June 21, 2018 marks the 115th birthday of one of America’s greatest artists, Al Hirschfeld.
With what seemed like just a few simple lines on white paper, Hirschfeld made it look easy to capture the best and the brightest in our society as he wielded his pen. He vacationed with Charlie Chaplin (a story he told me himself), had Marlene Dietrich over to his brownstone for breakfast, created movie posters for the Marx Brothers and Judy Garland, album covers for folks like Frank Sinatra, Aerosmith and everyone in between, inspired the Genie in Disney’s “Aladdin” and a sequence in “Fantasia 2000,” and drew just about everyone who appeared on Broadway in his lifetime.
Every day Al traveled up three flights of stairs to his studio that overlooked the bustling streets of uptown Manhattan to create more inked goodness. It was those same three flights of stairs I would traverse on my annual visits to the master when traveling back east for the Christmas holiday. As you’d near the top step of the last flight, you could see Al sitting in his famous barber chair at his well-worn desk hard at work on his next masterpiece.
Yes, I was honored to know Al, and am forever grateful for those visits to chat about what’s new, and to hope a little of his artistry would flow through his arm into mine when we shook hands. It’s hard to believe that he passed 15 years ago, just a few months shy of his 100th birthday. Here is a picture that hangs in my studio of one time when my brother and I stopped in to Al’s studio.
Of his desk, I asked Al why there were such deep grooves in the wood. He replied, “Well, I find that it is helpful once in a while, to cut a piece of paper.”