The quadrennial spectacle of the presidential campaign is one of the few shows playing around the country at the moment, and like most theatre it includes heroes and villains, backstage crews, directors, designers and critics, all playing for audiences everywhere. While Al Hirschfeld admitted he did not have the bile needed to be a political commentator, and preferred for writers to pick the good guys and the bad guys, for nine decades he drew virtually every president of his lifetime, and thanks to Broadway and Hollywood, he got to draw a few more.
Now for the first time, we have gathered 25 pieces that document Hirschfeld’s view of the Oval Office occupants from an early sculpture of Abraham Lincoln to a drawing of the popular television show The West Wing more than eighty years later. Hirschfeld drew the President and any challengers in good times and in bad times, in musicals and in dramas, and in thrillers and comedies. Hirschfeld’s presidential drawings earned him two private visits to the White House, artwork on an aircraft carrier, a copy of LBJ’s State of the Union address, and probably played a role is his receiving a National Medal of the Arts (awarded posthumously in 2003 at the White House). No matter what your party, join Hirschfeld on the campaign trail headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Lincoln was the first president that Hirschfeld immortalized, albeit in a medium he would soon abandon. While still a teenager, Hirschfeld thought he wanted to be a sculptor, but he came to realize that sculpture was “just a drawing you could trip over in the dark.” Nevertheless, he kept this work from his days at the National Academy of Design in his studio for the rest of his life. At some point a friend gave him a sign that read “Remember it was an actor who shot Lincoln.”
(Clockwise from bottom left) Victor Moore, Philip Loeb, Lois Moran, and William Gaxton,
In 1932, the Gershwins, George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind made satirizing presidential campaigns into a hit, the kind that the Pulitzer committee recognizes, making Of Thee I Sing the first musical ever to win a Pulitzer for Best Drama (George Gershwin was famously not included because he “only” wrote the music.) For the sequel, the creative quartet returned with an even more biting satire that had John Wintergreen, their imaginary presidential candidate who won on a platform of love, lose his re-election, and eventually become a “blue shirt” revolutionary fascist. He takes back the White House, but is soon forced out by the same revolution he had started. While the music was diverting, the rowdy satire of the book caused the show to run a mere 90 performances, and it has never been revived on Broadway.
(Clockwise from top left) Ruth Holden in Ah, Wilderness; Burgess Meredith in She Loves Me Not; Larry Fletcher in Sailor, Beware; Anthony Kemble-Cooper in Mary of Scotland; Leslie Adams and Helen Broderick in As Thousands Cheer.
The first half of the 1932-33 Broadway season had a number of big hits. Irving Berlin and Moss Hart’s dynamic revue, As Thousands Cheer may have been the biggest as it stripped down the revue and remade it for a new decade. Berlin wrote several classics for the show including “Easter Parade”, “Heatwave”, and “Suppertime”. But what put the show in the center of this drawing, was Hart’s skit "Franklin D. Roosevelt to Be Inaugurated Tomorrow," that featured outgoing president Herbert Hoover and his wife on their last night in the White House. While Hoover accepts his fate, his wife is planning to steal some silver and one of the many portraits of George Washington. Hoover tries to cheer her up: ''It could be worse -- I could have been re-elected.'' Instead she goads him into calling associates and newsmen to rebuke them with Bronx cheers.
“Everybody had an angle, everybody was raking in the chips, there was no excuse not to have money – and along with everybody else, I was right in there, my front feet planted firmly in the trough,” Polly Adler wrote in her memoir. New York City’s underworld – including the gamblers, bootleggers, and corrupt public servants who were her best customers – was thriving during the Prohibition era.
That all changed in the early 1930s when legendary gangbuster Thomas E. Dewey was appointed as a special prosecutor charged with cleaning up organized crime in the city. Polly wasn’t worried at first, but then, one by one, Dewey began sending her pals to prison. In 1936, when she realized that Dewey had her in his sights, Polly went on the lam to Hawaii. She escaped unscathed, but her friend Lucky Luciano was convicted of compulsory prostitution and sentenced to thirty years behind bars.
Dewey parlayed his fame as a crime-fighter to become the governor of New York in 1943 and a Republic contender for the White House. During the presidential election of 1952, Polly was adamant that she would never vote for a Republican, because, as she explained, “I simply can’t stand Dewey in the picture, his mustash tickles me. I have no respect for a guy who picks on the underdog to make him Governor.”
