Al Hirschfeld’s pen lines—swooping, curling, and twisting—could distill a famous face to its calligraphic essence and make gestures dance on the page. His career began with Goldwyn Studios movie posters in the 1920s, and he was still doing his iconic theater drawings for The New York Times (where he worked for over seventy years) into the new millennium. As for chronicling American entertainment—whether theater, movies, or television, in newspapers, on magazine covers or record jackets—it was The Hirschfeld Century (Knopf, $40). The book is organized by decades, with text by Hirschfeld Foundation archivist David Leopold—who curated the accompanying New York Historical Society exhibit this year. You see the breadth of Hirschfeld’s early work, and watch his characteristic line emerge around 1930 (among his influences: Japanese woodcuts, Vanity Fair caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias, and a trip to Bali). As you leaf through the pages, you are also a witness to American theater history, since Hirschfeld drew every out-of-town preview in time for a Broadway opening. This beautifully produced book is the most complete and insightful work on Hirschfeld yet.
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