The quintessential Buchwald, bowler-topped and captivating. MV Times file photos
Art Buchwald, who satirized the follies of the rich, the famous and the powerful for half a century as the most widely read newspaper humorist of his time, died Wednesday night in Washington. He was 81.
The cause was kidney failure, his son, Joel, said. Mr. Buchwald, long a pillar of Washington life, died at his son's home, where he had been living for most of the last eight years. Mr. Buchwald's syndicated column was a staple for a generation or more of newspaper readers, not least the politicians and government grandees he lampooned so regularly. His life was a rich tale of gumption, heartbreak and humor, with chapters in Paris, Washington and points around the globe.
But perhaps no year of his life was as remarkable as the last. It became something of an extended curtain call. Last February doctors told him he had only a few weeks to live. "I decided to move into a hospice and go quietly into the night," he wrote three months later. "For reasons that even the doctors can't explain, my kidneys kept working."
Refusing dialysis, he continued to write his column, reflecting on his mortality while keeping his humor even as he lost a leg. He spent the summer on Martha's Vineyard, published a book, "Too Soon to Say Goodbye," in the fall and attended a memorial for an old friend, the reporter R.W. Apple Jr. of The New York Times. He gave interviews and looked on as his life was celebrated.
Greeting the audience at a 2006 Vineyard Playhouse reading of Buchwald's play, "Sheep on the Runway."
"The French ambassador gave me the literary equivalent of the Legion of Honor," he wrote. "The National Hospice Association made me man of the year. I never realized dying was so much fun."
Once described as a "Will Rogers with chutzpah," Mr. Buchwald found enthusiastic readerships on both sides of the Atlantic. Early on he became nearly everyone's favorite American in Paris for his satirical column in the European edition of The New York Herald Tribune. When he returned from overseas to write a new column, from Washington, he became even more popular. At its peak it appeared in some 500 newspapers.
He delighted in stirring the pot - never maliciously, always vigorously. The world was mad (or at least a little nutty), he said, and all he was doing was recording it. He did it so well that he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1982.
Across the world stage, he saw theater of the absurd, and he made an effort to immerse himself in it. He went to Yugoslavia to chase goats; he went to Turkey in search of a Turkish bath, writing that he was astonished when the Turks told him that they had no such thing.
During the Cold War he marched alongside missiles, tanks and troops in a May Day parade in East Berlin. Another time, he rented a chauffeured limousine to tour Eastern Europe. He wanted the people there to know, as he put it, alluding to his plump physique, what a "bloated, plutocratic capitalist really looked like."
The Possible Dreams auction showcased the best in Art Buchwald and in the Island community.
More often, though, he skewered targets closer to home. In the Watergate years he wrote about three men stranded in a sinking boat with a self-destructive President Richard M. Nixon . As the president hid food under his shirt, he bailed water into the vessel.
In the early 1960's, Mr. Buchwald theorized that a shortage of Communists was imminent in the United States and that if the nation was not careful, the Communist Party would be made up almost entirely of F.B.I. informers.
"The joy of his column was not that it was side-splitting humor," his friend Ben Bradlee, the former editor of The Washington Post, said earlier this year, "but that he made you smile."
It was an amiable and wry brand of wit that sprung from a man who had been reared in foster homes and an orphan asylum and who had decided, when he was 6 or 7, that his life was so awful that he should make a living making everybody laugh, even if he did not always laugh along with them. He had at least two serious bouts of depression in his middle years and regarded himself as occasionally suicidal.
Arthur Buchwald was born on Oct. 20, 1925, in Mount Vernon, N.Y., to Joseph and Helen Buchwald. His father, an Austrian, had fled to the United States to avoid service in the Austro-Hungarian army and opened a business making drapes and slipcovers. His mother, the former Helen Klineberger, had immigrated from Hungary.
Arthur, the youngest of four children and the only son, virtually never saw his mother. Suffering from delusions, she was admitted to a mental hospital a few weeks after his birth and was confined for the remaining 35 years of her life. Her son was not permitted to visit her when he was a child and decided not to after he became an adult. "I preferred the mother I had invented to the one I would find in the hospital," Mr. Buchwald wrote in a best-selling 1994 memoir, "Leaving Home."
