Famed Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld Dies * * A.P. - January 20, 2003 10:17 AM EST * * Al Hirschfeld, whose graceful, fluid caricatures captured the essence of performers from Charlie Chaplin to Jerry Seinfeld, died Monday. He was 99. Hirschfeld, who first had his drawings published in the 1920s and continued into the new century, died at his home, said his wife, Louise. "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. "Through trial and error you eliminate and eliminate and get down to the pure line and how it communicates to the viewer," he said. "The last drawing you do is the best one - it should be." 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, complete with the Hirschfeld hallmarks of fluid line, spiky cross-hatching, a graceful pose - and four Ninas. He immortalized entertainers from Ethel Merman to the casts of the 2001 smash "The Producers" and the 2002 revival of "Oklahoma!" "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 his daughter 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 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." He collaborated with humorist S.J. Perelman on several projects, including "Westward Ha! Or, Around the World in 80 Cliches," a 1948 best-seller based on their travels on assignment for Holiday magazine. Less successful was their ill-fated attempt at a musical, "Sweet Bye and Bye," written with Ogden Nash and Vernon Duke. He also illustrated "Harlem," text by William Saroyan, and "Treadmill to Oblivion," text by Fred Allen. Among his published collections of drawings were "The World of Hirschfeld" and "The American Theatre as Seen by Hirschfeld." Hirschfeld was author as well as illustrator of the 1951 book, "Show Business Is No Business." 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. The stamp booklet featured Hirschfeld's renditions of comedians such as Jack Benny, Laurel & Hardy and Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy. He followed up that up in 1994 with a series of stamps honoring silent film stars such as Rudolph Valentino and Buster Keaton. But his works have graced museum walls as well as penny envelopes, and are in the permanent collections of several major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York. Albert Hirschfeld was born June 21, 1903, in St. Louis. The family later moved to New York, where 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, from 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." "It's not work. Work to me is something you don't want to do, but you have to do it to live. But what I do, I would do whether anybody wanted it or didn't want it." A 1996 feature-length documentary, "The Line King," told about his life, but in person Hirschfeld did not dwell on the past. "I'm not interested in what comes next or what was before," he says. "I'm interested in the here and now." Hirschfeld's wife, actress Dolly Haas, died in 1994. Two years later, Hirschfeld married Louise Kerz, a 60-year-old museum curator.