Yesterday, Co.Design covered a new exhibition of the late, great Broadway caricaturist Al Hirschfeld’s work at the New York Public Library. Over the course of his 82-year career, Hirschfeld was interviewed by the biggest of wigs and ran in the glitziest of circles, drawing stars from Whoopi Goldberg to Duke Ellington to Carol Channing. But there’s a secret that even the most expert of Hirschfeld historians have never known: Two days before Hirschfeld died at age 99, he gave one final interview to a divinely chosen young boy, the 10-year-old Oliver Dunne (my brother).
In this never-before-seen interview, Hirschfeld reveals shocking secrets: his love of lo mein, his favorite book, and where he found his cat.
Al Hirschfeld lived down the street from my family when I was growing up, in a building painted pink. An old man’s face was engraved in its façade, a long Poseidon-like beard curling out into stone tendrils. This wise gargoyle was obviously meant to be the majestically bearded Line King himself. My siblings and I heard much about the man who lived there and drew pictures that got reproduced weekly in the thousands. We might as well have lived next to a legitimate wizard. My mom taught us to hunt for the “Ninas” hidden in his illustrations in the Sunday Times, numbered next to Hirschfeld’s signature.
When my brother Oliver was 10, he had to make a neighborhood newsletter for a school project, his reporting assignment to interview “interesting people.” Along with a rabbi and a hand surgeon, my brother asked our nearby nonagenerian illustrator if he could talk to him. Hirschfeld said yes, and Oliver walked down the block to the great and powerful wizard’s home.
Two days later, my family was driving down the scenic New Jersey turnpike to visit grandparents. Oliver was hogging the Game Boy, saying he just had to finish evolving his Charmander, when the radio announced that world-famous illustrator Al Hirschfeld had just died in his home. Oliver dropped the Game Boy. “Ninety-nine years old, just five months away from his 100th birthday,” said the radio.
“That was his last interview,” said Oliver, stricken and searching for some greater cosmic meaning in the fact. Did he have something to do with this tragedy? Bestowed with Hirschfeld’s final words of wisdom, was he some kind of heir to this King? Above, in the Goat Hill Gazette, the Line King’s Last Interview.