By his own account he had always wondered if his birth had somehow been responsible for her illness, and when he sought help for his depression, he said, he confessed to his psychiatrist that he had conducted "a lifelong search for someone to replace her."
Arthur soon parted from his father as well. Joseph Buchwald, unable to support his children after his business ran dry during the Depression, placed his son in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in New York. The boy was then shuttled to a series of foster homes, including a Queens boarding house for sick children - he suffered from rickets - run by Seventh-Day Adventists.
There, young Arthur, a Jew, was taught that eating meat, fish and eggs was sinful. Years afterward, he wrote, "There is still a tiny Seventh-Day Adventist inside of me screaming to get out every time I make a pass at a tuna fish sandwich."
Arthur remained at the home until he was five. He and his father and sisters were eventually reunited and lived in Hollis, Queens.
With the outbreak of World War II, Mr. Buchwald, still in high school, ran away to join the Marines, hitchhiking to North Carolina. "The Marine Corps was the first father figure I had ever known," he wrote. Assigned to the Fourth Marine Air Wing, he spent most of his tour on a Pacific atoll cleaning aircraft guns and editing his squadron's newsletter while earning a sergeant's stripes.
After the war, Mr. Buchwald went to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles under the G.I. Bill and became managing editor of the campus humor magazine. But he neglected to tell U.S.C. that he had not finished high school. When officials found out, they told him that he could continue to take courses but that he could not be considered for a degree. (Thirty-three years later, the university gave him an honorary doctorate.)
Mr. Buchwald decided to continue his education in Paris. "My dream was to follow in the steps of Hemingway, Elliot Paul and Gertrude Stein," he wrote. "I wanted to stuff myself with baguettes and snails, fill my pillow with rejection slips and find a French girl named Mimi who believed that I was the greatest writer in the world."
Not yet 23, he sailed to Paris on a converted troop ship and enrolled at the Alliance Française, also under the G.I. bill. Soon he talked his way into a job with The Herald Tribune's Paris-based European edition writing a column about entertainment and restaurants for $25 a week.
The column, "Paris After Dark," caught on, and by the early 50's The Tribune had syndicated it internationally. His own favorite, friends said, was a 1952 column in which he explained Thanksgiving to the French, using a liberal amount of French translation, even of English names like Miles Standish (Kilometres Deboutish).
Mr. Buchwald became the subject of headlines himself in 1957. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was in Paris attending a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when Mr. Buchwald, weary of the soft questions lobbed at Mr. Eisenhower by the press, wrote a column about a fictitious news conference in which reporters demanded to know, among other things, when the president started eating his morning grapefruit. The column incensed Mr. Eisenhower's press secretary, James C. Hagerty.
"Unadulterated rot," he called it.
Mr. Buchwald countered that he had "been known to write adulterated rot" but never "unadulterated rot."
Readers seemed to find vicarious pleasure in following the adventures of an expatriate but ordinary American flirting with royalty and the jet set without becoming a snob. In one column, he told readers that he had not been invited to the Grace Kelly-Prince Rainier wedding because of a family feud: "The Buchwalds and the Grimaldis have not spoken since Jan. 9, 1297." When Gary Cooper paid him a visit, he wrote a column of dialogue in which the famously reticent actor did all the talking and Mr. Buchwald replied with "yup" and "nope."
Mr. Buchwald often wrote about his wife and their three children. He had met Ann McCarry, a publicist for the fashion designer Pierre Balmain, in Paris, and they were married in 1952. They adopted three children, each born in a different country, and all survive their father - Joel (born in Ireland), of Washington, Connie Marks Buchwald (Spain), of Culpepper, Va., and Jennifer Buchwald (France), of Roxbury, Mass. Two sisters - Edith Jaffe, of Bellevue, Wash., and Doris Kahme, of Delray Beach, Fla., and Monroe Township, N.J. - and five grandchildren also survive. Mrs. Buchwald died in 1994.
