Art Beckwald was the undisputed prince of humorous writing in the American press in the last century. His column in the “Washington Post” was published at the same time in 550 publications around the world. In a new autobiographical book, “Funny Trade: The Legendary Life of Art Backwald,” a re-history of a man who has been likened by some to the satirist Mark Twain, and others to the politician Benjamin Franklin, encapsulates depth with stinging simplicity.
Not a single American president has survived his jokes for decades. Richard Nixon said, “I don’t read it, because it’s neither funny nor serious.” “I love Nixon so much,” Buckwald said. So I will nominate him for a third term.” And he felt the same devotion to other presidents: “I adore the quicksand on which President Jimmy Carter constantly walks.” Referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he said: “I admire President Bill Clinton for obvious reasons.” Only George W. Bush disappointed him: “Nothing to write about. Bored to boredom.”
He was in his humor and sarcasm contribute to the support of major causes. He has long opposed allowing the carrying of arms permitted by the constitution, and wrote that the solution is to issue a law requiring the fingers of shooters to be cut off at birth, as there is nothing in the constitution to prevent this. In a criticism of the auto industry at the height of the Vietnam War, he wrote that it was better to gift the damaged cars to the North Vietnamese and they would take care of them.
John F. Kennedy did not find an answer to Becwald’s taunts except by cutting off subscriptions to the newspaper in which he writes about the White House. Lyndon Johnson ordered that he be placed under surveillance. And the Americans trusted what he wrote, so that some of them actually believed that “there is no Edgar Hoover,” the director of the FBI.
Like so many stories the man who laughs America, suffered from severe depression and struggled with it. He did not reveal his illness until 1991, and on one occasion he was hospitalized in a coma, but he soon woke up from it, returned to writing, and wrote a book entitled “I Woke Up to Write Again.”