Remembering Art Buchwald

Not many outside Variety are aware that Art Buchwald, who passed away in Washington on January 17th, aged 81, did a stint with the old paper in Paris in the postwar era.

The year was 1949, when the debonnair Maxime de Beix was filing show biz stories and reviews from the City of Light to Abel Green in New York. At one point Maxi found an assistant to help him in his chores, and introduced him to Abel when the latter was taking one of his freebie swings through Europe. The expatriate’s name was Art Buchwald, who at that time also started writing a column for the Paris edition of the Herald Tribune.

In his short biographical book Leaving Home, Buchwald mentions meeting the 70-year-old Maxime de Beix, for whom he then became legman for $8 a column. Buchwald then affirms that he never gave a French fim a bad review since he lived in dread that the producer would find out how bad his French was, and, of course, no one ever questioned the credentials of a critic who gave raves.

When producer Billy Rose, who at that time was writing a weekly column for Varietywent to Paris, Abel sent him to see Buchwald who, it was understood, would kowtow to the famous producer and Variety columnist. Buchwald must have shirked these extra-curricular duties. After all, he was only a freewheeling expatriate stringer. After Rose returned to New York to report his meeting with Buchwald to Abel, Buchwald received a tough reprimand from Green saying that if he ever treated one of his friends like that again, he’d be “out on his keester”.

One of Buchwald’s reviews during the brief time he worked for Variety as a film critic was of La Belle Meuniere that ran in the 43rd Anni. “This is unlikely for the U.S. What may bring the French to the theatre is the magic name of Marcel Pagnol and the virtuosity of the color process known as Rouxcolor…” Signed Buch.

Buchwald also got to review Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles. It started, “In Jean Cocteau’s last film the eagle had two heads. In this one the hero has two parents…”

Though Buchwald’s stint on Variety wasn’t much more than a half year, he did become a steady contributor to the Anniversary editions. In the January 4, 1950 one he penned a column titled, “The Spirit Of Paris”, written in the pithy style which was to make him famous. In this case, he envisaged a dialogue between a reporter going into the Hotel George V Bar and meeting an independent Hollywood producer called Quickbuck The indie prodeucer goes on and on about a great $3 million film he is going to make, all the time dropping names of the influential and wealthy persons he knows. The dialogue ends with Quickbuck asking the reporter if he can lend him 100 francs (worth about 25 cents in those days). Things haven’t changed much over the past 50 years in that respect, except that now the producer would ask for a $5 handout!

Other than Buchwald’s minor stint with Variety, what most expats living in Europe will always remember him for is his column each day on the back page of the Trib which always brought a smile to its readers and, along with the crossword puzzle and Snoopy, was perhaps the most sought-out part of the paper as one sat in a café on the Boul’ Mich’ or in some hangout for Yanks in Montparnasse in the halcyon days when the talk in Paris was still about existentialism and names like Sartre, Beauvoir, Truffaut, Montand filled the smoky air of heated terrace cafes.