By: Dave Astor
The death of political humorist Art Buchwald symbolizes the passing of “an era of gentler humor,” says columnist Ellen Goodman.
“Humor today has much more of a cynical edge,” The Boston Globe/Washington Post Writers Group commentator told E&P this morning. “Art’s humor was more that of a loyal opposition. He was not alienated and he was not cynical, but nevertheless he saw life’s foibles and human foibles.”
Buchwald’s final book — “Too Soon to Say Goodbye” (Random House, November 2006) — was something Connie Schultz turned to immediately when she heard this morning about the political humorist’s death. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland columnist said one reason she found the book inspiring was that it showed that dedicated writers, no matter how ill, “keep writing as long as they have their wits about them.”
Schultz added: “He could be so funny, even about the fact he was dying. But I never doubted for a moment how difficult a time it was for him. He knew his time was looming.”
And Schultz, the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, noted that Buchwald provided a great service by writing about the benefits of hospice care.
Self-syndicated humor columnist Suzette Martinez Standring added that Buchwald, who died last night, “punctured politicians but was completely devoid of malice. I think it takes more talent and more wit to be gentler.”
Standring, while president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists last year, wrote a moving tribute to Buchwald after visiting him in a hospice. She later became friends with his daughter, Jennifer, who accepted the NSNC’s 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award for her father around the time Buchwald miraculously left the hospice last summer. In 2005, Buchwald was the first person Standring interviewed when researching “The Art of Column Writing” — a book slated to be published this spring.
Current NSNC President Mike Argento of the York (Pa.) Daily Record recalled meeting Buchwald briefly while covering the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener in the 1980s. “He was in search of a hot dog,” said Argento. “I gave him a little direction and he thanked me. He seemed like a kind, gentle human being.”
The columnist added: “He was one of the greats. Anybody who writes humorously about current events owes him a huge debt of gratitude.”
Argento remembered a funny line by Buchwald in a video shown at the NSNC awards dinner last summer. Buchwald had said something like: “Dying is easy, parking is hard.”
John Twohey — vice president for editorial and operations at Tribune Media Services, Buchwald’s syndicate — told E&P: “He was one of a kind. He was a columnist for more than five decades, and his longevity doesn’t even speak to the quality of his work.”
TMS President/CEO David D. Williams added: “It’s a tremendous loss. Very seldom does an individual come onto the journalism stage and perform at such a high level for such an extended period.”
Twohey also mentioned that the TMS people who worked with Buchwald “said he was the most gracious professional you could ever want to interact with. The decency and humor you saw in his column were reflected in his life. He was smart, savvy, and good-natured.”
Goodman — who won the commentary Pulitzer in 1980, two years before Buchwald received it — used to see him on occasion when they both worked in Washington, D.C. “I liked Art very much,” she said. “He was a delightful guy, wonderfully amusing company, and deliciously insecure.”
She added: “Art got to do something not many people get to do — write their own postscript. He got an extra bit of time, and he told us about it.”