- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) Al Hirschfeld, whose graceful, fluid caricatures captured the essence of performers including Charlie Chaplin and Jerry Seinfeld, died yesterday. He was 99.
Mr. Hirschfeld, who first had his drawings published in the 1920s and continued into the new century, died at his home, said his wife, Louise.
He said his creative process was somewhat of a mystery, even to him.
"All I know is that when it works, I'm aware of it. But how it's accomplished, I don't know," he once said.
His drawings usually contained hidden tributes to his daughter, Nina. Just last month, the New York Times published a drawing by him of entertainer Tommy Tune, with the Hirschfeld hallmarks of fluid line, spiky cross-hatching, a graceful pose and four "Ninas."
"There was tremendous art and wit in his work, and underneath it all his drawings had tremendous humanity," actor Joel Grey said yesterday. "They weren't vicious. He made them brilliant and provocative but without being destructive, and that's quite a feat."
Mr. Hirschfeld immortalized entertainers including Ethel Merman and the casts of the 2001 smash "The Producers" and the 2002 revival of "Oklahoma." He won a special Tony Award in 1975.
"I try to capture the character of the play or the individual, rather than making a caricature for caricature's sake. Making a big nose bigger isn't witty," he said in a 1991 Associated Press interview.
"It has its own laws, its own dimensions. And I'm always amazed it communicates to somebody else."
Hiding Nina's name in his drawings started as a little joke by a proud new father in 1945 and became a tradition. "Nina" showed up in the performer's hair, on the sleeve, in the folds of a dress. Sometimes, there were a half-dozen or more in one drawing, and Mr. Hirschfeld helpfully put a number next to his signature if there was more than one.
"When I started it, I didn't think anybody would notice," he said. "It was one of those family things, and after three or four weeks, I thought the joke had worn thin and I stopped it.
"And then the letters started coming in. I found myself spending more time answering mail than drawing, so I gave up and put it back in. And kept it in."
In 1991, he received a unique tribute from the Postal Service, which for the first time put an artist's name on a booklet of stamps and allowed hidden writing on a stamp "Nina," of course.
Albert Hirschfeld was born June 21, 1903, in St. Louis. The family later moved to New York, where Mr. Hirschfeld studied at the Art Students League. His first job was as art director for a movie studio.
In 1924, he left for Paris and spent a few years studying painting, drawing and sculpture there and in London. He gradually realized that drawing was what he liked to do best.
During a trip back in New York, a friend of his showed one of his sketches of an actor to someone the friend knew at the New York Herald Tribune. That led to assignments for that paper and, a short time later, for the Times.
"I never take a day off," he once said. "When I would travel, I would always draw. I wouldn't know what else to do."
Mr. Hirschfeld's wife, actress Dolly Haas, died in 1994. Two years later, Mr. Hirschfeld married Louise Kerz, a 60-year-old museum curator. In addition to his widow, he is survived by his daughter, Nina, and a grandson.


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