Hirschfeld: The Biography

For nearly 75 years, Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) was the unofficial artist of Broadway, drawing his distinctive line caricatures of nearly everyone in the theater world. In her comprehensive and playful biography, journalist Ellen Stern (Gracie Mansion) captures the breadth of the congenial artist's circle of friends and his influence across a century of movies, newspapers and theater. Including dozens of illustrations and detailed footnotes, Hirschfeld is a thorough history of the man and his New York City. A Manhattan transplant from St. Louis, Hirschfeld quickly put his pen to work in playbills, magazines, newspapers, books and on the walls of commercial art galleries--and never stopped. He had many famous friends, including Eugene O'Neill, Moss Hart, Ogden Nash, S.J. Perelman, Woody Allen--as Stern notes, "When you're Al's friend, you're Al's friend." This is perhaps because he considered his whorling caricatures to be non-derogatory; he put it this way to Stern in an interview: "I prefer to think of them as 'character drawings.' "

Stern writes in colloquial, breezy prose. She is adept in her focus on the essence of the man and his art--observing of the latter: "No one's dancers--from shimmy to jeté to Fosse hip thrust--are more sensuous, with ribbon limbs, sinuous hands, and bodies arched like parentheses." Hirschfeld the artist (with his daughter Nina's name embedded in each drawing) was often the best part of the Sunday New York Times. Hirschfeld is a fitting exploration of his remarkable life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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