tv Humorist Art Buchwald Political Satire CSPAN April 20, 2021 9:54am-10:37am EDT
on the life of abram bra hameln colin. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on cspan3. american history tv on cspan3, every weekend documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support cspan3 as a public service. >> art buchwald was a humorist who frequently satirized politics. his column was syndicated in over 500 newspapers. up next michael hill tells the story of art buchwald's life, career and legacy. the university of mary washington hosted this talk as part of their great lives lecture series. they also provided the video.
>> michael hill received his b.a. in political science from kent state university and subsequently a j.d. degree from that same institution. he later earned a masters in public administration from harvard university's kennedy school of government and he's currently a freelance author and historical researcher based here in fredericksburg. he has assisted such authors as david mccall la, jon meacham, sebastian younger, evan thomas, john mccain and michael beschloss. that's an all-star lineup of writers p. he won an emmy for his work on the ken burns civil war series on pbs and served as an a consultant on the hbo mini series john adams produced by
john hanks and the abc mini series challenger about the space shuttle disaster. he's the author of the novel on elba b. washburn. he also published war poet, which was described by "the washington journal" as, quote, a painfully touching biography. he is currently completing a book about the life, letters and humor of political commentator and satirist, art buchwald, which will be published later this year by random house. it's a genuine pleasure to introduce an outstanding researcher and biographier, my good friend mike hill. er, my
good friend mike hill.>> good evening. thank you so much for that very kind introduction. it's a pleasure and an honor to be part of such a great lineup for 2021. the great lives program is a wonderful contribution to the fredericksberg community and you deserve so much credit and thanks for what you do and what you've done. so thank you very much. before steven colbert and jon stewart, there was art buchwald. many of you watching tonight will remember him. but i bet many of the younger members in our audience tonight will not. but that's okay. whether you remember him or not, i hope we can have some laughs together here tonight. i'm pretty certain that good old art buchwald is looking down from above tonight and saying,
boy, the way things have been going down there, you people sure need some laughs. so let's see what we can do tonight to make the old boy proud. during husband long career as a political humorist, satirist, art buchwald was called a modern day mark twain. and for over 50 years his pulitzer prize winning column of political satire and biting whit made him one of the most widely read american humorists of his age. at the height of his career, his column, was syndicated in 550 newspapers in 100 different countries around the world. the power of his wit was legendary, some describing him as will rogers. dean at chinson once called him
the greatest satirist in the english language since pope and swift. acclaimed novelist james mitchner said he had one of the sharpest wits he had ever known. his admirers included robert frost and william douglas who once cited a column in one of his u.s. supreme court opinions. much like mark twain, james they shaller, dorothy parker and will rogers, art buchwald was truly an american legend. and to his credit, his barbs could get a chuckle out of politicians from all sides of the political spectrum. from william f. buckley, to john f. kennedy to dwight eisenhower to ronald reagan.
senator barry gold water from arizona once told buchwald, you are one of those people who have the ability to make us think, make us laugh, make us cry and love our fellow man, and for that, i thank you. but who was art buchwald the man? before talking about his extraordinary life and career, i'd like to play a clip from a radio interview he did in new york city in 1964. this clip, radio clip is courtesy of the wnyu archives in new york. in the interview he talks a bit about his approach to humor, his early life and how his career as a humorist came to be. many of you who remember art buchwald will recognize that distinctive accent. >> this is patricia marx my
guest today is a man who's called the most comic american since mark twain, art buchwald. did you always write as you do now? >> yeah in a sense i did. i never wrote too seriously. you know, they say that humorists usually have unhappy childhoods. and i guess in my case that might be true. so at an early age i sort of had a -- kind of a different outlook on things that most other kids did, and i profited from it or made use of it. >> in what way did you have a different attitude? >> well, i saw things -- i don't know how to explain it. i was a foster child and i was one of the outs and i figured all the other kids were an in. and i made up my mind early in life that i was an out, on the outside looking in.
