On Dec. 4, "Hirschfeld On Line," a collection of photographs, paintings and classic drawings by the legendary, 95-year-old Al Hirschfeld will become one of the jewels in the king's crown. It is the first Hirschfeld collection to be published in almost 10 years, and the only one now in print (Applause Books, $49.95, 347 pages).
Hirschfeld has been called "The Line King" for his caricatures of Broadway and entertainment personalities of the 20th century, beginning his theatre illustration career in 1926.
The coffee-table volume includes comments by the artist, and essays by playwright Arthur Miller, actress Whoopi Goldberg, wife Louise Kerz Hirschfeld, daughter Nina Hirschfeld (whose first name appears in many of his drawings), New York Times culture writer Mel Gussow, fashion diva Grace Mirabella and novelist Kurt Vonnegut.
A 32-page color section of paintings, from the cast of "Seinfeld" to Edward R. Murrow, is found in the book's mid-section. The book includes work from the 1920s to 1998, about 400 pieces in black and white and color.
Among theatre personalities found between the covers: Carol Channing, Richard Kiley, Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, Zero Mostel, Jack Lemmon, Liza Minnelli, Katharine Hepburn, Noel Coward, Richard Burton, Tyne Daly, Patrick Stewart. Timely as the past season, the book includes the original Broadway casts of 1998's Wait Until Dark, Cabaret and Art. Hirschfeld, still productive in the 1998-99 season, comments about his process and his famous subjects throughout the book, chronicling a world that twists from the Jazz Age to World War II and into the space age and MTV era. Among his friends were S.J. Perelman, Eugene O'Neill, William Saroyan and the Gershwins.
The story of how he began incorporating "Ninas" into his drawings (starting in 1945) is recounted, too. Fans of Hirschfeld know how many times the word "Nina" is slipped into his sleek drawings because he puts the number near his signature. "Find the Ninas" is a popular pastime for readers of The New York Times, where his illustrations have appeared since the 1920s.
The white-bearded, instantly recognizable Hirschfeld was born in 1903 in St. Louis. His family moved to New York City in 1913. As a young man, he lived in the Paris of Picasso, Gertrude Stein and Hemingway and traveled to Spain and Morocco, painting watercolors. He lived in Bali, where he began to appreciate the precision of line and shifted his focus to black and white.
"The Line King," a documentary about him by Susan W. Dryfoos, was nominated for an Academy Award. On Jan. 6, PBS will broadcast a one-hour version of the film, "The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story," on its "American Masters" program. Check local listings.
-- By Kenneth Jones