Death Seemed Near, So Art Buchwald Was Honored Early

This is the 14th in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
Archivist
National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Art Buchwald and Suzette Standring

The situation surrounding Art Buchwald made 2006 perhaps the most memorable year for the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

Because the renowned political satirist was expected to die within weeks, then-NSNC President Suzette Martinez Standring traveled to his Washington, D.C.-area hospice to present the award in February – more than four months before our 2006 conference in Boston.
“At hospice he was holding court with the Kennedys when I arrived,” Suzette recalled last month. “I stayed for two days at his bedside courtesy of his daughter and my friend, Jennifer Buchwald, and observed two things: He lived for attention and love, and Art loved the world back by making people laugh, which he considered ‘the only thing I know how to do.’ I found affirming that a columnist can rank as royalty, and that laughter is a true legacy.”
Later in 2006, the 1925-born Buchwald made a miraculous recovery, left hospice, wrote the last of his approximately 40 books, and lived until early 2007. He didn’t attend the NSNC conference, but appeared in a video played at the Pyle dinner.
“Sorry I couldn’t be here,” Art said on screen before quipping: “My theory is that dying is easy, parking is tough. I do two columns a week, and that gives me a reason to stick around.”
Jennifer Buchwald attended the conference in her father’s stead. “When Dad got put in hospice, we all thought it was a one-way ticket,” she told attendees, adding with a smile that this “miracle” was “the survival of the fittest and funniest.”
She said Art loved food, being center stage, spending time with friends, and writing — and noted that he got to experience the first three things in abundance in hospice, and then the fourth as his health improved.
Jennifer concluded: “I’m often asked, ‘Is your father as funny in private as he is in public?’ My answer: ‘You bet.'”
The New York City-born Buchwald spent some of his early years in an orphanage and foster homes because the family’s curtain-manufacturing business failed during the Depression and Art’s mother had mental illness. (Art himself would be hospitalized for depression and bipolar disorder later in life.)
He became a Marine during World War II, then attended the University of Southern California, and then bought a one-way ticket to Paris in 1949.
Eventually, Art got a job there as a correspondent for Variety before starting the “Paris After Dark” column for the European edition of The New York Herald Tribune in 1950. Buchwald followed the next year with another column, “Mostly About People,” and the two features were later combined to become “Europe’s Lighter Side.”
After returning to the U.S. in 1962, Buchwald started the political-satire column for which he became most known. It appeared in more than 500 newspapers at its peak, and won him the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982.
At our 2006 conference, Suzette called Art “the patron saint of political satire.”
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Dave Astor

Dave Astor

Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The Montclair (N.J.) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoirComic (and Column) Confessional.

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