and, therefore, i just sort of -- everything i did was kind of a guy looking at other people rather than participating. and it worked. because i found i could get attention early in life as a child by making other people laugh. >> so was it the same kind of thing as with your writing? the same kind of humor? >> yeah, i was always making fun of the teacher or -- the teacher was the establishment at the time. i think -- to me i think i've always been against the establishment, whatever it is. i think most humorists should be against the establishment. whoever is in power, whoever -- whichever is the right thing to do, you know, you should be against. >> why? >> because i have a feeling that we get a little too serious about our establishments. and we take them too seriously
and you have to keep putting pins in these balloons to bring people down to earth. and it's the job of the humorist to to stick the pin into the balloon. >> as he mentioned in that interview, he had a very difficult childhood. shortly after he was born at mount vernon, new york, on october 20, 1925, his mother was taken away to an asylum. for years she had suffered from chronic mental illness and finally his father had her committed. on top of that, his father, who sold draperies and curtains for a living could not afford to take care of art and his three older sisters so through the social service agencies of new york his father sent them to a series of foster homes. as you can well imagine, the loss of his mother and then being sent to a number of foster
homes made him feel abandoned and lonely. so he learned early on that laughter and a smile could help overcome just about anything life could throw his way. and with that, make people like him. in fact, it was early in his childhood when he saw the bleakness of his life all around him, that he said to himself, this stinks. i'm going to become a humorist. and lo and behold his dream came true. after serving in world war ii and enrolling for a time at the university of southern california where he wrote for the college humor magazine, he got his first big break when he made his way to paris in 1948 and astoundingly and with typically art buchwald attitude, talked his way into a job at the international herald tribune, at
the time one of the most powerful newspaper in the world. it was there he wrote columns about paris night life, its cafes, theatres, films. and about american celebrities living in or traveling through paris. he quickly developed a style to his humor and satire. he was a little bit like mark twain, an innocent abroad to despied the fact he didn't speak a word of french was always able to somehow, some way, stumble through life in paris. and it was each of those amusing and comical adventures depicted in his columns that became the essence of buchwald's appeal. soon his writings were so popular on both sides of the atlantic, he became the man to read if you wanted to snow about the hot spots and glamour of paris. and in no time he became the man
to see if you were a celebrity in paris and wanted some attention. just to give you a few examples. in 1959, when elvis pressley was in the u.s. army and stationed in germany, buchwald got an exclusive interview with the rock and roll super star when pressley was on weekend leave in paris. he knew ernest hemming way and would share drinks with him. he was friends with humphrey bogart and his wife lauren becall and played chess often with bogart on slow days at the offices. one thing i learned about art buchwald was that humphrey bogart was a fantastic chess player and it was lauren who brought art and his wife together and brought about their wedding in paris.
john stein beck was a huge fan of art buchwald. while researching my book about art, i found a fan letter that steinbeck had written him in the mid 1950s, early in his career, telling him how much he enjoyed his columns and his style of humor. many of you have probably never noticed in the opening scene of alfred hitchcock's 1955 film "to catch a thief," art buchwald's by line makes a cameo appearance in the form of a fictitious column about the main character in the film john roby. he also had a number of adventures throughout europe. he went to spain and ran with the bulls with george plimpton,
he sang irish songs with actor gregory peck when they were in ireland filming "moby dick" and he once hired a limousine to take him into moscow where mon his arrival he burst into a huge gathering of communist officials and introduced himself to them. by the early 1960s, art buchwald was getting bored with paris and writing about celebrities coming through europe. he was starting to feel husband writing was getting stale. so in 1960 when john f. kennedy was elected president, he saw from abroad the style that president kennedy and his wife were bringing to the white house and to washington. and art buchwald thought perhaps this might be a good time to move and to cover something
different than paris night life and celebrities. he saw the new frontier as a challenge. but some warned him that if he went to washington, he'd get massacred. how could he possibly complete with columnists like walter lipman and stuart and joseph alosopp but he made the leap anywhere in 1962 and within a few years his brand of humor and satire and easy going personality made him a national journalistic celebrity. from then on, until he died in 2007, art buchwald would entertain people from around the world with his wit, humor, insight, satire and above all, his good cheer. for over five decades it seemed
