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April 06, 1984 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-04-06

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


14 Fridar, -April 6, 1984

1"tr- 1V

T rif



Continued from. Page 1

pect tender literary pats on the shoulder
from whoever is writing this muck. You
gird yourself for the verbal onslaught.
"You Sin Sick, Lust Crazed fanatical
fanatic . . . You have had your chance to
repent of your dirty lusts and dirty GOD
mockings and you have not so you will
drop dead from a heart attack . . . You
poor, poor, poor wicked God mocking
Enough. The mind reels. The
stomach is getting a tad queasy. Surely
this blather is better left to paper shred-
ders or bonfires. What odd braggart
works here? What sensitivity wishes to
subject his guests to these attacks on his
craft, his honor, his soul? What dubious
sense of humor gets a kick out of papering
his walls with this venom?
The man with the humor is through
the next door, where the slightly larger
office makes the anteroom appear pris-
tine and sterile by comparison. It's an
office that could give a battalion of clean-
ing women a sabbatical from unemploy-
ment for at least a year. Thankfully,
there is a tiny path throught the flotsam
covering the floor. The desk, studded with
a model airplane or two and carpeted
with papers, is so cluttered that a postage
stamp would have trouble roosting. Be-
hind the clutter and the three sets of pens
in their marble bases, sits Art Buchwald,
America's premier political humorist, a
man who has written over 5,000 columns
since he started churning them out —
thrice weekly — in 1949; who was de-
nounced by Pravda as being in the pay of
the Nixon White House; whose writings
made LBJ blanch; and whom Russell
Baker, Buchwald's only contender in the
newspape. humorist sweepstakes, has
called "incomparable and brave.
There is no mistaking Buchwald. His
face is as famous as his humor: round, a
bit pudgy and puckish. On the day we got
together, he was somewhat under the
weather so there wasn't too much puck
coming forth. But it was still obvious that
inside this slightly fat man there was a
neo-Jonathan Swift doing his best to
come out.
The times have been good to
Buchwald. He has been blessed with a
string of presidents so easy to skewer that
his fictions sometimes take a back seat to
reality. "The world itself is a satire," he
said. "All you're doing is recording it."
Of the presidents who have been in
office since he has been doing his Wash-
ington column, Buchwald said that from
a humorist's vantage, "Johnson was good,
Kennedy was good, Carter was o.k. Noth-
ing great. Carter used to say a lot of
things, but nothing happened. It was a
time in which nothing ever happened.
"Nixon was the best,",Buchwald con-
cluded. For instance, when Nixon was
going through his phase of spouting
superlatives ("This is the greatest week
in the history of the world since the Crea-
tion") Buchwald did a column in which
this speech habit became contagious. As
his family was sitting down to dinner,
Buchwald's wife announced, "I hope
everyone has washed his hands because I


It sure beats working
for a living ...

have cooked the greatest meal ever
served in the Western Hemisphere."
"That's good," said Buchwald, "be-
cause I've had the hardest working day
anyone has ever had since Gutenberg in-
vented the- printing press."
His 15-year-old interjected that "We
had the worst test in school today since
the Spanish Inquisition."
And his 14-year-old daughter brag-
ged that she had enjoyed "the greatest
Coca-Cola I've ever drunk in my life . . ."
With Reagan, Buchwald has had a
field day. This, after all, is the White
House that brought him Bonzo the chim-
panzee,- voodoo economics and a
president who "sells Reaganomics with
the same sincerity that he sold
appliances" when he was shilling for
General Electric.
After reading his latest book, While
Reagan Slept, touts Buchwald, "you no
longer have to ask yourself:
• Is the world safer today than it was
under Amy Carter?
• Does David Stockman use catsup
on his tofu?
• Why don't the banks give you the
same respect when you can't meet a car
loan that they give to Poland?
• Why does the government want to
sell Yellowstone National Park and buy
Times Beach, Missouri?
• Is a limited nuclear war better
than no war at all?
Surely, Buchwald is the only person
who has tried to explain Reaganomics to
a youngster in terms of jelly beans.
"For years, people have been eating
more jelly beans than they put back in the
jar. We have a deficit in jelly beans. Now
what President Reagan hopes to do by
1984 is to have as many jelly beans in the
jar as we consume.
"The problem is that the government
still has to borrow a large amount of jelly
beans to take care of its obligations, so it
is paying a higher rate for jelly beans
than the banks can offer."
"That doesn't ssem right," said
Buchwald's nephew John.
"The President doesn't like it either
so he's ordered another severe cutback in
his jelly bean budget. For example,
schoolchildren will no longer be served
jelly beans with their lunch."
John went off to write his paper on
the economy. When Buchwald asked him
a few days later about his grade, the boy
shrugged that he hadn't received one.
"Why not?" Buchwald asked.
"My teacher was fired because the

