'MAD' Man Across The Water

By Rich Armstrong

Humor writer Dick DeBartolo has a passion for both punch lines and fast powerboats.

Dick DeBartolo aboard his pilothouse powerboatFunnyman Dick DeBartolo aboard his 23-foot Farallon pilothouse powerboat, the 26th boat he's owned. (Photo: Scott Croft)

Among the rites of passage among American men of a certain age, especially the smart-alecky ones, was growing up reading MAD, the wickedly funny satirical magazine still publishing after 65 years.

Dick DeBartolo holds the distinction of having his writing included in every issue dating back to 1966, earning him the comedic title of "MAD's Maddest Writer." You also may know him as the Giz Wiz gadget guy on TV, and he initially made a name for himself writing the humorous, evocative questions for the popular celebrity panel TV game show Match Game.

"Just do the things you want to do is my philosophy," he says. "I've had good-paying jobs that weren't fun, and I left them."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, he moved across the East River to Manhattan and never left. Funny by nature and searching for a career, he submitted a satirical TV commercial script to the New York City-published MAD, which he enjoyed reading. To his surprise, it was accepted and DeBartolo had his career, which he merrily continues today at age 71.

"I always try to get involved in things I really love — like boating," he says. "In the mid-1960s, I moved to [Manhattan's] Upper West Side. I used to walk along the Hudson River and I loved looking at the boats, even though I knew nothing about boats."

Although this city boy has never owned a car or even had a driver's license, he's now the proud owner of his 26th boat.

"I started with an 18-foot boat, which had a 225-hp sterndrive and went 52 miles per hour," he recalls. "On my first trip, I tried running it at full throttle, and at that point I was hooked on fast boats."

With his newfound love of fast boats, DeBartolo pitched another magazine he liked, Powerboat, which is all about fast powerboats. The publication accepted him, and he had a second career writing about boats, which he did for 42 years, until the magazine ceased publication in 2011.

A lifelong New Yorker who boats regularly is a bit of an anomaly in "the city that never sleeps," but this funny man has a simple answer for that.

"I love the water, but I hate the beach," he explains. "People ask me why I got a boat. I tell them it's the only way to get to the ocean without walking across sand."

His latest boat is a 23-foot Farallon, a stout, seaworthy fiberglass pilothouse boat built in California to handle sloppy seas.

"I got tired of worrying when I hit a log in the Hudson," he says, and keeps the boat, named Applause 26, in the water year-round at the West 79th Street Marina, a four-block walk from his apartment. He has a new 250-hp Yamaha outboard for power. Farallons are designed as workboats, but DeBartolo customized his with a small berth that sleeps two, a dining area, and plenty of storage.

"I wanted a boat I could use year-round, and a closed cabin where I could warm up," he says, and he does. Even on a bitter January day, DeBartolo could very well be the only pleasure boater cruising the Hudson. In his mind, he has a cottage on the river that he can escape to any time he wants.

"To me, boats are like therapy. You leave the dock with hands clamped on the wheel, and then the time on the water just relaxes you and you come back refreshed," he says. "Forty years later, it still feels the same way." 

— Published: December 2017

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