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YOU WOULDN’T THINK that crow quill pens would be all that common, but in less than a week I’ve encountered a second famous artist who employed them. Theatrical caricaturist extraordinaire Al Hirschfeld appears here today; Edward Gorey appeared here at SimanaitisSays on July 12, only six days ago.
These tidbits come from Bruce McCall’s review of Ellen Stern’s Hirschfeld: The Biography, in The New York Times Book Review, July 11, 2021, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.
A Hirschfeld Puzzle. McCall writes, “As the author recounts, Al Hirschfeld arrived in New York from his native St. Louis in 1912 as barely more than a kid who liked to draw. He liked it so much, and was so good at it, that by age 18 he was the art director for Selznick Pictures, cutting his teeth illustrating movie posters. He sold his first newspaper caricature at 21 and never looked back.”
Here’s the puzzle: Wikipedia puts the New York City move in 1915, and, based on another oddity in the NYT review, I’m inclined to accept this date.
In particular, Wikipedia lists Hirschfeld’s three marriages: with chorus girl Florence Ruth Hobby, 1927 to a 1932 separation and a 1942 divorce; German-American actress Dolly Haas, 1943 until her 1994 death; and Louise Kerz, 1996 until Hirschfeld’s death in 2003.
By contrast, McCall writes, “Hirschfeld’s first two marriages grind to ugly halts, generating much friction; his third, to the German-born actress Dolly Haas, produced his only child, Nina, whose name became a game.”
All this is relevant, because daughter Nina became an integral aspect of Hirschfeld’s caricaturist art. His preference for the term “characterist” was based on this other term’s possibly implied criticism and ridicule. Al’s were loving portraits.
Where’s NINA? Al’s daughter Nina was born in 1945. Originally as an inside joke, Al celebrated by hiding an artful “NINA” into his drawings. In time, more than one NINA might be inserted, the total identified by a numeral following the Hirschfeld signature.
NINA Numerology. Wikipedia offers a charming tale about NINA counting: Gallery owner/Hirschfeld specialist Margo Feiden recounted, “The NINA-counting mania was well illuminated when in 1973 an NYU student kept coming back to my Gallery to stare at the same drawing each day for more than a week. The drawing was Hirschfeld’s whimsical portrayal of New York’s Central Park.”
Feiden continued, “When curiosity finally got the best of me, I asked, ‘What is so riveting about that one drawing that keeps you here for hours, day after day?’ She answered that she had found only 11 of 39 NINAs and would not give up until all were located. I replied that the ’39’ next to Hirschfeld’s signature was the year. Nina was born in 1945.”
How many NINAs in the following?
None. This portrait was done in 1935. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021