In his 14 years in Paris, Mr. Buchwald became as much a celebrity as those whose names he dropped in his columns. But it was in Washington, where he moved in 1962, that his fame took off.
By 1972 his column was appearing three times a week in about 400 newspapers in the United States and in 100 in other countries. His nearest rival was his friend Russell Baker of The New York Times, whose "Observer" column appeared in other papers as well. "Buchwald is incomparable," Mr. Baker once said. "And he is brave, too, doing one of the hardest things in the world to do - to be funny, in exactly the same sort of way in regard to tone and technique, three times a week."
Mr. Buchwald's satire grew more biting in Washington. When President Lyndon B. Johnson sent troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965 with the stated purpose of protecting Americans there during a rebellion, Mr. Buchwald wrote a column about the last remaining one, a tourist named Sidney, who was being detained by the Dominican authorities so that the American soldiers would not pull out.
Occasionally a Washington insider would grouse about a Buchwald column, but his victims rarely bled. And he never hinted at his own political leanings in his columns. "He was a people person and not much interested in politics," Mr. Bradlee said.
Mr. Buchwald was as visible in Washington as he had been in Paris. He was often seen in sleek restaurants like the Sans Souci, holding court with a bevy of influential friends like Ethel Kennedy and Edward Bennett Williams, the co-owner of the Washington Redskins. On Martha's Vineyard, where he had a summer home, one friend was the novelist William Styron. He played poker there with the journalists Carl T. Rowan and David Brinkley, the Johnson aide and later motion picture figure Jack Valenti , and the diplomat Llewellyn Thompson. He kibitzed with the columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak , and he dressed in a flea-bitten rabbit suit to play the Easter bunny at a party he gave every year.
Another friend, the CBS correspondent Mike Wallace , said Mr. Buchwald could not escape his depression even at his summer retreat.
"Three of us - Bill Styron, he and I - suffered depression simultaneously, so we walked around in the rain together on Martha's Vineyard and consoled each other," Mr. Wallace said in a phone interview in February. "I traveled a lot on '60 Minutes,' and no matter where I was, every single night I got a call from Art Buchwald to listen to the same tale of woe. He did the best to make life palatable, to help you be optimistic, to let you know he believed you would beat it. We both did, and so did Bill. We named ourselves the 'Blues Brothers.' " Mr. Styron died in November.
Mr. Buchwald's column was the cornerstone of a virtual industry. He recycled it in hard-cover anthologies and used it as the basis for radio and television appearances. He was always in demand on the lecture circuit or as a master of ceremonies, holding forth with mock-seriousness and a New York accent. He also had two novels published. One had its origins in Mr. Bradlee's office.
"A guy showed up in my office covered with bandages and blood and told me he was a recent graduate of Sing Sing," Mr. Bradlee said. "He had done time for murder and was broke. He became a thorn in my side, and I got sick of him, so I sent him to Buchwald, just to get him out of my office. Art locked him up in a room and wrote a book about him, 'A Gift From the Boys.' The guy had been deported and his mob friends gave him a girl as a goodbye present."
The novel, published in 1958, became the basis of the 1960 movie "Surprise Package" with Yul Brynner.
Mr. Buchwald's other novel, "The Bolo Caper" (1974), an ecological fairy tale for children and adults about a leopard hunted for his fur, was adapted as a 1985 television movie.
Mr. Buchwald's also wrote a stage comedy, "Sheep on the Runway," about a pundit named Joseph Mayflower. It had a Broadway run in 1970, delighting audiences but alienating the columnist Joseph Alsop, who felt the pompous villain of the piece had been modeled after him.
Almost 20 years later he sued Paramount Pictures, demanding to be paid for a script idea that he contended was the basis for the hit movie "Coming to America," about an African prince (Eddie Murphy) who visits the United States and winds up working at a menial job. In 1990, a Superior Court in California ruled in his favor.