This drawing appeared on the cover of November 4, 1944 issue of The Nation. Hirschfeld wrote about what happened next in The World of Hirschfeld (Harry Abrams, 1970). “I had never met him, I had no need to. His personality was bigger than his features. To me he was Mister America—I visualized his face as a star-spangled flag in my caricature.” The president liked the drawing and invited the artist to the White House. Hirschfeld wrote that when he arrived, “…The door to the inner sanctum was opened by a White House guard and there HE was, seated behind his desk, twelve feet high and extending a hand the size of a Maine lobster. Tripping over an ashtray, I came forward to have my hand and nerves shaken by the GREAT ONE. Minutes later I found myself uncomfortably at ease. The GOD became man-size. He blew his nose; the cigarette fell out of its holder; he misplaced his pen and couldn’t find it; he turned his head so that his face was in profile. And with an enforced smile and a specially designed, elongated cigarette holder clamped between his dentures…he held a pose like a professional model. It is on such occasions I regret my pencil is not a camera. As the end of the allotted fifteen minutes drew near, I was thankful I had never met President Lincoln.” The drawing was later put on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Stassen was a perpetual candidate for President running in 1944, 1948, 1952, 1964, 1968, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, and 1992. After being elected the youngest Governor of Minnesota in 1938, at the age of 31, he was the President of the University of Pennsylvania when he made his most successful attempt to secure the Republican nomination in 1948. He scored early primary victories, and his challenge to the eventual nominee, Thomas Dewey, was strong enough that the two held the first recorded Presidential debate in May of that year, which was broadcast around the country. The liberal Republican continued to run for President (as well as other offices), although each campaign was less successful than the last.
Hirschfeld created this image on assignment from Pageant magazine, one of four paintings for different publications that Hirschfeld did during Truman’s time in office. In this work he captured the view every President has to endure from their own party and the opposition. In 1948, when most pundits and publications assumed Dewey was going to win the election, Colliers had an entire issue devoted to Dewey’s win that included a Hirschfeld drawing of “Retreat From Washington” which depicted a line of the Trumans’ belongings leaving the building. When Truman won, the issue was killed, and the drawing went unseen until 42 years later when it was discovered in Hirschfeld’s studio and put into a book of his work.
(L to R) Alben W. Barclay, Bess and Harry S. Truman, Richard Nixon, Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower, and Chief Justice Frederick M. Vinson
Miquel Covarrubias had an enormous influence on Hirschfeld as an artist. In 1924, the two young men shared a studio. "There was something about Miquel's background that made him a natural graphic artist," recalled Hirschfeld, "and a lot of that rolled onto me." In 1933, the Mexican artist had captured the essence of FDR’s inauguration in classic work for Vanity Fair. 20 years later, with Covarrubias blacklisted and unable to work in the US, another Conde Nast publication, Vogue, asked Hirschfeld to create something similar for Eisenhower’s inauguration. Hirschfeld paid homage to his friend and his work, and this tonal study hung in the Hirschfeld home for more than a half century.
(L to R) John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, Chiang Kai-Shek, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro, 1962
Hirschfeld first met then Congressman John F. Kennedy in the late 1940s at a party at Gloria Vanderbilt’s. This is his only portrait of the 35th president, promoting CBS News as part of a historic advertising campaign, in which he drew nearly 100 caricatures to promote the new season on CBS television. Hirschfeld did draw Kennedy’s brothers, Robert and Ted, as well as his wife and son. He also drew William Devane as JFK for the TV move, The Missiles of October.
With (L to R) James Gregory, Leslie Parrish, Angela Lansbury, Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, and Janet Leigh
Frank Sinatra telephoned in February 1962 to invite Hirschfeld out to visit the set of his new political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, a thriller concerning sleeper agents, right wing demagogues, and a plot to assassinate a presidential nominee at the party’s convention. Hirschfeld went to Hollywood and drew dozens of sketches of the cast at work, and in between scenes. His first drawing immediately after he returned was a crowded work showing the cast in costume and crew seated around a radio on the set as they listened to John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. This second drawing, simpler but still packed with details, a striking composite of scenes from the film that showed the action but told none of the plot was syndicated around the country at the time of the film’s release in October 1962.
(L to R) Robert Ryan, Nanette Fabray, jack Haskell, Anita Gillette, and Jerry Strickler
After mining American history for his two Broadway shows in the 1940s, Irving Berlin’s last two Broadway shows looked to American politics for their stories. Call Me Madam in 1950 spoofed America’s postwar wealth and influence with a score that produced both hits and perhaps the most memorable campaign song, “I Like Ike.” Twelve years later, Berlin failed to find the right tune for the fictional commander-in-chief at the center of Mr. President. Written while the country basked in the promise of the Kennedy administration, the show felt like a lame duck.
(L to R) Shelly Berman, Ann Sothern, Henry Fonda, Margaret Leighton, Kevin McCarthy, Edie Adams, Lee Tracy, and Cliff Robertson
When Gore Vidal’s play opened on Broadway in March of 1960 it was seen a thinly veiled attack on the Kennedys and the Democratic party convention that would take place that summer. The story concerned two candidates at an unnamed party convention who are vying for the nomination. Secretary of State William Russell(inspired by Adlai Stevenson) lives by his principles but is haunted by health problems, while Senator Joe Cantwell (based on John F. Kennedy) presents himself as a populist whose desire to win at all costs reveals the cynical nature of his campaign. The hit play was adapted for a United Artists film release with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson, and this drawing was sent to publications around the world to promote the film
For eighteen months in 1964 and 1965, Playbill devoted a page in each issue to Hirschfeld’s “Unlikely Casting”, in which he imagined actors in roles they would never play, such as Sir John Gielgud in Tobacco Road, or Carol Channing as Lady Macbeth. The only non-performance image in the series was dedicated to the 1964 Presidential election. Hirschfeld’s drawing of Johnson’s inauguration earned his second invitation to the Oval Office (a story unto itself), and he would later illustrate a humorous book on the Johnson’s dogs, My Year in the White House Doghouse.
