With a new season of the arts finally happening and audiences back in theaters, concert halls and museums, we wanted to explore how Al Hirschfeld viewed a new season. What did he draw, and what does it tell us about that season? For more than sixty years, Hirschfeld showed us the people and the productions we should look for as the season unfolded.
It is not surprising that he often showed us what stage productions were about to open. Beginning in 1931 he gathered actors in new shows and created unique composites of the performers in their roles. He was a frequent visitor to rehearsals and while his contemporaries might be lying on the beach, Hirschfeld enjoyed the cool of a frequently windowless rehearsal room in late August. He was literally a curtain raiser, often taking viewers backstage and behind the curtain to see what would be soon presented at a theater near them. He did the same with film, television, and even books as you will see.
Starting in 1977, the New York Times gave him the opportunity to bring all his interests together in busy composites of the personalities that held the most promise in the new season. Ten times over twelve years, Hirschfeld produced the faces of the new season as the cover of special sections for the paper that covered, theater, film, dance, television, music and the visual arts. These drawings alone told readers that a new season was about to start, and like his theater drawings, it made viewers as knowledgeable about what was going on as any expert.
So get into your seats, unwrap your candy as the house lights are dimming. As Cole Porter wrote:
“The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart,
It's curtain time and away we go,
Another op'nin', of another show!”
(Clockwise from top left) Paul Kelly and Sylvia Field in Just To Remind You; Boris Thomashefsky in The Singing Rabbi; Jack Haley in Free For All; Harry Ellerbe in The Man on Stilts
This image is the first time Hirschfeld heralded a new season in his work. It would be his closest look at the 1931-32 Broadway season, because after five more drawings of stage productions, he left the country to paint in Tahiti, before eventually landing on the island of Bali, where he spent most of 1932 discovering who he was an artist.
None of these five shows would become hits. The longest run of the group was Just to Remind You at two weeks. Paul Kelly was two decades away from his Tony for his role in Command Decision, and Sylvia Field, whose greatest previous successes were in George Kaufman plays before this production, is best remembered, if at all, for playing Mrs. Wilson in the TV series, Dennis the Menace. Boris Thomashefsky helped bring about the first performance of Yiddish theatre in New York City and was the grandfather of conductor of Michael Tilson Thomas. The Singing Rabbi was one of his Yiddish Theater successes, which he translated into English for this production. It lasted three performances. Jack Haley starred as a bumbling magician in Free for All, which the Times called “Communism with Music,” and which lyricist Oscar Hammerstein probably would have liked to forget. It ran 11 days. And Harry Ellerbee, who had made his Broadway debut in a Phillip Barry play earlier in the year, and would go on to play Ibsen with Alla Nazimova a few years later, was starring in a show here that ran a mere six performances. It was the first to fail in the new season.
Hirschfeld often attended rehearsals to make notes for his drawings, and he sometimes presented backstage scenes in his work. This image was the first to focus on the preparation of a production rather than the performers. White Horse Inn was unquestionably the most lavish and eagerly awaited musical theatre premiere of the 1936-1937 season (with the possible exception of Billy Rose's Jumbo). Advance word of the show's previous success in Germany created great expectations. Playing in the 3.700 seat Center Theater, sister venue to Radio City Music Hall, the show was the second stage production in the building. White Horse Inn was advertised in the daily papers as "Music, maids and minstrels by the million. The biggest thing in town for the money." The New York Times noted that it “involves mountain scenery and hotel architecture, costumes beautiful and varied enough to bankrupt a designer's imagination, choruses that can do anything from the hornpipe to a resounding slap-dance, grand processionals with royalty loitering before the commoners, a steamboat, a yacht, a char-à-banc, four real cows and a great deal more of the same. Indeed, the enthusiasm with which 'White Horse Inn' has been created has virtually transformed the enormous Center Theatre into a Tyrol village.” The Daily Mirror mentioned that “it is difficult to give you an idea of the immensity of 'White Horse Inn'. It is gargantuan. It is the Queen Mary of extravaganzas…It boasts acres of settings, hundreds of performers. It is a grand and glittering sight for the eyes.”
