Thursday, January 18, 2007

Art Buchwald's life without a net

Art Buchwald has died after somehow surviving for close to a year without functioning kidneys. The syndicated humour columnist won a Pulitzer Prize in 1982, and is best known for poking fun and barbs at the Washington D.C. power elite. But folks in the Industry remember him best for exposing Hollywood's "creative accounting" when he successfully sued Paramount Pictures, claiming that a two-page treatment he sold the studio in 1983 ("King for a Day") was the basis for Eddie Murphy's hit film Coming to America.

When Buchwald insisted the studio owed him a piece of the "net profit," Paramount claimed it owed him nothing, because the movie lost money-- even though it made more than $100 million at the box office. Everyone laughed, Buchwald won, Paramount appealed, everything was settled out of court and every writer, producer and production assistant learned to never ask for a piece of the "net."

But Art Buchwald has an even greater, more lasting connection to cinema. He wrote the English language dialogue in the great Jacques Tati film, Play Time. (It's the film from 1967, in which Tati's Monsieur Hulot roams around the modern maze of Paris with a group of hapless American tourists.) Buchwald's distinctive voice can be heard on the soundtrack, as well.

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