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May 05, 1989 - Image 92

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-05-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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92

FRIDAY, MAY 5, 1989

.

Caricaturist Hirschfeld
Found Art In Actors

MICHAEL ELKIN

Special to The Jewish News

C

elebrities are drawn
to Al Hirschfeld.
"Yes, oh, I've drawn
so many of them over the
years," says the caricaturist
who has captured the Broad-
way scene for some 60 years.
On the walls of his magical
Upper East Side townhouse,
framed for their fame, are
some of the leading lights
who have lit up the stage over
the years. They look down
upon the artist in pen-and-ink
amazement as he takes to his
old, overstuffed barber's chair,
applies pen to paper and lines
up with an artistic line a
caricaturist history of the
stage.
Hirschfeld is fit for framing
himself, a legend who has
found art in actors. He has
drawn them all — Liza with
a Z, Astaire with aplomb,
Mostel with a laugh. Carol
Channing waves hello to
Hirschfeld and his wife, Dolly,
the Broadway actress forever
dressed in that resplendent
sequined gown that took New
York by storm some 25 years
ago in a musical about a mat-
chmaker with moxie.
Theater's legerdermain has
met its match in the legen-
dary Hirschfeld. "When you
look back," says the 85-year-
old artist, "you realize
everything changes, nothing
stands still. Hopefully, I've
progressed."
No doubt, the Jewish kid
who started out in life in St.
Louis has evolved masterful-
ly. It was a perspicacious art
teacher who informed
Hirschfeld's mother that the
11-year-old youngster should
seek challenges elsewhere.
"There is nothing more that

we can teach him in St.
Louis," the teacher said.
New York provided a wider
canvas of opportunities and
education. By the time he was
17, Hirschfeld was making
decisions as art director at
Selznick Pictures.
But wanderlust wouldn't let
him stay in one place. In
1924, Hirschfeld packed up
his pad for a shot at portray-
ing the artist as a young man
in Paris. Those were days of
cold-water flats — "That's
why I grew the beard," he
says with laugh — as well as
buddying around with
literary friends like
Hemingway.
These are sweet memories
from a sweetheart of a man
whose career started nearly
by accident when, accom-
panied by press agent
Richard Maney, Hirschfeld at-
tended a play starring Sacha
Guitry. His sketching of the
actress during her early '20s
performance impressed
Maney, who sold the Herald
Tribute on the piece. It was
not long before the paper was
sold on the artist's talents.
Soon, the New York Times
also joined the fan club, fann-
ing reader interest in this ar-
tist who knew when to draw
the line. For the past.60 years
or so, Hirschfeld's work has
worked beautifully for the
paper. A new theater season
— as well as a new play —
without a Hirschfeld illustra
tion seemed pointless.
"I like musicials," says the
to-the-point artist, who,
claims to always have been a
show buff. "But when I'm
working on a piece, I don't
distinguish."
He often will sketch a play
with pencil in the dark cor-
ners of a theater, trying to
capture the quintessence of

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