(l to r) First row Norman Lloyd in Everywhere I Roam; Paula Laurence in Sing for Your Supper; Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina; Jimmy Savo and Teddy Hart in The Boys From Syracuse; Eva Le Gallienne in Madam Capet; Hiram Sherman and Philip Loeb in Sing Out the News;
This fascinating collection of shows and performers captures a unique moment on Broadway where history and the classics provided many stories for shows. Johnny Appleseed, Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Herod the Great, Jesse James, Peter Stuyvesant, and Abraham Lincoln all played roles in these productions. Shakespeare is the author or source material for two shows as The Boys from Syracuse is adapted from his Comedy of Errors. The following year he would become the most produced playwright of the season. Orson Welles’ production of Richard III was never realized, and other shows that were not seen in New York included Herod and Marianne.
Although Norman Lloyd was listed in the newspaper caption as being in the cast of the Federal Theater Project’s Sing for Your Supper, he was not in it. It appears that Hirschfeld drew him in costume for another Federal Theater project performance in Power, which he had played in earlier that spring. In the fall of 1938 Lloyd starred as Johnny Appleseed in Everywhere I Roam, a show which fits nicely into this theme.
In costume for various operas (l to r) Evelyn Gardiner, Martyn Green, Richard Walker, Darrell Fancourt, Brenda Bennett, Sylvia Cecil and Sydney Granville
The D'Oyly-Carte Opera Company as it was officially called, and which originally commissioned Gilbert and Sullivan to write their famous operettas, was the only company to perform them professionally in the 1930s. It had toured America and come to Broadway sporadically as far back as 1885, but the 1930s saw a sustained presence on Broadway with three different residencies in 1934, 1936, and 1939. Their home in New York was the Martin Beck Theatre, now known as the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. For all three visits, Hirschfeld drew a season composite such as this for one paper, but often drew individual productions for other papers during the run. While he never drew the composing team themselves, he did draw actors playing them a year earlier. He would continue to draw Gilbert and Sullivan productions through the 1980s when Masterpiece Theatre presented a number of the shows on television.
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Hirschfeld spent the summer of 1940 visiting summer playhouses for several New York newspapers. In Hershey, Pennsylvania that summer he saw the German actress Dolly Haas for the first time and was smitten. In New York that same summer, he visited theaters to catch the preparations for the new season, both on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall. In this work he drew a composite of three different shows preparing for their early fall openings. Dante the Magician was playing a limited engagement of his magic show at the Morosco and its title was taken from his stage trademark, which was to utter three nonsense words, "Sim Sala Bim" during his performances to acknowledge applause. He directed the production under his real name and gave the audience its money worth. As the Times reported, “When giving a show, Dante gives a show.”
The other two productions did their own versions of a disappearing trick. Bangtails never opened. MacGregor had directed Irving Berlin’s hit, Louisiana Purchase earlier in the year, and as one of the busiest directors of the period, when this show fell through, he went on to direct Hold On To Your Hats with Al Jolson and Martha Raye and then Panama Hattie with Ethel Merman that fall.
Jupiter Laughs featuring a young Jessica Tandy only ran for three weeks. The play received terrible reviews, but Tandy did not. In fact, some reviewers regretted that she was ill served by the material, as she had been for her last several appearances, a trend that would continue until she played Blanche Du Bois in the original production of A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947.
(Clockwise from top left): Lois Bannerman, William Saroyan, Maxwell Bodenheim, Canada Lee, Carol Marcus, and Andrew Ratousheff
“The new drama season opens tonight at 8:40 at the Belasco when Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning and Talking to You, both written, produced and directed by William Saroyan, will be offered as the first presentations of the Saroyan Theatre,” declared the New York Times. “Mr. Saroyan plans to present one of his plays every two weeks if he is not inducted into the Army before he can carry out his scheme.”
Saroyan hired a down-on-his-luck Bodenheim to play himself in his one-act play, Across the Board on Tomorrow Morning. According to Saroyan’s biographers, "Bill's promotion of street characters to stage roles took a disturbing turn with the entrance of [Bodenheim], for decades the quintessential Greenwich Village Bohemian, but now a ravaging piece of human wreckage, [on opening night his] ad-libbed poetry only made the audience more fidgety, and those who tried to escape ... were greeted by a wall of rain."