Mr. Buchwald remained heavy set throughout his life, avoiding exercise, he said, because it was dangerous to his health. He gravitated toward big cigars and rich pastries. He wrote a second memoir, "I'll Always Have Paris," in 1996. And he established a scholarship for "the most irreverent student" in journalism at U.S.C.
It was an irreverence rooted in hurt, his friends said. "No matter what went wrong in his life, he could make a job out of setbacks, out of things that had gone wrong," Mr. Wallace said. Even after he had checked himself into the hospice and refused dialysis, his spirits remained up as he accepted a stream of visitors.
"I said to him the other night at the hospice, 'What are you going to leave behind, buddy?' " Mr. Wallace said in February. "He said, 'Joy!' He almost shouted it."
As he continued to write his column, he found material in his own survival. "So far things are going my way," he wrote in March. "I am known in the hospice as The Man Who Wouldn't Die. How long they allow me to stay here is another problem. I don't know where I'd go now, or if people would still want to see me if I weren't in a hospice. But in case you're wondering, I'm having a swell time - the best time of my life."
Robert L. Whelden
Robert L. Whelden of Falmouth, 56, a retired trooper with the Massachusetts State Police, died on Tuesday, Jan. 16, after a lengthy illness. He was the beloved husband of Monique (Tarani) Whelden of nine years.
Mr. Whelden was born in Hyannis, the son of Robert and Dorothy (Kotolac) Whelden of Falmouth, and moved to Falmouth in 1962. He was a 1968 graduate of Lawrence High School in Falmouth. He was also the supervisor of the Martha's Vineyard Drug Task Force.
Besides his wife and parents he is also survived by his three children, Benjamin Whelden of Buzzard's Bay, Brooke Jaquello of Falmouth, and Meghan Whelden of Falmouth, and two sisters, Debbie Allietta and Lee Dennis, both of Falmouth. He was previously married to Genevieve (Lane) Whelden. He was predeceased by his brother Donald Whelden.
A Funeral Service was held on Jan. 20 in St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Falmouth. The interment was private.
In lieu of flowers memorial donations in Robert's name may be made to the JML Care Center 184 Ter Heun Dr., Falmouth, MA 02540
Robert B. Stewart
Colonel Robert B. Stewart, USAF (ret) of Arlington, Va., and Lambert's Cove died on Dec. 21, 2006.
Born and raised in New Hampshire, Bob earned his BSEE from the University of New Hampshire. He attended the USMA at West Point and upon graduation in 1946 was commissioned an officer in the United States Air Force. He served his country with honor and distinction as a pilot and as a research and development engineer on such projects as the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). After 30 years, he retired and developed the analytical department of the Burney Company, an investment management company in Falls Church, Va.
Bob Stewart never met a stranger and epitomized New Hampshire's motto, "Live Free or Die." He acknowledged every person's right to exist and sought to find worthiness in everyone. He shared his wit and intelligence with friends and family, especially through the poems he wrote.
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Elinor Abbott Stewart; and his children, Tim, Becky, and Bill. Memorial services will be held on Martha's Vineyard this summer. Memorial contributions may be made to The Lambert's Cove Christian Church, 892 State Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568 or Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, P.O. Box 2545, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Mathilde A. Smith
Mathilde (Betty) Albury Smith, 88, of Darien, Conn., and Martha's Vineyard died peacefully in her sleep on Jan. 8, at Rosewood Rehabilitation and Care in Converse, Texas. She had resided until recently in Oak Buffs, on her beloved island of Martha's Vineyard and prior to retirement was a long-time resident of Darien, Conn.
Mathilde Elizabeth, the daughter of Mabelle M. and Charles G. Albury, was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 15, 1918. She graduated from Cranford High School in New Jersey in 1936 where she was a member of the National Honor Society, the student council, and the Union County Orchestra. As a young adult, she played in the New Jersey All-State Orchestra for two seasons. After high school, Betty attended the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, N.Y., and graduated from Susquehanna University with a bachelor of music degree in 1940. She was accomplished on both the cello and piano, was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, the international fraternity of music students and musicians, and was honored in Who's Who Among American Universities and Colleges. After college graduation Betty was the supervisor of the Garwood, N.J., school district music program. In this capacity one of her many responsibilities was to oversee the musical direction and chorography of the school district's marching band.
