The world is thick with commentators who are indistinguishable, in their pretensions to glamour and wisdom, from the political knaves that inspire their furious discourse...The late and legendary Art Buchwald (1925-2007), the subject of Michael Hill’s admiring biography, Funny Business, was cut from a different cloth...Short and a bit of a pudge, he primarily wrote satirical newspaper columns...He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, though he parked seven or eight cigars there most days...His praises are well worth singing...Mr. Hill, a historical researcher who has worked with a wide range of luminaries, including John McCain, Walter Mondale and Ken Burns, begins with Buchwald’s recollection of his rough start...Yet Buchwald had big dreams...He joined the Marines at 17, seeing action in the Marshall Islands during World War II, then used the GI Bill at the University of Southern California and for a study program that took him to Paris...Mr. Hill tells us that Buchwald harvested plenty of bucks, both from his column (and column collections) and from the lecture circuit...By the late 1970s, his annual salary was around $2 million in today’s dollars...There was a dark lining to his golden cloud, including hospitalization for depression and the collapse of his marriage.
In this affectionate book, Hill tells the story of Buchwald’s fascinating life, marked by bouts of depression that required hospitalization, through a selection of his funniest articles and speeches and previously unpublished correspondence with members of the Kennedy family, William F. Buckley Jr., P.G. Wodehouse, and others...The result is a tapas bar of a text, bite-sized snacks that add up to a satisfying whole. It’s an incomplete picture—Hill mentions Buchwald’s play Sheep on the Runway but not his absurdist English-language contributions to the dialogue in Jacques Tati’s film Playtime—yet Buchwald fans will enjoy revisiting his work...A heartfelt tribute to one of American journalism’s most influential jesters.
A celebrated newspaper spoofer gets a posthumous round of applause in this genial if tedious biography...Historian Hill recaps Art Buchwald’s career, from his stint as a Parisian nightlife columnist in the 1950s to his decades in Washington writing a syndicated political satire column...Essentially a character sketch of the wisecracking, cigar-chomping Buchwald, the anecdotal narrative is largely uneventful, with Buchwald’s political jibes stirring occasional mild furors and hate-mail flurries—the most dramatic incident being his lawsuit against Paramount Studios for stealing a treatment that he coauthored for the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America...Unfortunately, Hill’s portrait of 'one of America’s greatest satirists' falls short of pulling back the curtain on the man behind the yuks...Buchwald is a colorful figure in Hill’s telling, but not an especially memorable one.