An in-depth biography of America’s “line king” caricaturist.
Born in St. Louis, Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) began drawing when he was 5 years old and never stopped. Journalist Stern (Gracie Mansion: A Celebration of New York City's Mayoral Residence, 2005, etc.) interviewed Hirschfeld in 1987 for a GQ profile. Over the years, she has conducted extensive interviews with those who knew him—the book is packed with quotations—and had access to personal letters, journals, and scrapbooks, resulting in this much-needed, affectionate, and entertaining book-length profile. In 1912, the Hirschfeld family moved to New York City. Although he traveled around the world throughout his life, NYC was always home. While still in his teens, the young, talented artist began doing caricatures for Broadway posters and ads as well as lobby cards for local movie companies like Goldwyn and the Selznick Corporation. He came to be known as the “line king” for his minimalist black-lines-on-white-paper caricatures of actors and actresses that succinctly captured the looks and personalities of his subjects. He was fast and reliable. His theatrical caricatures—he preferred “character drawings”—became popular, his line “ever more surgical.” Broadway was his milieu, and every actor wanted to be “Hirschfelded.” He worked hard at it; sitting in his barbershop chair, his drawing board in front of him, he worked 7 days per week, 7 hours per day. S.J. Perelman described him as “a remarkable combination of Walt Whitman, Lawrence of Arabia, and Moe, my favorite waiter at Lindy’s.” In 1928, Hirschfeld started working for the New York Times, in 1953, TV Guide, and in 1998 he did a cover for Time. As Stern shows, his married life with three wives was up and down, but for 75 years, he had his dream job.
As the first substantive biography of Hirschfeld, this will be welcomed by art and Broadway lovers alike.