For his artistry, which captured the joy, flavor and personality of the Broadway scene, Mr Hirschfeld received a special Tony Award and was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated film documentary, "The Line King." It was announced in 2002 that Mr. Hirschfeld would get perhaps the ultimate tribute from the Broadway theatre community on his 100th birthday, June 21, 2003: The Martin Beck Theatre will be renamed the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on that day.
Theatre people and personalities hoped their images might be captured by the paternal, white-bearded man who was a frequent sight at opening nights for years. Armchair puzzle fans made a habit of scanning his work to find among his intricate lines the word "NINA," the name of his daughter.
Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theatres, which owns and operates the Beck and a number of other legit houses on Broadway, made the theatre-naming announcement last fall in The New York Times, which has given Hirschfeld a print gallery in its Arts & Leisure section for many years.
Landesman told the paper at the time: "It struck me as the most natural and obvious thing in the world. He's such an iconic figure. When I was a kid, the way I visualized Broadway was Al Hirschfeld. As far as I knew, Hirschfeld was Broadway."
"I'm startled: it's incredible," Mr. Hirschfeld told The Times last fall. "I'm touched." This is the first time a Broadway theatre has been named after a visual artist, though houses have been named for playwrights (Neil Simon, Eugene O'Neill), producers (Belasco, John Golden, Alex A. Aarons and Vinton Freedley), critics (Brooks Atkinson, Walter Kerr).
While honoring the beloved Mr. Hirschfeld, the name change all but banishes German-born Martin Beck, the vaudeville producer who built the Byzantine-style Moorish theatre, into obscurity. The Times reported a plaque honoring Beck will be unveiled at the theatre he opened in 1924 (the first production was Mme. Pompadour). The Times also reported a celebration honoring Mr. Hirschfeld's 100th birthday will be performed under the direction of Jerry Zaks at the Hirschfeld next summer. It's not clear if that tribute is still planned. It will benefit the Actors' Fund of America.
Jujamcyn plans to create a new marquee for the house and add a gallery of Hirschfelds. Over the years, collectors have sought original Hirschfeld drawings and prints as if they were paintings by Dutch masters. His work, exhibited, represented and sold exclusively at Margo Feiden Galleries, Ltd., is also online at www.alhirschfeld.com.
Mr. Hirschfeld's most recent hardcover book of drawings, "Hirschfeld On Line," was published in 1999. His work rests in the collections of museums around the world, including The Smithsonian Institution, The National Portrait Gallery, The Fogg Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For many years, Mr. Hirschfeld created his works in his Manhattan home studio while sitting in a barber chair. In 1995, his work was preserved on a CD-ROM, "Hirschfeld: The Great Entertainers." For the U.S. Postal Service, Mr. Hirschfeld designed images of famed entertainers Laurel and Hardy, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, Lon Chaney, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and others for commemorative postage stamps.
Mr. Hirschfeld was born in St. Louis, MO, one of three sons. After the family moved to New York City, he studied at the Art Students League, and later in London. His first marriage to Florence Ruth hobby ended in divorce. In 1943, he married actress Dorothy Haas, an actress known as Dolly Haas. Daughter Nina was born Oct. 20, 1945; it was shortly her birth that she was first referenced in his drawings. His Dolly predeceased Mr. Hirschfeld in 1994. In 1996, he married Louise Kerz, an arts research historian, who survives him. Nina and grandson Matthew also survive Mr. Hirschfeld.