Born in Mount Vernon, New York, in 1925, Art Buchwald was the son of a down-on-his-luck curtain manufacturer. Buchwald’s mother died when he was a baby. Unable to care for his children, Buchwald’s father placed him and his three older sisters in New York’s Hebrew Orphan Asylum. After that, he was raised in a series of foster homes.
A child of the Great Depression, Buchwald worked from the age of nine until he dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17. His childhood jobs included selling Collier’s and the Saturday Evening Post, which earned premiums for items such as roller skates as well as a little spending money.
Once he earned the skates, he started a delivery service. He wore his skates and pulled a wagon loaded with shoppers’ bags. Buchwald charged five cents a bag to deliver packages for shoppers at his local A&P, and he advertised his service on a card he had stuck on his wagon. It said, “Buchwald Delivery Service—We Deliver Everything but Babies.”
At 12, Buchwald started delivering flowers to wealthy Park Avenue residents. He was a mailroom boy at Paramount Pictures when he was 14, working after school from 4 to 8 p.m. each night.
As a Marine, Buchwald served in the Pacific during World War II, and when the war ended, he decided to go to college. Although Buchwald had no high school diploma, he enrolled as a freshman at the University of Southern California. When USC discovered its mistake, he was allowed to stay on as a special student, but he was ineligible for a degree. In college, he managed Wampus, the campus humor magazine. He also wrote a column for the college newspaper. After three years of college, he bought a one-way ticket to France and lived in Paris for the next 14 years.
While in Paris, he wrote a column, “Paris after Dark,” for the New York Herald. In 1951, he wrote “Mostly about People,” which featured interviews with American celebrities who were visiting Paris. In 1962, Buchwald returned to the United States with his wife, Ann, and took up residence in Washington, D.C. This is when his writing took on a new direction: political satire. Within a year, he added 75 papers to his syndication roster and was soon a fixture on the Washington political scene. In 1982, Buchwald won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
In addition to his column, Buchwald published more than 25 books. Two are guides to Paris, two are children’s books, and one is a novel. The rest are collections of his writings. A much sought-after public speaker, Buchwald gave about 45 paid speeches a year. He also made about 25 benefit appearances annually.
Because of his foster home background, he was particularly interested in charities relating to children, such as the Children’s Defense Fund. “I applaud the Horatio Alger Association’s scholarship program,” he once said, “which is giving kids who need it the most a chance to get an education and be all they can be.”
When advising young audiences—as well as his own three children—Buchwald said, “Never do anything to make your family ashamed of you. I think I’m proudest of the fact that I never shamed my family name.”