Wolfsie discusses the Art of humor
Friday, January 13, 2017 4:00 AM
Note from Dick Wolfsie: This month marks 10 years since the passing of famed political humorist Art Buchwald. In 2006 I wrote about our first meeting in 1967 and our final goodbye almost 40 years later. It means a great deal to me to reprint this two-part story in celebration of his life. When I first wrote this column in 2006, Art Buchwald was in hospice. He wanted to spend his final days with friends and family. This is my memory of the first time our paths crossed.
From my very first day of college in September of 1965 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., I wanted to meet Art Buchwald. His office, on Pennsylvania Avenue, was just down the street from my dorm.
In 1967, I managed to convince the editor of the student newspaper, The Hatchet, to give me my own weekly humor column. The feature, “Wolf’s Whistle,” ran in almost a hundred college newspapers—possibly the first student syndicated humor column in the country.
That distinction provided me the necessary courage to pursue my dream of meeting Mr. Buchwald. Headstrong and naive, I figured I could just look up his home number in the phone book. There it was. Only later in my life did I realize how unusual it was for someone of his stature to be listed.
When Mr. Buchwald answered the phone, I nervously filled him in on my own “rich” history of writing humor columns. When I told him I attended classes just a few blocks from his office, he invited me to come over one day for a short visit, an uncharacteristically generous offer from the top syndicated columnist in the country.
Two days later, I called Mr. Buchwald’s secretary. “Yes,” she said, “Mr. Buchwald said you’d be calling.” I stammered, “He did?”
I entered Mr. Buchwald’s office with a stack of Hatchets under my arm. He stole a glance at me and snapped: “Let me see one of those newspapers, kid.” He sat at his desk, put up his feet, ripped open the current issue and began reading my column. I’d love to report to you that he burst out laughing. Instead, he just stared at the page, steely-eyed. Not even a smile. But I thought I detected a kind of subtle nod of the head that made me think that maybe—just maybe—he saw a glimmer of potential.
He grabbed a pen off his desk and scribbled a few words over my byline. His phone rang and after he answered it, he grumbled under his breath, apologized that something had come up, and walked out the door. The entire meeting with him lasted but two minutes. I hadn’t even had a chance to ask him what he thought of my stuff.
Dejected, I left his office. I shuffled along Pennsylvania Avenue back to my apartment, where I plopped down on the couch and opened the newspaper to the page that Mr. Buchwald had read. I stared in delight at these words scrawled on the paper:
“Wolfsie, stay out of my racket.”—Art Buchwald
I was only 20 at the time, but so far that was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me.
Days later, I cut out his signature and the message and placed it in a cheap black metal frame along with the photo I had snapped of Mr. Buchwald at his desk. It has been on my desk ever since.
Looking back over the last 40 years, that may still be the coolest thing that has ever happened to me.
Next week, part 2 of this story . . .