Although the double bill only lasted five nights, and the Saroyan theatre was never heard of again, the production did hold the distinction of presenting the first Filipinos on the Broadway stage. As for the plays themselves, Saroyan wrote when one of the plays was published, “This play isn’t going to be the same for every person who sees it. Two times two is the same for everybody, but one never is, and you start to understand everything when you start to understand one. One of everything. That’s what art goes after. The whole. The works. One.”
Carol Marcus would marry Saroyan twice (1943-1949 and 1951-1952). Hirschfeld had known her since she was a teenager, and he squired around her, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Oona Chaplin to nightclubs to show them what the city had to offer. She would go on to have a long and happy marriage to another Hirschfeld friend, Walter Matthau.
This scene of the audience in a Broadway theater on opening night was originally drawn from Hirschfeld’s 1951 satirical book on putting on a show, Show Business is No Business. In the book he describes all the players in the drama of opening night including the playwright, the producer, angels, the relatives, the director, performers, and musicians. Hirschfeld takes pleasure in enumerating all the things that will go wrong on opening night, regardless of the preparation, but writes, “Once the curtain is up, you are in that unenviable position of observing two years of work kaleidoscoped into a two-hour experience. Nothing said or seen will give you the slightest clue to your fate; the immediate, audible response of the audience will not in any way reflect their private opinions, so you might as well relax. First-night audiences seem equally as enchanted with a failure as with a success.”
This image was used as the show poster in 1983 for the original Broadway production of Noises Off, a farce about a traveling theater troupe putting on a show.
(l to r) Top row Anne Baxter (Square Root of Wonderful) Robert Preston (The Music Man); Agnes Moorehead (The Rivalry); Karl Malden (The Egghead); Shelley Winters (The Saturday Night Kid)
Bottom: Joan Blondell (Copper and Brass); Dorothy McGuire (Winesburg, Ohio); Lena Horne, Ricardo Montalban (Jamaica); Pat O’Brien (Miss Lonelyhearts); and Teresa Wright (Dark at the Top of the Stairs)
There has always been a revolving door of performers from Broadway to Hollywood and back. In 1957, there was a large contingent of actors known primarily for their film work coming to Broadway, and some made hits, a few made legends, and quite a few starred in flops. Robert Preston was one of those who created a legend in the role of Harold Hill in The Music Man, by far his biggest hit both on stage and screen. Lena Horne and Ricardo Montalban also made their biggest Broadway hit in Jamaica, a musical written by Hirschfeld friends Harold Arlen and “Yip” Harburg. Teresa Wright continued her string of stage and screen successes as well, having appeared in the original production of Our Town and Life with Father on Broadway, and the Little Foxes, The Pride of the Yankees, and The Best Years of Our Lives in Hollywood. The rest of these performers had a nice visit to Broadway, but they didn’t stay long. For performers like Karl Malden and Pat O’Brien, despite many stage appearances before this season, The Egghead and Miss Lonelyhearts, each which ran just over two weeks, were their final Broadway appearances. Shelley Winters and Agnes Moorehead’s shows did not even make it to Broadway. Joan Blondell's comedy, Copper and Brass, did get a Hirschfeld poster for its one month on Broadway.
(l to r) Top Doris Day in The Doris Day Show; Andrew Duggan, Wayne Maunder, and James Stacy in Lancer;
Bottom: Robert Morse in That’s Life; Otis Young and Don Murray in The Outcast
Hirschfeld captioned this work “Some of the new shows scheduled (between commercials) for this fall on your groan box.” In the era before cable television, the new television season on the three networks were subjects of great anticipation. The television mirrored the theater season in that it ran from September to the end of May, only the networks would then repeat the shows (commonly referred to as “reruns”) over the summer.
These shows represent their time. The Outcasts was a story of two cowboys, one Black, and one White, who work together even if they aren’t friends, reminiscent of The Defiant Ones. Julia was a groundbreaking series, the first to star a Black woman in a non-stereotypical role, but at the time, some critics thought the show was too apolitical. Gil Scott-Heron’s classic “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised) name checks the series as something you won’t see when the uprising comes. Robert Morse starred in a innovative series that charted the ups and downs of a young couple, in the form of a Broadway-style musical. It was filmed before a live audience and featured new songs, standards, and even pop hits of the day. Despite an Emmy nomination and guest stars that ranged from Liza Minnelli to Sid Caesar it ran only one season. Like the theater, many of these shows had very short runs.