as if everyone began their day by reading art buchwald as he satirized political skoun dales, and over his long career poked fun at ten different presidents of the united states beginning with dwight eisenhower through george w. bush. when he did it three times each week, he made it look so easy. in part because he loved doing what he did, and just as importantly, with the colorful and crazy world of ours he had great material to work with it. as he said in the late 1990s, you can't make up anything anymore. the world is a satire. all i'm doing is recording it. i'd like to read you, if i may, an example of art buchwald's satirical style. one of his targets was the
occasionally overreach and absurdity of the federal beauracracy in washington and what people could run into when dealing with faceless bureaucrats. the following is from a piece he wrote in december of 1976, just before the christmas holidays, about a man at the north pole, santa claus who ran against osha, an agency set up to set and regulate guidelines and safety standards for businesses, corporations and work places around the country. in his column, he took direct aim at the agency and the absurdiies of its bureaucratic overreach with santa's toy factory at the north pole. in his column he wrote it in the form of a federal complaint letter to santa claus, subject
violations of osha codes. dear sir, our inspectors have just completed a study of working conditions at your toy factory and find you in slags of section c, paragraph b of regulation 10 8 article 7, division 4, and rule 105 registration number 900087. to be more specific our inspectors discovered that your wife who helps you make toys does not have her own bathroom facilities. under section 5 of code 345, quote a male and female bathroom must be provided on the ground floor of a house engaged in the production of stuffed animals. i also regret to inform you we received a very negative report from inspector x in regard to the space allotted to your reindeer. under section c of article 4
each reindeer must be tethered in its own stall of 10 feet by 8 feet covered by 1.6 feet of hay. donner and blitzen their stalls were only 9 feet long and they measured 1.4 feet of hay. it has been brought to our attention that on the evening of december 24th you intend to deliver the toys manufactured in your plant by reindeer sled, climbing on roofs and houses and sliding down chimneys, our safety coordinator advises me if you go ahead with this form of delivery you will commit several infractions that will subject you to fine and possible imprisonment. if you arrive on any roof with a clatter you'll be violating the
ordinance against noise. our inspectors will be out on the night of december 24th and any infractions of the rules will be dealt with very severely. we hope you accept the letter in the spirit it was written. let me take this opportunity to wish you and mrs. claus a merry christmas. sincerely yours, e. scrooge, director xmas division osha. while his barbs could be sharp and caustic, he was never mean and vision. he understood with his humor came a power of influence, a power he recognized and respected. my style is different than comedians he once said, i don't try to be off color, i don't go for the jugular, if i do, i try to sugar coat it.
gary trudeau once said it best when he told art buchwald that the gentleness of your satire is one reason you are beloved. he also felt with his satire he might be doing something helpful and useful for his country. as he told an interview in the 1960s, a turbulent time, like the turbulent time we are going through today, he said this in the late 1960s, this is a very uptight country now and everybody is kind of uptight. and if you can take some of the pressure off, maybe you are doing a bigger service than changing things. the great historian and my dear friend and mentor david mccullough said that one of the great joys he had in researching his books was reading other people's mail. well, i have to tell you one of the great joys i had while working on my book about art
buchwald was reading art buchwald's mail. his papers are now at the library of congress. it's an incredible treasure trove collection of nearly 100,000 items encompassing his entire life and career. and some of the true jewels of that collection are the amazing amount of -- assortment of correspondence that he had with -- between himself and a rich and colorful who's who of political journalistic, literary, and hollywood legends from the early 1950s to the beginning of the 21st century. i'd like to if i could read you a couple examples from those correspondence files. these three items i'm going to read you have never been published before. when they come out in my book to be published by random house, this will be new material. this first is a letter that
buchwald wrote to russell baker, he was a columnist for "the new york times," and although they were competitors, they were close and dear friends. in february 1993, it was announced that russell baker would replace allister cook as the host of master piece theatre. when that was announced, art buchwald decided he was going to write a letter of congratulations to his friend russell baker, thrilled he had launched a new career in television. so he wrote this on february 24, 1993. dear russ, congratulations on getting the job with master piece theatre. i turned it down because i couldn't stand the sex and violence on the mcneil laird news hour but i suggested you as a second choice. i think you made the right
