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Legendary caricaturist Hirschfeld dead

From Phil Hirschkorn
CNN

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Al Hirschfeld, longtime theater caricaturist for The New York Times, has died. A fixture on Broadway for 70 years, the artist died in his sleep at the age of 99. (January 21)
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Al Hirschfeld, longtime theater caricaturist for The New York Times, has died.

Hirschfeld, 99, died in his sleep Monday, his wife, Louise, told wire services.

He worked for the Times for more than 70 years and drew his trademark cartoons for the arts section until the end of his life. He usually worked alone on the top floor of his five-story townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side, joking that going upstairs was his best form of exercise.

When working, he would sit at his drafting table in the barber's chair he acquired in 1954.

"You always feel the drawing you are working on is the best you've ever done," Hirschfeld said in a December 2001 interview with CNN. "I am only interested in the present."

Hirschfeld regularly embedded the word "Nina," the name of his daughter, several times in the lines of his caricatures, making the search for them a pastime for many readers. He did it initially, he said, just to celebrate her birth.

"After a couple weeks, I thought the joke wore thin and I left it out. I started getting calls and telegrams," he said.

Hirschfeld said he had "no clue" how many drawings he completed in his career. Gallery owner Margo Feiden, his exclusive representative since 1969, told CNN she estimates he completed around 10,000 drawings, but far fewer originals are still in existence.

Feiden said she considered Hirschfeld a "characterist." "He was much more interested in drawing somebody's character than drawing a big nose on Jimmy Durante," she said.

Broadway fixture

Hirschfeld was born in June 21, 1903, in St. Louis, Missouri, moving with his parents when he was 12 to a then-quiet part of New York City.

"We arrived at Penn Station, took the Amsterdam Avenue street car to the end of the line. There was a frame house my mother rented for four dollars a month, and all around it were apple orchards," Hirschfeld said.

Hirschfeld's long association with theater happened by accident. After he sketched a French actor Sacha Guitry on a theater program, a friend submitted it to the New York Tribune, which published it. Later in the 1920s, he joined the Times.

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Hirschfeld's work was collected in several books. "Hirschfeld's New York" featured the Algonquin Round Table on its cover.

A fixture of the Broadway scene for decades, Hirschfeld became friends with many legends that he drew, such as Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill, and George and Ira Gershwin. He also drew many stars of television, movies, music, sports, and politics

"To have been drawn by Al Hirschfeld is a huge feather in your cap," said Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, who organized a recent Hirschfeld retrospective at the Museum of the City of New York.

"I don't think there is major entertainer Al has not drawn," said Arthur Gelb, the Times' former managing editor and a Hirschfeld friend since 1947.

"You did not truly arrive until Al drew you. Al kind of crowned you," said Gelb, in a telephone interview with CNN.

'I work seven days a week'

Hirschfeld won an honorary Tony Award in 1975. He was also the subject of the 1996 documentary film "The Line King," which was nominated for an Academy Award.

On June 23, two days after what would have been Hirschfeld's 100th birthday, the Martin Beck Theater, west of Broadway on 45th Street, will be renamed after Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld's parents also lived into their 90s, and he credited his longevity to his genes and staying busy.

"I know I would be bored if I didn't have anything I was really interested in. I work seven days a week and I love it," he said.

A creature of habit, Hirschfeld typically worked from 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and had cookies and tea at 4 p.m. "He ate cookies and tea with his left hand and drew with his right," Feiden said.

Hirschfeld is survived by his third wife, Louise Kerz; Nina, his daughter from his longtime marriage to Dolly Haas; and a grandson, according to the Times.

The Feiden Gallery has a gallery of Hirschfeld images at www.alhirschfeld.com.


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