Skip to content

Hirschfeld: The Biography by Ellen Stern

    If Al Hirschfeld drew you, you knew you made it. I was quite surprised that is the first biography on the life of Hirschfeld. The simplicity of his lines captured his subjects and immortalized them. Ellen Stern has in turn captured Hirschfeld in words.

    Al Hirschfeld knew everybody and drew everybody. He occupied the twentieth century and illustrated it. Hirschfeld: The Biography is the first portrait of the renowned artist’s life—as spirited and unique as his pen-and-ink drawings. Beginning in the 1920s, he caricatured Hollywood actors, Washington politicians, and—his favorite—celebrities on the stage. Broadway belonged to Hirschfeld. His work appeared in the New York Times and other publications, as well as on book jackets, album covers, posters, and postage stamps, for more than seventy-five years.

    He lived in Paris, Moscow, and Bali, and in a pink New York townhouse on a star-studded block where his closest friends—Carol Channing, S. J. Perelman, Gloria Vanderbilt, Brooks Atkinson, Elia Kazan, Marlene Dietrich, and William Saroyan—flocked in and out. He played the piano, went to jazz joints with Eugene O’Neill, and wrote a musical that bombed. He drove until he was ninety-eight years old and always found a parking space. He worked every day, threw dinner parties twice a week, and hosted New Year’s Eve soirees that were legendary. He had three wives, a formidable agent, and a daughter, Nina, the most famous little girl that no one knows.

    Hirschfeld died in 2003, at the age of ninety-nine. “If you live long enough,” he liked to say, “everything happens.” For him, it did. And good and bad—it’s all here. Through interviews with Hirschfeld himself, his friends and family (including the mysterious Nina), and his famous subjects, as well as through letters, scrapbooks, and home movies, Ellen Stern has crafted a delightful, detailed, and definitive portrait of Al Hirschfeld, one of our most beloved, and most influential, artists.

    Ellen Stern wrote the Best Bets column in New York magazine for ten years and was a writer and editor at the New York Daily News, the East Side Express, and GQ. Her books include The Very Best from HallmarkOnce Upon a TelephoneSister SetsThreads, and Gracie Mansion. She was born in New Haven, Connecticut, and she graduated from Juilliard. She lives in New York City.

    Tony M.