Hirschfeld, Albert

Hirschfeld, Albert
▪ 2004
      American caricaturist (b. June 21, 1903, St. Louis, Mo.—d. Jan. 20, 2003, New York, N.Y.), needed only a few strokes of his pen to capture the likenesses and the essence of the personalities of his subjects—mostly show business celebrities but also political and governmental leaders. He was internationally acclaimed for having created a visual history of the 20th-century Broadway stage. Hirschfeld's talent was recognized when he was just a young boy, and by the time he was 12 years old, his family had moved to New York City so that he could pursue his art studies. He worked in the movie industry and studied in Europe before rather offhandedly launching his career as a caricaturist; a simple sketch Hirschfeld made in 1926 during a trip to the theatre so impressed a press agent that he arranged for it to be published in the New York Herald Tribune. By the end of the 1920s, Hirschfeld had become a regular contributor to the New York Times—a status that he retained for more than 70 years, though it was only in the 1990s that he entered into a formal agreement with the paper—and he proceeded to create portraits of innumerable notables for that paper and other publications. Following the birth of his daughter, Nina, in 1945, he began hiding her name somewhere in his drawings, sometimes several times. Finding her name became a national pastime, and frustrated readers eventually persuaded Hirschfeld to indicate next to his signature just how many Ninas were to be found in a given drawing. The military even used the hidden Ninas to help sharpen the target-spotting ability of bomber pilots. Hirschfeld's work was collected in numerous books and was included in the collections of several art museums, and in 1991 his drawings graced a set of postage stamps featuring comedians. He was honoured with two Tony Awards—a special Tony in 1975 and the first Brooks Atkinson Award in 1984—and in 1996 his life and work were the subjects of a documentary film, The Line King. Also in 1996, Hirschfeld was declared an official New York City landmark, and at the time of his death he had just been informed that he had been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was also to be a recipient of a National Medal of Arts. On June 21, 2003, which would have been his 100th birthday, the Martin Beck Theatre in New York City was renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

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Universalium. 2010.

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