David Mamet also studied acting at The Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City.
Mamet was born in 1947 in Chicago to Jewish parents, Lenore June (née Silver), a teacher, and Bernard Morris Mamet, an attorney. One of his first jobs was as a busboy at Chicago's The Second City. He was educated at the progressive Francis W. Parker School and at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. At the Chicago Public Library Foundation 20th anniversary fundraiser in 2006, though, Mamet announced "My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library. I got what little educational foundation I got in the third-floor reading room, under the tutelage of a Coca-Cola sign".
Mamet is a founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company; he first gained acclaim for a trio of off-Broadway plays in 1976, The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and American Buffalo. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for Glengarry Glen Ross, which received its first Broadway revival in the summer of 2005. His play Race, which opened on Broadway on December 6, 2009 and featured James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas in the cast, received mixed reviews. His play The Anarchist, starring Patti LuPone and Debra Winger, in her Broadway debut, opened on Broadway on November 13, 2012 in previews and was scheduled to close on December 16, 2012. His 2017 play The Penitent previewed off-Broadway on February 8, 2017.
In 2002, Mamet was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame. Mamet later received the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for Grand Master of American Theater in 2010.
Mamet's feature films, which he both wrote and directed, include in chronological order: his feature directorial debut House of Games (1987) (which won Best Film and Best Screenplay awards at the 1987 Venice Film Festival and "Film of the Year" for the 1989 London Critics Circle Film Awards), Things Change (1988), Homicide (1991) (nominated for the Palme d'Or at 1991 Cannes Film Festival and won a "Screenwriter of the Year" award for Mamet from the London Critics Circle Film Awards and Best Cinematography from Roger Deakins from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards), Oleanna (1994), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Winslow Boy (1999), State and Main (2000), Heist (2001), Spartan (2004), Redbelt (2008), and in 2012 a bio-pic TV movie Phil Spector about the American record producer and songwriter Phil Spector starring Al Pacino as Spector, as well as Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor. His latest feature-length film, a thriller titled Blackbird, was slated for release in 2015, but is still in development. Blackbird will star James Badge Dale as “a military major who is trying to discover the truth about the political secrets of a woman’s grandfather who worked for the U.S. special ops during the 1960s,” according to Deadline.com. Mamet has also written the screenplays for such classic films as The Verdict (1982), directed by Sidney Lumet, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), The Untouchables (1987) directed by Brian De Palma, Hoffa (1992), The Edge (1997), Wag the Dog (1997), Ronin (1998), and Hannibal (2001).
Mamet's first produced screenplay was the 1981 production of The Postman Always Rings Twice (directed by Bob Rafelson), based upon James M. Cain's novel. He received an Academy Award nomination one year later for his first script, The Verdict, written in the late 1970s. He also wrote the screenplay for The Untouchables.
In 1987, Mamet made his film directing debut with House of Games, starring his then-wife, Lindsay Crouse, and a host of longtime stage associates. He uses friends as actors, especially in one early scene in the movie, which featured Vermont poker-playing friends. He is quoted as saying, "It was my first film as a director and I needed support, so I stacked the deck." Two of the four poker friends included in the film were fellow Goddard College graduates Allen Soule and Bob Silverstein. Three of Mamet's own films, House of Games, The Spanish Prisoner, and Heist, have involved the world of con artists.
Mamet adapted Glengarry Glen Ross for the cinema in 1992, writing an additional part (including the monologue "Coffee's for closers") for Alec Baldwin.
Mamet remains a writer and director, and has assembled an informal repertory company for his films, including Crouse, William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Ricky Jay, as well as some of the aforementioned poker associates. Mamet has funded his own films with payments he receives for credited and uncredited rewrites of typically big-budget films. For instance, Mamet did a rewrite of the script for Ronin under the pseudonym “Richard Weisz” and turned in an early version of a script for Malcolm X that director Spike Lee rejected. In 2000, Mamet directed a film version of Catastrophe, a one-act play by Samuel Beckett featuring Harold Pinter and John Gielgud (in his final screen performance). In 2008, he directed and wrote the mixed martial arts movie Redbelt, about a martial arts instructor tricked into fighting in a professional bout. Mamet teamed up with his wife Rebecca Pidgeon to adapt the novel Come Back to Sorrento as a screenplay. The film was in development during 2010. He is also director of the TV film Phil Spector.
In On Directing Film, Mamet asserts that directors should focus on getting the point of a scene across, rather than simply following a protagonist, or adding visually beautiful or intriguing shots. Films should create order from disorder in search of the objective.
In 1990 Mamet published The Hero Pony, a 55-page collection of poetry. He has also published a series of short plays, monologues and three novels, The Village (1994), The Old Religion (1997), and Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources (2000). He has written several non-fiction texts, and children's stories, including "True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor"(1997). In 2004 he published a lauded version of the classical Faust story, Faustus, however, when the play was staged in San Francisco during the spring of 2004, it was not well received by critics. On May 1, 2010, Mamet released a graphic novel The Trials of Roderick Spode (The Human Ant).
On June 2, 2011, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, Mamet's book detailing his conversion from modern liberalism to "a reformed liberal" was released.
