Buchwald, Art 1925-2007

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Buchwald, Art 1925-2007


See index for CA sketch: Born October 20, 1925, in Mount Vernon, NY; died of kidney failure, January 17, 2007, in Washington, DC. Journalist and author. Buchwald was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist best known for his humorous takes on American politics. The son of an Austrian immigrant, he was born into an impoverished family with a mother who suffered from severe depression. Buchwald never really knew his mother, as she was institutionalized when he was a baby; as an adult, he himself was hospitalized—in 1963 and again in 1987—for severe depression. Buchwald's father could not afford to support his infant son or his three sisters, and so the boy ended up in a home for sick children run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. To make matters worse, Buchwald suffered from rickets. He left the church-run home when he was five, only to have his father place him in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in Manhattan. It was while there that the young Buchwald discovered humor as a way of surviving his pain. He became a class clown, though he discovered that the adults in his life did not appreciate his making fun of them. At seventeen, he was finally able to escape this grim existence by joining the Marines. He lied about his age, and served in the Pacific theater during World War II, attaining the rank of sergeant. After the war, he used his GI Bill to attend the University of Southern California. He left the university after his junior year, however, to study in Paris. While there, Buchwald obtained his first writing job as an entertainment columnist for the New York Herald Tribune. Lying that he had been a wine taster for the Marines, he faked his way through reviewing restaurants in France, then added columns about Paris night life to his repertoire; he also served as a Paris correspondent for Variety magazine. Buchwald met his wife, Ann McGarry, while in Paris, and the couple would adopt three children before returning to the United States in 1963. They settled in Washington, DC, where Buchwald became a syndicated columnist. Though he considered the nation's capital to be a city without a soul, he found plenty of material to lampoon regarding American politics. Buchwald, who had published his first book, Paris after Dark, in 1950, released many collections of his articles over the years. In 1982, he won the Pulitzer for commentary, and in 1991 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The next year, the columnist made the news when he and movie producer Alain Bernheim won a court case against comedian and actor Eddie Murphy, claiming that Murphy stole their idea for the film Coming to America. The case inspired what is now called the "Buchwald clause" in Hollywood contracts, which specifically protects Hollywood studios from having to compensate writers for their ideas. By the early 1990s, Buchwald's early popularity was waning, and some critics felt he had lost his edge as a humorist. He regained his audience with the autobiographies Leaving Home: A Memoir (1993) and I'll Always Have Paris: A Memoir (1996). In his later years, Buchwald was plagued by circulatory and kidney problems. Despite these illnesses, he far outlived his and his doctors' expectations of survival. Refusing dialysis treatments, he had one leg amputated below the knee. In 2006, he checked himself into a hospice, but, amazingly, his failing kidneys recovered some function. Buchwald continued to write his columns, as well as his last book, Too Soon to Say Goodbye (2006), before passing away. One of his last acts before his death was to record a video of himself in which he maintained his humor by impishly poking fun at his demise. The recipient of such honors as the 1989 Horatio Alger Award and the 2006 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Buchwald was named a Commander in France's Order of Arts and Letters in 2006, as well. His many other works include the novel A Gift from the Boys (1958), the play Counting Sheep (1970), and nonfiction titles such as Is It Safe to Drink the Water? (1962), Getting High in Government Circles (1971), You Can Fool All of the People All of the Time (1985), Lighten Up, George (1991), and Beating around the Bush (2005).



Buchwald, Art, Leaving Home: A Memoir, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

Buchwald, Art, I'll Always Have Paris: A Memoir, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.


Chicago Tribune, January 19, 2007, Section 1, p. 3.

New York Times, January 19, 2007, pp. A1, A25; January 25, 2007, p. A2; January 27, 2007, p. A2.

Times (London, England), January 19, 2007, p. 62.

Washington Post, January 19, 2007, pp. A1, A10.