Ellen Stern...trots out a trove of breezy anecdotes—her present-tense prose at times galloping to keep up with Hirschfeld’s travel-happy younger years—to capture the colorful life behind his quill-pen line that, in its light and fluid grace, has summoned metaphoric comparisons to Fred Astaire ... Stern deftly reflects Hirschfeld’s warmth and wit in recollecting these heady decades ... Hirschfeld: The Biography fizzes along merrily when describing his life as a bon vivant and slows the pace appropriately when times grow more difficult ... as fertile as Hirschfeld’s life is, Stern’s stories are most engaging when the focus returns to the art ... Mostly, though, Stern paints a thoughtfully textured portrait of the man in the blue jumpsuit who sat in his Koken barber chair...and drew most days from morning to dinnertime, at peace alone while re-creating the world as a poetic flow of India ink.
Stern...doesn’t flinch from the flaws and failures behind that gruff visage and Moses beard ... Stern’s book is thoroughly researched and her prose lump-free. She clearly stayed up late doing her homework. (How the hell did she ever dig up the fact that Hirschfeld not only played semipro baseball early in his New York days, but did so alongside Lou Gehrig?) Good for her, good for Al Hirschfeld, of whom there will never be another.
Ellen Stern's biography of theatrical caricaturist Al Hirschfeld reads more like a gossipy 300-page article in New York magazine (where Stern has worked) than the biography of record suggested by the definite article modifying its subtitle ... For those not put off by Stern's glib tone, there's plenty of what she calls 'rich pickin's' in this portrait of Hirschfeld ... She also provides a lively account of the development of Hirschfeld's distinctive style, as well as welcome fact-checks on several of the tales he stretched as tall as his familiar elongated signature. But Stern's book is marred by several of her own stylistic choices, including her decision to chase a sense of immediacy by relaying Hirschfeld's life story—all 99 years of it—in the present tense. This gets old faster than her subject. Be forewarned, too, that Stern's narrative is splattered with enough barely contextualized names to fill a phone book—many of which are unlikely to ring bells ... Harder to ignore is Stern's predilection for cutesy puns, with the result that this biography feels like a vintage issue of Time magazine ... Stern does an okay job capturing the impact of Hirschfeld's expressive, swooping black lines ... there are fun facts, too, in this evocation of a world in which newspapers and pen-and-ink flourished.
Stern goes to great lengths to chronicle Nina’s troubled life (she is still alive); her multiple marriages and her futile search for a satisfying career are dealt with by Stern with unnecessary harshness ... Stern, a writer best known for her magazine journalism, writes with gusto (if occasionally overeager banter) and an admirable fondness for her subject, although telling his story in the present tense throughout often seems too informal. But her research is exhaustive and her command of detail impressive ... Skyhorse has done the book no favors. The finished copy is drab, the paper stock feels substandard, the typeface less elegant, and worst of all, a book representing an artist of supreme style and limitless exuberance reflects little of that legacy. Shockingly, there is but a single representation of Hirschfeld’s later great work in the photo well ... Even the book cover is sadly dour, given the subject’s signature style, and markedly different from that of the elegant advance copy ... Whatever the story behind the book, Hirschfeld and Stern deserve better.
This biography is as elegant and witty as Hirschfeld's art itself, and author Stern...deftly weaves her way through the artist's life from his birth in St. Louis to his final days in a pink Manhattan brownstone. Stern's affection for and knowledge of her subject is imbued with humor and charm and allows readers to know the man behind the minimalism, both the good and the bad. His story includes a stellar cast of characters ... For those interested in biographies, the art of illustration, 20th-century theater and Broadway, it's a journey well worth taking.
Her brief, anecdotal chapters mirror his economy of space. Travels to Bali, Paris, Morocco, and Moscow as well as adventures in his beloved home, New York, are covered with equal value and humor. The countless details of his thousands of works and 75-year career may be impossible to collect, especially those stuffed into a suitcase lost by the forgetful artist, yet Stern offers appreciation of portraits, Broadway, film, opera, and more—the real skinny on everything Hirschfeld.
Over the years, [Stern] has conducted extensive interviews with those who knew him—the book is packed with quotations—and had access to personal letters, journals, and scrapbooks, resulting in this much-needed, affectionate, and entertaining book-length profile ... As the first substantive biography of Hirschfeld, this will be welcomed by art and Broadway lovers alike.