January 3, 2018
The Library of Congress has acquired the archive of Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist, commentator and playwright Art Buchwald, best known for his long career as a political satirist, poking fun at the famous and powerful for The Washington Post and in a column syndicated in 500 newspapers worldwide. Buchwald was often considered “the Wit of Washington.”
The archive of approximately 100,000 items includes his columns, plays, screenplays, books, unpublished pieces, correspondence and business records from his personal life and extensive career as a writer and public speaker. His novel “The Bollo Caper” was adapted as a television movie, and his stage comedy “Sheep on the Runway” had a run on Broadway.
Buchwald’s papers document his relationships with a large network of friends and acquaintances. These include journalists Ben Bradlee and Mike Wallace and novelist William Styron, part of Buchwald’s social set at Martha’s Vineyard. There are letters, photographs and exchanges with political figures, entertainers and celebrities, including the Kennedy and Shriver families, Lauren Bacall, Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeve, Dinah Shore, Carly Simon and others, as well as a brief exchange with Donald Trump.
Beyond the glamour of Buchwald’s life, the archive recounts his difficult childhood in an orphanage and foster homes, his suffering from depression, health struggles later in life, and his activism on mental health awareness, disability rights and end-of-life care. The collection includes the prosthetic leg Buchwald used after his limb was amputated due to a stroke and circulatory problems. Buchwald died in 2007 after chronicling his battle with kidney failure.
“The collection tells the story of my father’s life as a writer and satirist, from his birth certificate to his death certificate,” said Joel Buchwald, the writer’s son, and his wife Tamara Buchwald. “We love the idea that his papers are going to stay in Washington, D.C., where so much of his career took place, and more specifically the Library of Congress, which holds many related research collections. He would be thrilled knowing that his archive will be available to the public in such a memorable institution.”
The Buchwald collection contains materials from the writer’s legal battle with Paramount Pictures over the idea for the 1988 hit film “Coming to America” starring Eddie Murphy. Paramount made a contract for rights to Buchwald’s similar story “King for a Day” years earlier but dropped its option to make such a movie before releasing “Coming to America” without crediting Buchwald. A judge ruled the studio had stolen Buchwald’s idea and awarded $900,000 to Buchwald and a partner.
At the start of his career in the 1940s, Buchwald dropped out of school, joined the Marines and served in World War II. Later he would buy a one-way ticket to Europe and drew an audience for his dispatches as an American in Paris in his columns “Paris After Dark,” “Mostly About People” and “Europe’s Lighter Side” for the New York Herald Tribune. After returning to the U.S., he would go on to tackle issues ranging from the Vietnam War and anti-Communism to the environment and disability rights. In 1982, Buchwald won journalism’s top honor, the Pulitzer, for outstanding commentary.
“I don’t know how well I’ve done while I was here,” Buchwald wrote in his final column published after his death, “but I’d like to think some of my printed works will persevere – at least for three years.”
The Library will preserve the Buchwald collection, which will be made available to researchers and the public after archivists process and organize the materials. The Library also holds the papers of other journalists, writers and entertainers, including Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Katharine Graham, David Broder, Mary McGrory, Jules Feiffer and Herbert Block.