The Writers Guild of America ruled that Hilary Henkin, who adapted American Hero, a novel by Larry Beinhart, has first credit on the cynical satire about Washington and Hollywood's manipulation of the media to fool the public.
Mamet, the award-winning playwright known for his ability to wring meaning from any and all expletives, gets second billing.
"Not only isn't one line of dialogue from her script in the movie, Dustin's character is not in the other script, the Schumann character is not there, the musical and scenes from Nashville...how we handle faking the war...nothing," Levinson told Daily Variety, while threatening to withdraw his own membership in the WGA.
"...I feel this is a complete misrepresentation...I am furious, beside myself--to the point of actually wanting to quit the guild, period. I'm embarrassed," says Levinson, who has received three Oscar screenwriting nominations during his career, as well as a Best Director Oscar for Rain Man.
The New Line movie opens Christmas Day in Los Angeles and New York, in time to qualify for this year's Academy Awards race, before its wide release in January.
Dustin Hoffman stars as a Hollywood producer who is co-opted by a Washington spin doctor (Robert De Niro) to cook up a phony war to divert voter attention when the President is caught with his pants down. The Schumann character Levinson refers to is played by Woody Harrelson.
The WGA had no comment on Levinson's discontent. But Henkin told Variety she feels she deserves to have her name first. "When David Mamet rewrote my script, it's automatic for the guild to arbitrate. I did not ask for sole credit, I asked for shared credit and the guild decided in my favor."
Levinson says Mamet never read Beinhart's novel or Henkin's adaptation before creating a totally different script that only retains the concept of faking a war.
Guild rules for a business where rewrites are the norm state that a credited writer must contribute at least 33 percent to a finished script, and that the first adapter gets credit for plot elements.
Levinson says his comments are no reflection on Henkin, whose previous credits include the noir thriller Romeo Is Bleeding. The prolific Mamet's many credits include screen adaptations of his own plays American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross.
Henkin and Mamet have already received a joint Golden Globe screenwriting nomination for Wag the Dog. With word of mouth high on the movie, expect this controversy to continue until at least Oscar time.