school ran out of jelly beans."
And in a sly-take-off on the classic
Abbot and Costello routine, "Who's On
First," Buchwald came up with this im-
aginary colloquy:
"Who's on first?"
"No, Watt's on first."
"Who is Watt?"
"Watt is the secretary of the interior.
He wants to sell all mineral rights on
federal lands."
"What for?"
"I don't know."
"I thought, 'I don't know' was on sec-
"Watt's on second, too. He's also on
"No one is at shortstop because it's
being strip-mined for coal.
"So who's catching?" That's right,
Watt again.
"What's he catching?"
"Hell from the environmental-
ists . . ."
"What for?"
"Because he won't play ball with
them . ."
"He sounds like a foul ball."
"He's a hit with the people who hate
conservationists . . ."
As a funnyman, Buchwald doesn't
have any problems with Reagan. But as a
private citizen, Buchwald likes little of
what goes on just a block away from his
Pennsylvania Avenue office. "This par-
ticular White House," he said in our
interview, "could be called 'Doyle, Dane,
Bernbach and Reagan.' It's a media
White House. They look for picture op-
portunities all the time. They go to Korea
and they take a picture of the President
eyeballing North Korea. They come back
with two little kids who need heart
"Everything they do is for the
cameras. Their use of the media and their
manipulation of it is far more sophisti-
cated than any Administration that's
ever been there.
"And they also have a product: Rea-
gan. He fits the TV image of a president.
And therefore, we could be in a lot of
danger. You mould have the greatest guy
in the world and if he doesn't have a TV
image, he's not going. to get near the
White House.
"But," he added, "I do look at the
Democratic hopefuls and I wonder, 'Is
there anything there for me?' You know
that when they become president. Then
they start giving you material. They're
sure not giving me any now."

On the shelves in Buchwald's office is
a photo of Russell Baker, his counterpart
at the New York Times. The inscription
reads, "To Art Buchwald, who with Lyn-
don Johnson and Richard Nixon made 10
long years in Washington worthwhile."
In Baker's office in New York is a photo of
Buchwald lying on a couch in a toga. The
inscription reads, "To Russell Baker, who
taught me everything I know about sex."
Baker doesn't take any credit for the
compliment. "By the time I met Art" he
told me, "he was beyond sex."
Buchwald and Baker's friendship
dates back to about 1962, when Buchwald
moved to Washington from Paris, where
he was a columnist for the Herald
Tribune, and Baker started writing his
column for the Times. Buchwald had
been writing his column for about 13
years at that point.
"I admired his column a great deal,"
Baker said, "but I didn't think I could do
anything like it. It's better to be honest to
yourself. Copying someone else's style
would be like being forced to go barefoot
through the Okefenokee Swamp.
"Art is very facile. He knows what
he'll write before he even sits down at the
typewriter, so it all flows very quickly. I
don't know what I'll write until I sit down.
I work it out at the typewriter.
"Art's column has considerable
strengths. It looks easy, but it's hard to
do. He uses basic English. His structure
is simple. The whole thing really .has a
marvelous simplicity. It's a short column,
about 650 words. It's shorter than mine,
but he compacts a lot into it. It's like
doing a ballet inside a telephone booth."
Baker confessed that behind the
jocular facade that he and Buchwald have
both cultivated there are two very, very
serious men. "We don't see each other too
much now," said the Times' columnist,
who moved to New York a few years ago.
"When we do get together, we're very
glum. We sit across from each other in a
restaurant and just about weep. It's al-
most like the walrus and the carpenter."
There is much to weep about in
Buchwald's background, especially his
childhood. He occasionally uses his col-
umn and his humor, he said, to divert his
anger, which he didn't realize he had
until he began psychoanalysis on return-
ing from Paris. "I found that I was really
an angry man. I hadn't been dealing with
a lot of my problems because I found it
was so acceptable for me not to face up to
life through my humor. I used it as a
defense when I was a kid. I found out I
could get attention and that when people
laughed at me they wouldn't get mad at
me. I was the best defense I had. It be-
came a part of my life and I've been doing
it ever since."
Buchwald's mother died not long
after he was born on October 20, 1925 in
Mount Vernon, New York. He was the
youngest of four children. His father,
Joseph Buchwald, an Austrian-
American curtain maker who was having
hard financial times, could not keep the
family together. He farmed the children
out to a series of foster homes. For a

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