Hirschfeld's Hollywood

The Film Art of Al Hirschfeld
Foreword by Larry Gelbart. Text by David Leopold
Harry N. Abrams. 2001. Large format pbk, 96 pages, 135 illustrations, 45 full colour. £10.95.

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Born way back in 1903 and still going strong in 2001 Al Hirschfeld began his work as an artist for the Goldwyn Pictures Publicity Department in 1920. After a stint for Selznick Pictures and producing film caricatures for the New York World, he started a 30 year association with MGM in 1927. 

After much experimentation and development he created a style that could portray a film star in just a few expressive ink lines. By the 1940s the requirement for poster illustrations dried up with the growing use of photography for film publicity campaigns, though in the 1950s he produced colourful and detailed work for musicals (Singin' in the Rain) and dramas.

He became less enthusiastic about film in the 1980s he observed that "I don't see any human beings anymore on the screen," for example, in the case of ET: The ExtraTerrestial he said, "Here's this little pipe cleaner jumping around.." He just couldn't understand how the audience could be emotionally involved with this 'pipe cleaner' yet his own work is often no more than a few lines of ink that evokes recognition and a smile.

In the 1990s his illustrations of film comedians and silent screen stars were used for sets of postage stamps issued by the US Post Office. His fame is so great as a threatre and film illustrator that Susan Dryfoo produced a documentary about him in 1996 called, The Line King.

This book shows just some of his film art that reflects very much the changing fashions since the 1920s, and it does make you want to crave for more.

Watch out for his daughter's name NINA hidden in his drawings.

Nigel Watson
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