decision, writing is old hat and nobody cares about the written word but the baby boomers love a pretty face and god knows you have one. i had experience with television so i'd like to give you tips, always look into the camera even when you know that your fly is down. pretend that you are talking to one person instead of the millions who have nothing better to do on sunday nights. don't worry if you get the title of the play wrong because 50% of all pbs audiences go to the bathroom when the host is talking anyway. your most important role as host of master piece theatre comes at the end of the month during the public television's fund-raising drive. it is then that you are expected to be sincere and persuasive. frankly i think that's why they hired you anyway, because everyone says that you can squeeze money out of a turnip. you can't get a pulitzer prize by introducing that cannery on television but there are
thousands of emmies out there waiting to be picked up. remember your friends, those who chose to stay with the printed word knowing there was no money in it. walking down the street won't be the same anymore. little old ladies will be stopping you on madison avenue for your autograph and asking whether you knew jane err personally. in addition to his column and being a television, radio celebrity, he also did a -- had a very extensive speaking schedule around the country. he was a host master and emcee, a toast master and a commencement speaker. as a matter of fact buchwald once delivered the commencement address here at mary washington college. at any rate, if a friend of his had a schedule conflict and couldn't fulfill a speaking engagement he would fill in.
such was the case when he filled in for cookie roberts, many of you remember her from abc television and pbs. she was also an acclaimed writer, historian in her own right, writing books about the founding mothers of the early republic. in february of 1993, he filled in her for in california and after he returned he wrote this trip report to her. february 18, 1993, dear cookie, you probably heard that i filled in for you -- you probably heard that i filled in for you in fresno. i thought you might want to know how it went. i flew from washington to kansas city, where i joined a mule train on its way to salt lake city. it started to snow so i rented a dog sled and made it to tulsa where someone stole my dogs so i
had to buy a horse and make my way to colorado, where i had to build a raft in six days to cross the colorado river. i got to the other side but was held up by bandits and they took my money and clothes so i worked in a copper mine for a month to be able to buy new ones. i bought another horse and was almost killed by indians in arizona. i made it to the outskirts in fresno when mexican outlaws shot my horse out from under me. i crawled on my hands into knees to the chamber of commerce where a crowd had gat erred. a man wearing a black hat and smoking a cigar looked down at me and said where's cookie, so much for show business, cheers art. in addition to his letters and correspondents, he would sometimes experiment with verse and ditties and such. such was the case in march of 1984 when dr. seuss, that
beloved author of so many of the wonderful popular children's books we all know "the cat in the hat," "how the grinch stole christmas". anyway, dr. seuss was celebrating his 80th birthday and art buchwald thought instead of sending a card or note or giving a phone call he would write his own dr. seuss-esque ditty for his birthday celebration. so here is what art buchwald wrote and sent to his friend, dr. seuss. what does one do with a birthday seuss? you can choose a wine that is snick berry fine but you can't drink moodies and you can't drink mine. you can raise a glass and say something bright. if you can't think fast you can always sit tight. a toast, a toast, hail master of grinches and star bellied
sniches and cats in top hats with all that it teaches. but pray tell us dear doctor, now that you're fed, which side does a seuss smear his butter on bread. happy birthday, art buchwald. but art buchwald was not just a funny man. he was a much more complex person. what people don't understand about buchwald is that he isn't just a funny man, roland evans once said, he cares very deeply about many things. he was a fierce defender of freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and especially freedom of satire. even when editors or close friends urged him to temper his wit or sarcasm about a political figure or issue he refused to be
musseled. in the 1950s, at the height of senator joe mccarthy's anti-communityist crusade he once mocked mccarthy in a column claiming the wisconsin senator was causing people grief in america because he hailed from a bad strain of the mccarthy clan in ireland. when he submitted the article to his editors at the tribune, who were afraid of mccarthy they killed it. he looked elsewhere and sold it to the new republic. in his professional life he had a deep sense of right and wrong, a conviction that was at the heart of his david and goliath struggle against hollywood in the buchwald versus 20th century. what you don't remember probably about "coming to america" is the lawsuit that came about as a result of the film.
