself to one specific topic or genre. Rather, he experimented with a variety of subjects.

The Old Religion (published in 1997) is about the lynching of Leo Frank. He was a Jewish factory supervisor who was lynched after being convicted of raping and murdering a 13-year-old girl named Mary Phagan. The trial was a controversial issue in Atlanta and other areas because it was rumored to be a setup.

Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (published in 2004) is an explanation and discussion of the events in the first five books of the Bible. Mamet co-wrote this book with Lawrence Kushner, a Reform rabbi (a Jewish scholar or teacher). This book's discussion comes from kavannah which is an ancient Jewish practice of meditation designed to focus a person's heart on its spiritual goal.

The book, Bambi vs. Godzilla, is Mamet's 2008 commentary on the movie business. He answers many of the questions that movie-goers might have concerning the films that they see and what happens behind the scenes.

Mamet's Films

Writing is a skill that can apply to so many facets of the entertainment industry. When we think about the movies that we see on television, on the internet, or at the movie theater, we don't always think about the fact that before the film could be produced, someone had to write the story, which later became the script for that film.

Mamet has a knack for screenwriting, or writing for film and television. He showcased this talent in 1981 when he adapted the 1947 film, The Postman Always Rings Twice. In Mamet's version, there was a heavier emphasis on the elements of sexuality and violence.

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