I didn’t realize that Art Buchwald, the world-famous humorist who died three days ago, was among his other accomplishments, a crime fiction writer. I haven’t asked Al Hubin, author of Crime Fiction IV, for his opinion yet, but as of this evening, Mr. Buchwald has not been honored with an entry in his massive, all-inclusive bibliography of our field.

   Let me make a case for his inclusion, if I may, based on the following paragraph which I read in yesterday or today’s issue of the New York Times:

   “A guy showed up in my office covered with bandages and blood and told me he was a recent graduate of Sing Sing,” Mr. [Ben] Bradlee [former editor of the Washington Post] said. “He had done time for murder and was broke. He became a thorn in my side, and I got sick of him, so I sent him to Buchwald, just to get him out of my office. Art locked him up in a room and wrote a book about him, A Gift From the Boys. The guy had been deported and his mob friends gave him a girl as a goodbye present.”

   The novel, by the way, published in 1958, became the basis of the 1960 movie Surprise Package with Yul Brynner and Mitzi Gaynor (as the Gift).


   [The illustration on the jacket is by Dedini,
a cartoonist often spotted in New Yorker magazine.]

   The paragraph in the Times was interesting but hardly conclusive. I searched online for more evidence to back my case. From Bloomberg.com:

   The story centered on mobsters who were deported from the U.S. to Italy, where Buchwald traveled to interview organized crime figure Charles “Lucky” Luciano in Naples.

   Well, Mr. Buchwald was talking to the right people to help write a crime novel, all right, but I couldn’t come up with a more useful description of the book than what I have so far. Maybe I’d have better luck finding a plot outline of the movie, I thought.

   From Time magazine [Nov. 14, 1960]:

   Surprise Package (Columbia) is stuffed with expensive ingredients: Yul Brynner, Mitzi Gaynor, Noel Coward in front of the camera, Director Stanley (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) Donen behind it plus a script by Harry (Reclining Figure) Kurnitz based on a novel (A Gift from the Boys) by Columnist Art Buchwald. But as far as entertainment is concerned, Package contains only what is known in show business as a bomb. Director Donen clearly intended to tell a shaggy-dog story the way John Huston did in his hilarious Beat the Devil but unfortunately, Donen’s dog turns out to be all bark and no bite. The hero (Brynner) is a big-time hood deported from the U.S. to his native Greece and confined by the Greek government to a small Aegean island. The story evolves around his attempt to get back in the money by relieving an exiled king (Noel Coward) of his million-dollar crown. Revolving ever more tediously, it goes down the drain in a clutter of words. Package is perhaps the year’s talkiest talkie. Coward: “It’s amazing how a girl so dumb that if you say hello she’s stuck for an answer can reel off a three-hour lecture on why wild mink is better.” Brynner, contemplating a statue of a discus thrower: “What sort of a country is dis? Puttin’ up a monument of a guy stealin’ hubcaps!”


   So OK, Time didn’t like the movie, but there are points of the plot that are crime-related, wouldn’t you agree? Moving on, here is something extremely interesting I found on TVHeads.com.

   It was also during this period (sometime between 1948 and 1951) Buchwald was rumored and reported to have a very short lived affair with American actress Marilyn Monroe. The affair is said to have only lasted a few weeks, and it was said that Buchwald introduced Marilyn to Judaism (to which she later converted). Marilyn is said to be the basis in part for a character in Buchwald’s novel A Gift From The Boys published in 1958.

   Now I agree that this has nothing to do with my conjecture that Mr. Buchwald’s novel is a work of crime fiction, but if the TVHeads rumor is true, why all I can do is nod my head in agreement.

   Perhaps we should get serious for a moment. Here is my final piece of evidence, a comment from a semi-anonymous poster on IMDB.com:

    “This is a caper film involving a deported U.S. gangster played by Yul Brynner now living on a Greek island trying to steal the crown of the exiled King of Anatolia played by Coward. Along for the ride is Mitzi Gaynor as Brynner’s moll and the baddie played by George Coulouris from the People’s Republic of Anatolia, the gang that overthrew the king. The director is Stanley Donen from a novel by humorist Art Buchwald.

    “Brynner is terribly miscast in his part. A gangster I can believe him as, but he just has no flair for comedy. There were some comic moments in the King and I, but that’s overall, a serious part. Coward looks bored by the whole thing, I wish he had scripted and directed it also and he probably wished he did too. George Coulouris was his usual menacing self.”

   Well, what do you think? Is Mr. Buchwald in, or is he out?

[UPDATE: 01-21-07] An email reponse from Al Hubin, excerpted to refer only to my presentation above:


I’m convinced, though at this stage I’m inclined (for my next Addenda installment, Part 10) to use a dash [to indicate marginal crime content]. Good work on your part!



>> My reply? I agree 100 percent. I couldn’t convince even myself that the book’s more than a marginal entry, but I’m still glad to know that Mr. Buchwald is in.