Remembering Art Buchwald: “If You Can Make People Laugh You Can Get All the Love You Want” 

By Barnard Law Collier

Art Buchwald in Paris.

I miss Art Buchwald.

In an era when good news is bad and bad news is good, I miss Art’s shrewd and funny discernments about which is which.

Art saw clearly through the spins and shams of life and into the heart of a story. As an observer, he agreed with Mark Twain’s advice to writers: “First get the facts, and then distort them as much as you please.”

Art’s own credo was:  “The closer I get to the fact, the more people laugh.”

For two years, I edited Art’s syndicated columns for the New York Herald Tribune. Because the facts of the stories he wrote often seemed so ridiculous, a few readers, like Secretary of State Dean Acheson, insisted Art wrote “satire.”

But Art didn’t make enough stuff up to be dismissed as a satirist. Art was a gifted reporter.

He was street wise. Art believed, as Ernest Hemingway did, that a good writer should have suffered a troubled childhood. He ran away from his fifth foster home at age 16.  He was always happy to recall how he bribed a homeless drunk with a bottle of booze to act as his custodian and lie about his age so he could become a Marine. He rose to the rank of sergeant.

To be able to make people laugh was about the only stable feature of his early life.  He loved people’s laughter.

He said: “If you can make people laugh you can get all the love you want.”

After the war, he studied at the University of Southern California on the G.I. Bill, but before graduation he bought a one-way ticket to Paris and lucked into a job writing gossipy and perceptive columns like his Paris After Dark series for the Paris Herald Tribune.

Art adored Paris. He adored French food, especially profiteroles.  The French adored him back because he understood exactly who they were, how sans souci  they hoped to live, and for making gentle fun of them, including of their language. He was so prudishly American in risqué Paris that the love of his life was none other than his wife, Ann.

After he became a newspaperman, Art felt privileged to tell stories in more than 550 newspapers each day around the world.

One of his pet slogans was, “Never underestimate the power of immortality.”

I asked him, “What do you mean by immortality?”

He said: “Immortality is if something I write still lives after maybe three years.”

Art moved reluctantly to Washington in the early 1960s because it was where the most action was supposed to be.

He came to DC as an international celebrity, a bon vivant and raconteur.  He mingled with Katherine Graham, Picasso, Ben Bradlee, E.B. WhiteAllen GinsbergThornton Wilder, Audrey Hepburn, Pierre Salinger, Roy Marcus Cohn, and several United States presidents.

He wrote 30 books.

Art was also the easiest-to-edit columnist I could imagine. If I occasionally asked, “Art, is there a better word?” he chewed pensively on his smuggled-in Romeo y Julieta cigar and soon his brown eyes glittered with the offer of a better word or pithier way of saying something—no questions asked. If I saw obscurity, he always clarified it. If a scene fell flat, he’d fix it or let it be cut.

When Art was not traveling to speak outside of Washington, or at his beloved beach home on Martha’s Vineyard, he came to his small office a block-and-a-half from the White House at 1750 Pennsylvania Avenue almost every day. He proceeded to type with jaw-clenched concentration on his Remington type-hammer typewriter.

He wrote steadily despite tormented depressions followed by exhausting spells of overexuberance and false high hopes.

We spoke about his recurring desire to kill himself.

“How are you going to do it?” I asked.

“I’m thinking about defenestration.”

“Where are you going to jump from?”

“I’m looking for a suitable basement window.”

In 1982 he won a Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for a compilation of three years of his newspaper columns.

By the middle of the 1980s his loyal readers began to pass away. He observed in 1985 that, “The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.”

By 1989 most of his 550-newspaper readership had shuffled off.

A paragraph in Wikipedia sums up how times and Art’s audience had changed:

“Roy Bode, editor of the Dallas Times Herald, said that when his paper canceled Buchwald’s column in 1989, the editors did not receive a single letter of protest. By contrast, when the paper cancelled the comic strip Zippy the Pinhead, so many readers complained that the editors were compelled to bring it back.”

For the final eighteen or so years of his life Art suffered speech complications from a stroke.  He was wheelchair-bound after the amputation of his right leg above the knee because of diabetes.  He was still prone to black depressions and maniacal highs.

He continued to write despite impending slow death from kidney failure. His focus was on what funny facts he was seeing, thinking about, and feeling.

Art lived a remarkable 11 months after he decided to stop kidney dialysis.  His doctors had predicted he’d survive a few weeks.

When Art felt his passing was very near, he entertained the notion that maybe he could carry on his comedic career into immortality.

It so happened that Art was interviewed in 2006 by the New York Times for his pre-obituary. It was agreed that Art would present his own.

On January 18th, 2007, a video on the The Last Word obituary show for the Times included a tight close-up clip of Art’s ravaged, 81-year-old face.

With lively eyes but a stroke-muddled voice, he introduces himself:

Hi! I’m Art Buchwald. I just died.”

You may see the video at

Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer, former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief, and publisher.



  1. Richard Mattersdorff says

    Mark Russell said he had 535 writers — 435 in the House and 100 in the Senate.

  2. THANK YOU! As a kid, I read Art Buchwald and Erma Bombeck religiously. THANK YOU for that wonderful reminder.

  3. Ted Van Dyk on Art Buchwald: A good human being. I used to call him for ideas and jokes for use in speeches. Could always come up with something on any subject. A person of good will and humanity.

  4. Timothy Hays on Art Buchwald: He was a prince! I enjoyed his columns from the ‘70s on. My wife worked as his book publicist in the mid-1990s. He kept her laughing with his stories and that disarming wit of his (and the book was a success). We miss Art Buchwald.

  5. Thomas Wolff: Art Buchwald and DeWar’s scotch were two things my parents and I agreed on.

Speak Your Mind