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A CurtainUp Feature
Al Hirschfeld, The Man Who Captured New York City With His Pen
by Elyse Sommer
The Line King is Gone

It's hard to imagine the Sunday Times without a Hirschfeld drawing. It's even harder to imagine the theater without this wizard of portraiture to bring its participants vividly to life. But there it is -- just before reaching his 100th birthday and seeing the Martin Beck become the Al Hirshfeld Theatre, he left the stage of life.

He loved his work and did what he loved to the very end and that's something to be happy about at this sad moment. And, of course, he lives on through the enormous body of work he leaves behind -- much of it gathered in two volumes published at the time of a 2001 retrospective of his work a review of which is being re-posted as a way to celebrate Al Hirschfeld's long, rich life.
---Elyse Sommer, January 21, 2003

[Hirschfeld's line] is Gotham --- life plugged into an electric socket, flashing neon, open all night long
--- Frank Rich
Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller at 80 (Collection Ronald and Barbara Boer Rowes)
There's a not to be missed show in town with a cast of thousands -- actors, playwrights, critics, theatergoers, as well as other famous New Yorkers, past and present. The impresario who has brought them all together did so with his very special magic wand, his pen. His name is, of course, Al Hirschfeld. And though he is a man just two years short of the century mark, he's still going strong, the "chairman of his drawing board" each and every day.

As I write this, last Sunday's and this Sunday's New York Times Arts & Entertainment sections are in front of me with Hirschfeld's take on Mamma Mia! just a few days before its official opening on Broadway and on the new David Lindsay-Abaire comedyWonder of the World about to open at Manhattan Theatre Club. It simply wouldn't be Sunday without one of these instantly recognizable quick-witted and acutely observed theatrical portraits with their hidden Ninas (a hide and seek game of sorts created for his daughter Nina and shared by his fans ever since). Another grand old man of the theater, Arthur Miller, is enjoying a grand old age, awash in revivals of even his most obscure plays -- but only Al Hirschfeld could immortalize him with a few deft strokes of the pen. No matter how many honors and achievements men or women of distinction amass, there's something special about being part of the Hirschfeld portrait gallery.

It's also interesting to see the diversity among Hirschfeld collectors. Helen Epstein, whose excellent biography of Joe Papp we reviewed some time ago (the review) not surprisingly owns a large portrait of the late founder of the Public Theater.

Big City Coming! -- 1948 Gouache (Purchased by MGM film publicity)
While to many, especially theater buffs, the name Hirschfeld means Theater, his enormous body of work contains a great variety of drawings and paintings. To celebrate his seventy-five-year career, the Museum of the City of New York has mounted an exhibition that includes his best known as well as previously unknown work and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has organized an exhibition of his film art. In conjunction with the exhibits, Abrams Books has published two stunning books, coffee table sized, lavishly illustrated paperbacks, -- for theater lovers, Hirschfeld's New York by Clare Bell and with an introduction by Frank Rich and for film buffs, Hirschfeld's Hollywood with text by David Leopold and a foreword by Larry Gelbart. Here you can find Hirschfeld's poster for Hollywood's attempt to do Noises Off which is just being given a major Broadway revival. The film may have proved that these type of farces work best on the stage, but the art work succeeded even if the film did not.

Hobson's Choice
Charles Laughton in Hobson's Choice (Collection Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)
Atlantic Theater Company subscribers will be interested to learn that Hobson's Choice, which they are doing this season with Brian Murray, was once a film with Charles Laughton and duly recorded by Mr. Hirschfeld. If you've never been to this museum devoted to the Big Apple, or haven't visited there recently, this exhibit is the perfect occasion to rectify such an omission. The books will serve as a handsome keepsake of the exhibit and, if you live outside the area, will be the next best thing to being there.

The introuctions and texts in each book are brief since what they're about first and foremost are the pictures. With New Yorkers like Al Hirschfeld taking their creative nourishment from this city, and nourishing the city in return, is it any wonder that we all love New York more than ever.

The books are available at our book store: Hirschfeld's New York . . .  Hirschfeld's Hollywood

Also available: The Line King a VHS video about the artist.

Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

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