Heller, Theodore Michael 1956- (Ted Heller)

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HELLER, Theodore Michael 1956- (Ted Heller)


Born May 11, 1956; son of Joseph Heller (an author) and Shirley Held. Education: New York University, B.A.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.


Journalist, photo editor, and author. Nickelodeon magazine, photo editor and senior writer, c. 1994—. Previously worked for Spy, Vanity Fair, Premiere, and Details magazines. Also worked in the garment industry.



Slab Rat (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2000. Funnymen (novel), Scribner (New York, NY), 2002.

Also author of plays and a screenplay.


Ted Heller, son of the late author Joseph Heller, carved his path to notoriety independent of father's renown: "I don't deny it. I didn't change my name or anything, but that is something I refuse to exploit," he told Michael Ellison of the Guardian. After graduating from New York University ("I think it was cinema studies. I just remember I had a good time. Actually, people had to tell me I had a good time," he told Matthew Flamm of Newsday), he spent six years in New York's garment district pushing racks of clothes, never contemplating asking his father's help in entering the publishing industry. "Believe me," he told Flamm in retrospect, "if I had a choice between pushing a rack of furs or working for a publishing company, I would take the furs any day [because] the furs are very soft."

While working in the garment industry, Heller co-wrote a play about the industry and several other plays and was commissioned for a screenplay that, while never becoming a movie, provided him with enough income to take a year off to write. He then worked for three years in the photo department of the satirical and now defunct magazine Spy. After being laid off, he joined Vanity Fair as a photo researcher, quit after two weeks, and had brief tenures as an underling photo researcher at Premiere and Details magazines. "Details: that was very unpleasant," he told Ellison. "The only time anyone ever noticed me was to yell. I asked someone, 'Who makes Jeep?' and he just yelled at me, 'Jeep makes Jeep.' It's hard to yell at someone using so few letters." Of these tenures, Heller is quoted by Melinda Wittstock in the Commercial Appeal as saying, "I just stayed on the sidelines and did my humble clerical work."

Heller's humble experiences were the catalyst for his first novel, which Ellison said "reads like an insider's account of the nepotism, prejudice, bitterness, ambition, rivalry and hatreds of the magazine world." Slab Rat ("slab" being a monolithic midtown Manhattan office block housing a magazine publishing company; "rat" being an employee obsessed with climbing a magazine masthead) centers on the fictional Versailles Publishing, a thinly veiled depiction of New York publishing giant Condé Nast, whose roster of titles includes Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Glamour. Molly Watson pointed out in the Evening Standard that "despite the impressive reviews … within a few weeks, [Heller] has managed to collect an impressive array of enemies. That's what happens if you write a brilliant, thinly disguised satire of the bizarre empire at the heart of New York's magazine industry. Heller has ridiculed some of the most powerful, not to mention vindictive, people in journalism."

Heller denies he based his characters on the high-powered staff of real-life magazines. He told David Daley of Newsday, "It baffles me, suffocates me.… Yesterday I read in a British paper that I based the character of Leslie Usher-Soames on Emma Soames, the former editor of [the British magazine] Tatler. … When I read that, that was the first time I'd ever heard of Emma Soames!" A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that "Heller's Machiavellian comedy is a reasonably entertaining (if unoriginal) first attempt with special appeal for publishing types." Michael Spinella of Booklist called it "scathingly funny … a fun trip into office politics of the 90s."

Sigmund Blissman and Victor Fontana, the fictional characters in Heller's second novel, Funnymen, are loosely based on America's mid-twentieth-century comedy team Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Ben Schwartz of the Washington Post wrote: "Heller's Fountain and Bliss are tinsel Frankensteins, stitched together from Hollywood legend. Fountain is Dean, but also Sinatra and Eddie Fisher—an impossibly handsome ladies' man sleeping with everyone's wife and daughter, usually two at a time. Bliss is lots of Jerry, but also part Milton Berle, … Lou Costello and some Danny Kaye—a wildly insecure and angry comic who sells out anyone around him, including his partner."

Heller tells the Blissman and Fontana story through a long list of colorful characters (it requires four pages in the index to keep them straight). A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote, "Longer and less focused than it should be, this is nevertheless a funny and illuminating story of two of the industry's post-WWII giants." Chris Power of the London Times called Funnymen one of his most satisfying reads in years. He noted: "Is Ted Heller showing the ability needed to escape from his father Joseph's imposing literary shadow? You had better believe it."



Booklist, January 1, 2000, Michael Spinella, review of Slab Rat, p. 876.

Commercial Appeal, March 12, 2000, Melinda Wittstock, "Heller's Slab Rat Chews on Trendy Mags," p. H13.

Evening Standard (London), February 9, 2000, Molly Watson, "Releasing a Rat into the New York Set," p. 34

Guardian, February 17, 2000, Michael Ellison, "The Gloss Menagerie."

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2002, review of Funnymen, p. 125.

Library Journal, April 15, 2002, Bob Lunn, review of Funnymen, p. 125.

Newsday, March 7, 2000, David Daley, "Ex-Magazine 'Rat' Is Now a Cheese: Novelist Ted Heller Is Courted by Glossies That Used to Disdain Him," p. B02; April 7, 2002, Matthew Flamm, interview, "Talking with Ted Heller: That's Show Business," p. D25.

New York Times, February 20, 2000, Alex Kuczynski, "No Scrunchies!," section 7, p. 19; May 12, 2002, Michelle Goldberg, review of Funnymen, section 7, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, November 29, 1999, review of Slab Rat, p. 52; February 4, 2002, review of Funnymen, p. 48.

Scotsman, April 19, 2000, Allan Radcliffe, "How to Get out of Your Parent's Good Books," p. 13.

Times (London), July 27, 2002, Chris Power, "Kings of Comedy," review of Funnymen, p. 14.

Washington Post, May 14, 2002, Ben Schwartz, "The Joke's on Him," p. C04.


Salon,http://www.salon.com/ (February 2, 2000), Sean Elder, "For Every Back, a Knife."*