Al Hirschfeld

Al Hirschfeld

Albert Hirschfeld, one of three sons of Isaac and Rebecca Hirschfeld, was born in St Louis on 21st June, 1903. When Hirschfeld was a teenager the family moved to Manhattan. He later studied at the Art Students League.

In 1920 Hirschfeld began work at Selznick Studios. Four years later he moved to Paris where he studied painting, sculpture and drawing.. When he returned to the United States he became a regular contributor to the New Masses. In 1933 Hirschfeld became one of the first cartoonists in America to attack the rule of Adolf Hitler.

He also co-edited a satirical journal, Americana, with Alexander King in the early 1930s and has written and illustrated many books. Hirschfeld also worked for the New York Herald Tribune and the New York Times. He created great controversty when he produced a very hostile caricature of Charles E. Coughlin, the right-wing, anti-Semitic radio priest. Soon afterwards he rejected the idea of being a political artist. He pointed out in The World of Hirschfeld (1970): ''I have ever since been closer to Groucho Marx than to Karl.''

His caricatures of theatrical personalities appeared in several publications. He later wrote: "The art of caricature, or rather the special branch of it that interests me, is not necessarily one of malice... It is never my aim to destroy the play or the actor by ridicule. The passion of personal conviction belongs to the playwright; the physical interpretation of the character belongs to the actor; the delineation in line belongs to me. My contribution is to take the character - created by the playwright and acted out by the actor -- and reinvent it for the reader.''

Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton and Sidney Poitier in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1968).
Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton and
Sidney Poitier in the film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (1968).

According to Christopher Hawtree: "After 1945 there was always a number next to his signature: a tally of the times that he had worked the name of his daughter Nina into the drawing, into perhaps a beard or a necklace - they could pop up anywhere. Finding Nina each week had such a following that he could not drop the game, and Nina came to feel that the strange fame hindered her life. The Pentagon paid a professor to develop a programme that made Nina-spotting part of the bomb-aiming training of pilots. The US Postal Service waived its policy forbidding secret marks and allowed her tiny name on five stamps depicting comedians which were designed by Hirschfeld in 1991."

Hirschfeld also illustrated several books including Manhattan Oases (1932), Westward Ha! (1948), Swiss Family Perelman (1950), Show Business Is No Business (1951), Treadmill to Oblivion (1954), The World of Hirschfeld (1970), The Lively Years (1973), Hirschfeld by Hirschfeld (1979), Hirschfeld on Line (1999) and Hirschfeld's Hollywood (2001).

Albert Hirschfeld died on 20th January, 2003.