While it only ran for two seasons, Lancer has continued to play role in American culture. The 2019 movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood incorporates a fictionalized account of the filming of Lancer's pilot episode, with Leonardo DiCaprio appearing as a villain in the episode. Additional scenes are featured in the film’s novelization.
(l to r) Top: Glenda Jackson and George Segal in A Touch of Class; Harry Dean Stanton and Cliff Potts in Count Your Bullets; Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Harvey, and Billie Whitelaw in Night Watch
Bottom: Raymond St. Jacques and Freda Payne in Book of Numbers; Paul Lynde, Burl Ives and Hugo in Hugo the Hippo
Brut Productions was a film production company that was an offshoot of Fabergé cosmetics under owner and CEO, George Barrie. Named for the men’s fragrance he had created, Brut Proudction’s first slate of releases got the full Hirschfeld treatment. A plastic version of Hugo the Hippo, the star of the eponymous animated feature, would become a fixture in the Hirschfeld studio. The films met with a mixed reception. A Touch of Class was the biggest hit and earned a second drawing that was used for publicity. Night Watch, adapted from a stage play, also did well. Critics commented on the stylish look of Book of Numbers and were pleased to see Black actors in roles other than the stereotypes of Blaxploitation films.
(Clockwise from top right) Peter Firth in Equus; Angela Lansbury in Gypsy, Gerladine Page, Richard Kiley and Sandy Dennis in Absurd Person Singular; Ben Gazzara in Hughie; Maureen Stapleton, Jack Lemmon, and Walter Matthau in Juno & the Paycock, Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters in Mack & Mabel; and Charlton Heston in Macbeth
This drawing appeared under the headline “The Stages Are Being Set—on Broadway and Around the Land” to herald the new productions coming to Broadway and Los Angeles in the coming months. Macbeth and Juno and the Paycock were presented in LA. Hirschfeld adapted his drawing of Lemmon, Matthau and Stapleton for the poster of that production at the Mark Taper Forum. Hirschfeld also did a drawing for a print advertisement for the Gypsy revival starring Angela Lansbury, which was used both in New York and on tour. He would go on to do cast drawings for Absurd Person Singular and Mack & Mabel that appeared on the Sundays before the productions opened, and four “Friday” drawings of cast replacements during the three-year run of Equus.
(l to r) Donnie Ray Albert and Clamma Dale in Porgy and Bess; Mildred Dunnock in Days in The Trees; Billy Dee Williams in I Have a Dream; Brad Blaisdell and Kimberly Farr in Going Up
In September 1976, there was still enough Broadway activity to have four shows opening early in the season in one week. Porgy and Bess was part of a national tour that opened July 1, 1976., and after its first leg, transferred to the Mark Hellinger Theatre. After four months on Broadway, it returned to its national tour. Dunnock, the original Linda Loman in A Death of a Salesman and Big Mama in A Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, played a successful mother who visits her wastrel son in this Marguerite Duras play at Circle in the Square. It ran for two months. Robert Greenwald conceived of a play about Martin Luther King Jr. in his own words and directed Billy Dee Williams in the title role. It too ran for two months. Going Up was a revival of an 1917 Otto Harbach musical about an aviator that transferred from the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut. Goodspeed had three other musical revivals on Broadway at the time, capturing the wave of nostalgia that Broadway and the country were experiencing, but this show did not catch on and ran for only six weeks.
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In the fall of 1977, the New York Times added a special Arts and Leisure section to the Sunday paper to explore the new season of the arts in New York and around the country. They naturally chose Hirschfeld to pull together an unlikely assortment of individuals from the performing arts, as he had already produced iconic works in all the genres. There were few chances to put Cezanne, Neil Young, and Red Foxx in a drawing together, but the season ahead had roles for each one: a MOMA retrospective, a new album Rust Never Sleeps, and a new self-titled TV series respectively. This drawing features some cross-cultural moments such as Bette Midler dancing Balanchine’s “Seven Deadly Sins” and Rudolf Nureyev acting the title role in the film, Valentino. Theatre was at the center of Hirschfeld’s new season, including many famous subjects like Jason Robards Jr. (in a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Touch of the Poet), Anne Bancroft (in Golda) and Neil Simon (writing Chapter Two). His portrait of Zero Mostel would be his last from life as the actor died after the first performance of a new play, The Merchant, in Philadelphia during its pre-Broadway tryout.
