Thursday, 18 January 2007

Art Buchwald R. I. P.

Art Buchwald, columnist, political satirist, and novelist, died yesterday at the age of 81 from kidney failure. Buchwald had refused dialysis that might have kept him alive longer and lived another year. In typical Art Buchwald fashion, it was Art Buchwald who announced his own death. In a video on posted the New York Times web site, he announced, "Hi, I'm Art Buchwald and I just died."

Art Buchwald was born on October 20, 1925 in Mount Vernon, New York. His father, Joseph Buchwald, manufactured curtains. He grew in Queens and left home at the age of seventeen. He enlisted in the Marines in 1942, bribing a drunk to sign as his legal guardian as he was too young. He served as part of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing in the Pacific Theatre.

Following World War II, Buchwald enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he wrote for the college newspaper, the Daily Trojan, and edited the campus magazine, Wampus. Following graduation he went to Paris, eventually becoming a correspondent there for Variety. In 1948 he submitted a sample column focused on the nightlife in Paris to the New York Herald Tribune. The newspaper hired him and the column became Paris After Dark. Immensely popular, Buchwald started writing another column, Mostly About People. The two columns were eventually combined and syndicated across the United States as Europe's Lighter Side.

In 1962 Buchwald returned to the United States. Back in America Buchwald began writing his column for the Washington Post, which continued until a few weeks ago. There Buchwald lampooned the powers that be in Washington. Like his previous columns, this one met with success and would eventually be syndicated to over 500 newspapers.

Buchwald was also the author of over 30 books. He wrote both nonfiction and fiction, his books always laced with his trademark humour. Among the books he wrote were I'll Always Have Paris (about his experiences there), the novel A Gift From the Boys, and Leaving Home, a memoir about his early life. Buchwald even chronicled his last days in the book Too Soon to Say Goodbye. He also wrote the Broadway play Sheep on the Runway in 1970. Buchwald also sued Paramount over the Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America, sensing too much of a resemblance to his idea "King for a Day." Buchwald also wrote the screenplay for the 1960 Yul Brynner film Surprise Package and provided additional dialogue for the 1967 movie Play Time.

Art Buchwald spent his final year writing his twice weekly column and receiving visits from friends. Buchwald even attended book parties for Too Soon to Say Goodbye.

I can't help but be saddened by Art Buchwald's passing. He was, quite simply, one of the funniest Americans born in the Twentieth Century. He could possibly have been that century's greatest satirist. Indeed, Buchwald had the marvelous ability to send up important political issues and mock those with overblown egos without ever being partisan. It is little wonder that Buchwald was friends with such varied individuals as Humphrey Bogart, Stanley, Donen, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Carly Simon, and Theodor Giesel (better known as Dr. Seuss). With his sense of humor and zest for life he always seemed to me to be a very likable guy. Indeed, it is not surprising in the least to me that Art Buchwald faced his death the way he did, continuing to write and visiting with friends, all the while enjoying food from McDonalds. Art Buchwald was always so alive that he need not mourn his own eventual passing. Indeed, he was so always so alive that it is still hard to believe that he is gone.

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