On May 19, 1942, Betty married Bradford K. Smith of Maplewood, N.J., and Oak Bluffs. She lived her early married life in Cranford, N.J., leaving teaching and joining by the then Pennsylvania Railroad where she worked on scheduling military troop movements during World War II.
The family moved to Darien, Conn., in 1958 where they lived for over 25 years. Here Betty was a dedicated homemaker, and she and her husband raised their three children. During their tenure in Darien, the family took great pleasure from their membership in the Noroton Yacht Club. As a parishioner of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church in Darien, Betty enjoyed active participation in their Alter Guild. In the early 1960s, Betty taught Preschool at the former Plumfield School in Noroton, Conn. In 1963, she was appointed a member of the Darien Board of Education. She taught third grade boys at King School, Stamford, Conn., for 13 years, starting in 1966. In retirement on Martha's Vineyard, Mrs. Smith worked for the town of Oak Bluffs on voter registration and in community educational fund-raising.
She is survived by her brother, the Rev. Canon Ronald G. Albury of Medford, N.J.; her children, Dr. Richard Smith of Universal City, Texas, Christine Rowan of New Canaan, Conn., and Sara Eslick of Surf City, N.C.; her grandchildren, Katherine and Zachary Smith and Jonathan Rowan, as well as by nine nieces and nephews.
Betty had a wonderful life filled with fond memories and many adventures all the while gathering an abundance of lifelong friendships. All who knew her will dearly miss her. A memorial service will be held in her memory on Martha's Vineyard at St. Andrew's Church, Edgartown, in the spring. The burial service will be private.
As education was a dominant influence and a high priority in her life, in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent in her name to the Holy Ghost Association Scholarship Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 2203, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
Glenn J. Wilson
Glenn J. Wilson, 56, of West Tisbury and Northampton, died Dec. 26, 2006, at his home in West Tisbury. Founder and President of the Glenn Wilson Real Estate Agency, Mr. Wilson was a well-respected businessman providing services to West Tisbury and Vineyard Haven residents for the past 16 years. Prior to starting his own real estate practice, he was a senior associate at the Laverty Real Estate Agency in Vineyard Haven.
He joined the United States Army, serving for three years both in Germany and Vietnam honorably discharged as Specialist Five. During his stint in Vietnam, he was awarded the Bronze Star for "meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile forces in the Republic of Vietnam during April 16,1970 to April 15, 1971."
He attended Northampton High School and Greenfield Community College and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1976 with a bachelor of arts degree. Glenn worked in media technology, producing commercial education training videos for companies in Boston, and Chicago, Ill., before joining the Eaton's Men's Clothing Retailers, Westfield, as a senior buyer. Recognizing the growing trend of catering to business women, he was instrumental in changing the store's vision from an exclusive men's store to include both men's and women's tailored clothing. In 1988, he opened a second Eaton's store in Northampton where he worked as its general manager before moving to Martha's Vineyard in 1990.
Glenn was a gentle, caring man to his family and friends and among Vineyard residents he was known for opening his home as a haven for stray cats. His sister Karen remembers him as " the best big brother anyone could have".
He is survived by his mother, Bertha Wilson Cowan of Northampton; a sister and brother-in-law, Karen Wilson Mientka and Edward Mientka; a niece, Kristie Mientka, all of Amherst; a godson Michael J. Kennedy; and a cousin, Rose Kirkham Kennedy, both of Chicago
A memorial service is planned at a future date.
William F. Luce
William Francis Luce died on Jan. 9, in Kittery, Maine. He was born on Nov. 21, 1946 in Oak Bluffs to Frances Brown Roberts and Frederik William Luce.
Services will be private. Contributions in his name may be made to the Kittery Youth Connection, 10 Shapleigh Road, Kittery, ME 03904. A full obituary will appear in a future edition of The Times.