Ann Buchwald Tells All About Life, Love and Art in Paris—when She Can Get a Word in

updated 11/24/1980 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/24/1980 01:00AM

Ann Buchwald is recalling the days when she and Art were young and in love in Paris. He persuaded her to take an apartment that shared a balcony with his. After their frequent spats, she remembers, he would tiptoe over wearing one of his oddball hats to beg forgiveness. Art cannot help interjecting. "It's very hard," he explains, "for a woman to keep her window closed when there is a man on her balcony in boxer shorts and a miner's cap pleading to get in."

After 28 years of marriage to the famed columnist, Ann Buchwald, 59, has learned to accept being upstaged. These days she is especially good-natured about it, having turned necessity into virtue and a fast-selling book, Seems like Yesterday. It is a fond memoir of the couple's life from first meeting in 1949 to a Washington homecoming in 1962.

Though Ann's book is based on her diaries, it is a dual story, as the cover credit makes clear: "Ann Buchwald interrupted by Art Buchwald." Art, 55, did not get where he is—"I make more money than the President but less than Barbara Walters"—by pulling his punch lines. As if he were still tapping on that balcony window, he insinuates comments into her text. "I was worried that she'd come out June Allyson and I'd come out Jimmy Stewart," he grumbles.

When they met, Art was movie and nightclub columnist for the New York Herald Tribune's European edition. Later a chance encounter led to dinner on the Left Bank. At her doorstep, Ann writes, "Art's arms crept around me, pulling me close to him, and he kissed me with such sweet and surprising fervor that I didn't say a word. I had the single happiest feeling I'd ever experienced." Art's version: "I was making a pass, a simple straightforward pass, and to her it was some sort of commitment. Good grief!"

Still, that kiss launched an epic courtship. Art was intent on writing the great American novel and staying fancy-free. He also feared the risks of a match between a devout Catholic and a poor Jewish boy. At last he surprised her with an engagement ring, only to take it back after a quarrel. Ann considered returning stateside. Then one night her friend Lauren Bacall advised: "Art is young and roly-poly and a funny man about life, but he's the best guy you'll ever meet, kid."

On a weeklong trip to Morocco alone, Art turned his mind back to matrimony, too. When he returned he pounded on Ann's door and hollered, "I've decided the only answer to our mess is to get married." She opened the door and fell into his arms. French bureaucrats so delayed the wedding that Art's friend Lena Home suggested a priest in London. "I hold no bitterness towards Lena Home to this day," Art grants.

When doctors told the couple they could probably never have children, they adopted a boy from Ireland and two girls from France and Spain. "Marriage and family made me a better person," Art concedes. "But commitment never came easy because I was afraid of getting hurt." Now, he says, "I see it as I could have been, a guy very desirable at parties, funny, but getting older and nobody really giving a damn about you. Everybody reaches a point where you realize nobody cares except, hopefully, your family."

Born a curtain-maker's son in Mount Vernon, N.Y., Art left his troubled family for a series of foster homes. After combat as a Marine, he landed in Paris to study French on the GI Bill. He finagled a tryout at the Trib, and his column thrived.

Ann, eldest of her barber father's 11 children, hired on at 18 in a department store in her hometown of Warren, Pa. and then moved on to steadily better jobs in merchandising across the country. With $1,000 and a letter of introduction from Stanley Marcus, she gambled on a Paris trip that paid off in both Art and commerce. Before her marriage Ann started her own publicity firm, which prospered for three years until she and her young women partners retired to housewifing.

When the Herald Tribune brought Art home to write about American politics, the family suffered profound culture shock. "I cried almost every day that first year back," confesses Ann. "We didn't drive. We didn't know anyone. We felt like misfits." Art adds, "We had a fairly good life over there and didn't have to face up to a lot of things because we were so busy. Marriage is a tough deal." Both went into and profited from analysis.

Their problems have never been financial. Art's column now runs in more than 500 papers and he has published 16 collections of the columns as well as several other books. He gives at least 50 lectures a year at $10,000 per. "I'm married to my work," Art admits. "Despite my trying to mold him he has never let a single thumbprint sink in," Ann agrees. "He's about as malleable as our front porch."

The last of their children left home in 1973. Connie, 25, helps her husband with his Gibson, N.C., landscape-nursery firm. Jenny, 24, is a carpenter on Martha's Vineyard. Joel, 27, is an ABC News associate producer. Art urged Ann to go back to work, telling her, "I'm going to be doing the same thing I've done all my life. I ain't going to change." That meant he would continue the trips, usually alone, that made Ann jealous early in their marriage. Art scoffs at the idea of political satire groupies. "Nobody's knocking down my door when I go to a motel," he says.

In 1973 Ann became a literary agent. Her clients now include Phyllis Theroux, Marilyn Sharp and Mark Russell. Her own deal, $150,000 from Putnam, was negotiated by agent Irving Lazar. She still oversees housework at their Normandy-style home in Washington's Wesley Heights. Says Ann, "I know Gloria Steinem won't like it but I look up to Art. I believe in dragging all women's traditional duties along with me even while hating them. This marriage wouldn't have survived had I not been pretty square." Longtime friend Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, cites another reason: "They needed each other a lot and they worked like hell to keep each other. In addition, Ann's funnier than what's-his-name."

Also more overtly romantic. "Art's a joy," she says. "I told him the other day that I like him better than any person I know." Art's public testimonials to his wife are, like his column's criticisms of politicians, pretty indirect. "You don't find many women who would live with a man who smokes cigars for 28 years," he says, typically.

But he does have his private moments. On their 28th wedding anniversary last month, Art gave Ann an electronic typewriter with a built-in memory storage. When she hit the proper key, the machine typed out a pre-programmed loving message intended by Art for her eyes only.

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