Nine decades of Al Hirschfeld’s art is on glorious display at New York City’s oldest museum, The New-York Historical Society at 77th Street and Central Park West in Manhattan. Docent Roberta Perlin said Hirschfeld thought he’d live to 100, and so the word “Century” in the title.
Hirschfeld was best known for his black and white celebrity illustrations. To be “Hirschfelded” meant that a star had arrived. But the exhibit also delves into his life and career.
Hirschfeld grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. An art teacher recognized his talent and told his parents to “Get this boy to New York!” By age 25, Hirschfeld was making paintings and collages for movie posters, such as Nothing But Trouble with Laurel and Hardy and Strike Up the Band with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.
From 1940 on, he began doing posters for the theatre. He changed his style and lines started to dominate his work. He felt their simplicity captured the character and movement of the actors, such as Zero Mostel in Fiddler on the Roof, Tommy Tune and Liza Minelli in their one-person shows. Carol Channing was known to have said, “Three things never lose their value: diamonds, wine and Hirschfeld.”
In the 1940’s, he added something wonderful to his art. He had married German actress, Dolly Haus, and in 1946, their daughter Nina was born. He snuck Nina’s name into his drawings – and people became obsessed with “finding all the Ninas.” When Whoopi Goldberg confessed she loved looking for Ninas, he put 40 Ninas in her poster!
In 1976, The New York Times gave Hirschfeld a Friday column to herald a play’s opening. In a space just 2” by 3”, he drew actors set against a simple white background.
Hirschfeld lived at 122 East 95th Street, in Manhattan and he worked in a red leather barber’s chair. In 2003, he died at age 99, drawing almost to his last day. Later that year, the Martin Beck Theatre was re-named after Hirschfeld.
The exhibit closes October 12, 2015. For more information, visit www.nyhistory.com