Mamet published Three War Stories, a collection of novellas, on November 11, 2013. In an interview with Newsmax TV, Mamet said he wanted to write about war, despite never having served. Moreover, the book allowed Mamet to free characters that had occupied his mind for years. On the subject of characters as a reason for writing, Mamet told the host, “You want to get these guys out of your head. You just want them to stop talking to you."
Mamet wrote the "Wasted Weekend" episode of Hill Street Blues that aired in 1987. His then-wife, Lindsay Crouse, appeared in numerous episodes (including that one) as Officer McBride. Mamet is also the creator, producer and frequent writer of the television series The Unit, where he wrote a well-circulated memo to the writing staff. He directed a third-season episode of The Shield with Shawn Ryan. In 2007, Mamet directed two television commercials for Ford Motor Company. The two 30-second ads featured the Ford Edge and were filmed in Mamet's signature style of fast-paced dialogue and clear, simple imagery. Mamet's sister, Lynn, is a producer and writer for television shows, such as The Unit and Law & Order.
Mamet has contributed several dramas to BBC Radio through Jarvis & Ayres Productions, including an adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross for BBC Radio 3 and new dramas for BBC Radio 4. The comedy Keep Your Pantheon (or On the Whole I'd Rather Be in Mesopotamia) was aired in 2007.
Since May 2005 he has been a contributing blogger at The Huffington Post, drawing satirical cartoons with themes including political strife in Israel. In a 2008 article for the Village Voice headlined Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal' he revealed that he had gradually rejected political correctness and progressivism and embraced conservatism. Mamet has spoken in interviews of changes in his views, highlighting his agreement with free market theorists such as Friedrich Hayek the historian Paul Johnson, and economist Thomas Sowell, whom Mamet called "one of our greatest minds".
During promotion of a book, Mamet was criticized for claiming that the British people had "a taint of anti-semitism," claiming they "want to give [Israel] away." In the same interview, Mamet went on to say that "there are famous dramatists and novelists [in the UK] whose works are full of anti-Semitic filth," but that he could not specify to whom he was referring for fear of litigation. He is known for his pro-Israel positions; in his book The Secret Knowledge he claimed that "Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all."
In November 2012 Mamet penned an article for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles imploring fellow Jewish Americans to vote for Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
In an essay for Newsweek, published on 29 January 2013, Mamet argued against gun control laws: "It was intended to guard us against this inevitable decay of government that the Constitution was written. Its purpose was and is not to enthrone a Government superior to an imperfect and confused electorate, but to protect us from such a government."
Mamet's style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called Mamet speak. Mamet has recognized an association of his edgy narrative style by noting his debt to Harold Pinter, to whom he dedicated Glengarry Glen Ross. He often uses italics and quotation marks to highlight particular words and to draw attention to his characters' frequent manipulation and deceitful use of language. His characters frequently interrupt one another, their sentences trail off unfinished, and their dialogue overlaps. Moreover, certain expressions and figures of speech are deliberately misrepresented to show that the character is not paying close attention to every detail of his dialogue (e.g., or so forth instead of and so forth). Mamet himself has criticized his (and other writers') tendency to write "pretty" at the expense of sound, logical plots.
When asked how he developed his style for writing dialogue, Mamet said, "In my family, in the days prior to television, we liked to while away the evenings by making ourselves miserable, based solely on our ability to speak the language viciously. That's probably where my ability was honed."
One instance of Mamet's dialogue style can be found in Glengarry Glen Ross, in which two down-on-their-luck real estate salesmen are considering stealing from their employer's office. George Aaronow and Dave Moss equivocate on the meaning of "talk" and "speak", turning language and meaning to deceptive purposes:Moss
No. What do you mean? Have I talked to him about this
Yes. I mean are you actually talking
about this, or are we just...
No, we're just...
We're just "talking"
We're just speaking
about it. [Pause] As an idea.
As an idea.
We're not actually talking
Talking about it as a...
As a robbery.
As a "robbery?" No.
Mamet dedicated Glengarry Glen Ross to Harold Pinter, who was instrumental in its being first staged at the Royal National Theatre, (London) in 1983, and whom Mamet has acknowledged as an influence on its success, and on his other work.
Mamet's plays have frequently sparked debate and controversy. During a staging of Oleanna in 1992, in which a post-secondary student accuses her professor of sexual harassment, a critic reported that the play divided the audience by gender and recounted "couples emerged screaming at each other".
Arthur Holmberg in his 2014 book David Mamet and Male Friendship, has reconsidered the gender issue in many of Mamet's plays throughout his career by asserting a prominent and recurrent reversed sexual orientation of portrayed male gender preferences.
Mamet and actress Lindsay Crouse were married in 1977 and divorced in 1990. He and Crouse have two children, Willa and Zosia. Willa is a professional photographer and Zosia is an actress. Mamet has been married to actress and singer-songwriter Rebecca Pidgeon since 1991. They have two children, Clara and Noah.
The papers of David Mamet were sold to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin in 2007 and first opened for research in 2009. The growing collection consists mainly of manuscripts and related production materials for most of his plays, films, and other writings, but also includes his personal journals from 1966 to 2005. In 2015, the Ransom Center secured a second major addition to Mamet's papers that include more recent works. Additional materials relating to Mamet and his career can be found in the Ransom Center's collections of Robert De Niro, Mel Gussow, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, Paul Schrader, Don DeLillo, and John Russell Brown.
Mamet is credited as writer of these works except where noted. Credits in addition to writer also noted.