a lawsuit covered by media around the world and involved art buchwald. in essence what happened was that art buchwald wrote a film treatment optioned by paramount, promising him credit and royalties if they went ahead and made a film based upon his film treatment. but they told him they were killing his idea. but then several months later, paramount announced they were making a film starrying eddie murphy called "coming to america" which was similar to art buchwald's treatment. he tried to reach a settlement with paramount but they refused. so he sued saying the film was based upon his original treatment. after a horrible and costly seven year legal struggle against hollywood, art buchwald prevailed. he had beaten hollywood. and the last part of the serious side of art buchwald is his
battle with depression. as i mentioned before, he had a very difficult childhood and the loss of his mother and being in a number of foster homes. so he -- he -- he dealt -- he dried to battle and deal with these memories throughout his life. and he, in effect, was manic depressive, bipolar, there were two episodes in his career so serious he had to be hospitalized for second weeks for treatment. but each time he overcame his depression, he became a stronger person. and this strength that he gained allowed him to help other people, particularly two of his closest friends, novelist william styrin and journalist mike wallace who both suffered from depression. after the three of them went public they went around the country, they dubbed themselves
the blues brothers and gave speeches and talks around the country that helped many people deal with their own battles of depression. in december of 2005, the art buchwald saga enters its final chapter. it was during that month in 2005 that art buchwald started to have kidney problems and circulation problems in his legs. during that same month he had the lower part of his right leg amputated and his doctor said that his kidneys were failing and he was going to have to go on dialysis but he refused. he said, i'm not going to go through that. the doctor said you're going to die within a matter of weeks. but surprisingly and miraculously, he didn't die. and weeks went on and months went on. and soon he became known as the man who wouldn't die. and he started giving interviews to tv and radio and newspapers and so forth about his experiences and how he faced his condition and the fact that he was -- he was predicted that he
was going to die. and many people commended the fact that he had faced his situation with courage. but then in january 2007, his kidneys finally failed and he died at his home in washington d.c. when art buchwald passed, he was mourned by friends, readers and admirers, even more than 10 years after his death, his friends still miss the man who made them laugh. i had several discussions with pierce o'donnell, who was art buchwald's lawyer in the paramount lawsuit. he told me that he adored art buchwald. and as a matter of fact, even now he can't remove art buchwald's phone number from his speed dial because it allows him to still have some connection with the friend that made him laugh and that he so adored. and senator gary hart, who knew art buchwald and appreciated his
humor, told me in an email this, my dear friend art buchwald, who alass is not here when he need him most, he was a dear man in a more decent and humane time. his life may or may not ever be seen again. perhaps we may never see art buchwald's like again but we can try to keep his legacy alive by taking time, especially in these troubled times to enjoy a joke, to laugh, and above all, to laugh at ourselves. eb white, the great writer and essayist for the new yorker magazine once said, whatever else an american believes or disbelieves, he is absolutely sure he has a sense of humor. wise words that were at the heart of art buchwald's work and his career. so on we go with a smile and a hardy laugh.
i'm certain art buchwald would want it that way. thank you very much. cspan is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more, including comcast. >> you think this is just a community center? no. it's way more than that. >> comcast is partnering with a thousand community centers to create wi-fi enabled lift zones so student can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. >> comcast supports cspan as a public service alongs with these other providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. >> we take you live now to the senate office building where the senate appropriations committee is holding a hearing on president biden's americans job plans. several cabinet members are testifying today, including transportation secretary, pete buttigieg, housing and urban