HIRSCHFELD HONORED IN NY & LA
Al Hirschfeld, the dean of show business caricature artists, was being honored during the autumn of 2001 with dual exhibits: one in New York, at the Museum of the City of New York, and one in Los Angeles -- or more correctly, Beverly Hills -- at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. As one might expect, The New York exhibit included much of Hirschfeld's Manhattan-related artwork, including Broadway stars, cabaret performers and political figures. The LA exhibit was an extensive look at Hirschfeld's Hollywood.
Both exhibits are represented in recently published books: "Hirschfeld's New York" and "Hirschfeld's Hollywood," both from Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers. The soft cover books are $15.95 each. While Lucille Ball is not included in the New York volume, one of the sketches Hirshfeld did for "Mame" (1974) is reproduced in the "Hollywood" book. Lucy is also included in the colorful "MGM Map" mural on the back.
Hirschfeld, now 98, was born June 23, 1903 in St. Louis, Missouri. When young Albert was 12, the family relocated to New York. He attended National Academy of Design (1918) and the Art Students League (1920), and by the age of 17 had landed a job with Goldwyn Pictures publicity department. Hired to clean brushes and run errands, he quickly became a contributing artist. Over the years, he was on-payroll at Universal Pictures, Selznick Pictures, Warner Bros., and MGM.
One of Hirschfeld's earliest sketches (in 1921!) was of Jackie Coogan, and used to promote Charlie Chaplin's film, "The Kid." Over the years he began supplying artwork and often entire marketing campaigns for myriad movies, among them the early talkie, "Hallelujah," and such classics as "The Wizard of Oz" and "Singin' in the Rain."
Caricature, as an art, lies somewhere between staid portrature and cartoons. Its primary element is the distortion by exaggeration of the peculiar features or characteristics of a person. The results can be witty, humorous, comical, satirical or cruel. Hirschfeld's drawings display all of these attributes but one: he is never intentionally cruel. His aim has always been to caricature the actor in a particular role.
Hirschfeld's first (and possibly most famous) sketch of Lucy (illustrated, right) was completed during his tenure at MGM, and was drawn to promote the 1943 film, "Thousands Cheer." Lucy loved the sketch, and later used it as her "logo" on "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy."
Sadly, while the New York exhibit does include TV GUIDE cover-art celebrating All in the Family and Seinfeld, still to be explored is Hirschfeld's sizable contributions over the years to the world of television.
We know, for example, that Hirschfeld did various sketches of Lucy and Desi -- and many other major TV stars -- during the 1950s, and contributed cover art for the aforementioned TV GUIDE. One of our favorite Lucy covers, in fact, is a Hirschfeld -- not a line drawing, but a full-color illustration. (See photo left.)
In 1963, CBS hired the master to promote its entire fall schedule, which included the so many luminaries that the network's slogan was "CBS: The Stars' Address." Included in this assignment is the sketch of Lucy (from The Lucy Show) that was later reproduced by the Museum of Broadcasting (now known as the Museum of TV & Radio), for its First Lady of Comedy tribute poster in 1984.
Here is just a sample of the 1963 layouts. To the left are whole pages, to the right are close-ups of the Lucy sketches:
The lack of TV-related material in the recent exhibits only means that yet another exhibition can be scheduled in the not-so-distant future to showcase "Hirschfeld's Television."
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