There was no New Season section in the Times in 1978 because of a newspaper strike, but the 1979 edition picked up where Hirschfeld had left off. This complicated composite of personalities to watch in the new season is a collection of deceptively simple images compiled into an integrated tapestry of the arts of the time. The only repeats from two years earlier were Henri Matisse, who had a show at the Guggenheim, and Beverly Sills was sang Menotti’s “La Loca” at the New York City Opera. Music had a mix from Elton John to Dizzy Gillespie to Leonard Bernstein, and television personalities included two Black actors, Robert Guillaume and James Earl Jones who were starring in new series. Theater was still the centerpiece of the new season for the artist. Here he captured what would be the most talked-about role of the year, Patti Lupone in the title role of Evita. He also had Mickey Rooney, about to open in the burlesque styled Sugar Babies, almost in conversation with Maggie Smith in Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day. For film he drew Meryl Streep in her memorable role in Kramer vs. Kramer, Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman, and Bob Fosse in his semi-autobiographical film, All That Jazz. This work included his only drawings of dancers Murray Louis and Martine Van Hamel.
The Times continued to print a special section on the new season through 1984, with Hirschfeld panoplies of portraits from the performing arts on the covers of all of them. Two of these works were considered so special that they were published as hand signed, limited edition prints in 1983 and 1984. After a two-year hiatus, in 1987 the section came back, but this time as a magazine section, but still with Hirschfeld performing arts panoramas. In 1989, his cover of the section became his first color work for the New York Times. He drew it as a black and white work and added splashes of watercolor. It would be another five years before he would do a color painting for an uncoated newspaper page. This new season image contained many performers who were making a return appearance in a Hirschfeld drawing, and several who were making their debuts, including Midori, Emily Lloyd, and Tracey Chapman. Hirschfeld’s friend, artist Alexander Calder, is also included because of a show of his small works at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York. Hirschfeld put theatre at the top of the work with Tommy Tune directing the new musical, Grand Hotel, and Blair Brown in a new David Hare play, The Secret Rapture. Shirley MacLaine is next in line in a film adaptation of the stage hit, Steel Magnolias.
Clockwise from top left: Shirley MacLaine, Stephen King, Gloria Steinem, and Dan Rather
In 1991 Scribner’s published Hirschfeld: Art and Recollections from Eight Decades and the publishing world was so excited that the bible of the industry, Publisher’s Weekly, commissioned a cover of four authors who had books coming out in the new season, Hirschfeld only drawing for the publication. Shirley MacLaine wrote a new memoir, Dance While You Can, which looked at her life through the lens of acting in the film, Postcards from the Edge. Stephen King had two new books, The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands and Needful Things. Gloria Steinem published a memoir, Revolution from Within, that was subtitled “A Book of Self-Esteem.” Television broadcaster and journalist Dan Rather co-authored I Remember with Peter Wyden that detailed his youth in in Texas during the late 1930s and early 1940s.
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(l to r) Carol Burnett in Moon Over Buffalo; Carol Channing in Hello Dolly; Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria; Zoe Caldwell in Master Class; Elizabeth Ashley in Suddenly Last Summer; Uta Hagen in Mrs. Klein
The 1995-96 theater season in New York was a starry affair, with a half dozen well-known actresses appearing in new or revival productions. Burnett was returning to Broadway after thirty years to star in a new comedy, which Hirschfeld made sketches for one of the last times in an out-of-town tryout. Channing brought her 30th anniversary production of Hello Dolly to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, which would prove to be her last appearance on Broadway. Julie Andrews ended her more than 30-year hiatus when she came back in the stage musical adaptation of her classic film. Like the film, the musical was produced and directed by her husband, legendary director Blake Edwards. Zoe Caldwell was in her last Broadway starring role in what was arguably her biggest hit. Ashley, a well-regarded Tennessee Williams interpreter, had only been gone from the Great White Way for 12 years before she returned this season in a Williams classic. Hagen was the only one of these leading ladies who was appearing off Broadway that season, in what was her penultimate role on stage after a nearly ten-year absence.