One of the odder works in this exhibition. This image was created for Bonnie Blue detergent, which published an offset lithograph of the work, presumably as a customer reward. Why a detergent company thought a Hirschfeld drawing of two presidential candidates, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey, would help sell their product is unknown, but the company did prevail on the artist to eschew his typical NINAs for BONNIEs for this work. A preliminary study for this work is in the Library of Congress.
(L to R) Paul Hecht, Howard Da Silva, Clifford David, William Daniels, Ronald Holgate, and Ken Howard.
Long before the Hamilton, to go to American Revolution musical was 1776 with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. It tells the story of John Adams’ attempts to get representatives from all 13 colonies to sign the Declaration of Independence. Revolutionaries of all kinds were popular in 1969, and the show was hit, winning three Tonys (including Best Musical) and it ran for three years. Most of the original Broadway cast made it into the popular film adaptation released months after the show closed in New York. The musical was revived in 1997 with Brent Spiner of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame as John Adams. For this production, Hirschfeld shows us the scene in Independence Hall, and the image was soon published a limited-edition lithograph
Raymond Massey was so successful playing our 16th president in Robert Sherwood’s play, that George Kaufman once joked, "Massey won't be satisfied until someone assassinates him." For audiences in the late 1930s, Massey brought Lincoln to life and inspired them with words taken from Lincoln’s own speeches and letters. Sherwood sold the film rights on the condition that Massey play Lincoln, and it became an Oscar nominated performance. Hirschfeld had drawn the play when it originally premiered (and a 1994 revival as well), but he drew this work as part of a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning plays for a private collector. The original is now in the collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
(L to R) Emily Yancy, Patricia Routledge, Ken Howard, Guy Costley, and Gilbert Price
A new musical with music by Leonard Bernstein and book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner about the White House in the Bicentennial year of 1976 seemed to be a sure thing. Yet a tortured out of town tryout caused its original director, choreographer, and set designer to leave the show, as well significant revisions in the book and music. It is very likely that the show Hirschfeld drew in Washington D.C., was not the same show he saw on opening night on Broadway. It ran only seven performances, and is considered a legendary Broadway flop. It was Bernstein’s last original score for Broadway, and neither he nor his estate have ever allowed a cast album to be recorded, although selections from it have been used to create A White House Cantata.
Carter’s 1976 campaign was unique in many ways, especially when it came to music. No other candidate, before or since, quoted Bob Dylan as much as Carter, and it was the Allman Brothers Band that helped raise money for Carter early in his campaign. A new documentary, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, explores the role music played in Carter’s life. This drawing appeared less than two months after Carter took office, with an article that focused on the pleasure that the new President got from classical music. This was the third of four drawings of Carter for the New York Times, but the first in the Arts and Leisure section. His first drawing appeared in a special section devoted to the convention which took place in New York, the second on the Op-Ed pages for a debate with Gerald Ford. His last drawing, the only one not to show Carter smiling, appeared in 1980 during Carter’s failed re-election campaign.
Anderson ran a third party campaign in the 1980 presidential election after he found the conservative wing of Republican party too strong. He favored the Equal Rights Amendment, and was against Selective Service, which Carter had re-instated. His support came primarily from moderate Republicans, college students, and Democrats who were dissatisfied with Carter and his policies. Although he only garnered seven percent of the nationwide vote, it was the most any third party candidate had received since George Wallace in 1968. He would go on to help found FairVote, which works for electoral reform and also the Justice Party among whose major goals is removing corporate influence and other concentrated wealth from politics.
One might think that a President who got his start as an actor would have many drawings by Hirschfeld. As a performer in primarily B-movies, he was never drawn as an actor. He was drawn twice as a presidential candidate in 1968 and 1976 before his successful 1980 campaign. He was the only president that Hirschfeld drew for both People magazine and cable television. If the artist was inspired by the man, it did not show in his work: all eight drawings he is drawn almost the exact same way, which was very unique in Hirschfeld’s career.
The 41st president was drawn twice during his lengthy Washington career. Here he is seen during Regan’s re-election campaign
(L to R) Nancy Hume, Len Cariou, Richard Blake, Sarah Reynolds, Seth Granger, Robert Cavanaugh, and John Daman
With the success of Of Thee I Sing, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and 1776, one would think that a musical about an American President would be a favorite in race for audiences and Tonys. Yet like the campaigns of Mr. President and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Teddy and Alice, was unable to secure enough support to stay open or win awards. The musical about Theodore Roosevelt, played by Len Cariou, and his eldest daughter with music drawn from John Phillip Sousa’s catalogue failed to connect Broadway audiences. "Teddy & Alice may want to be the musical equivalent of July 4th. Right now, I fear, it's more like July 2nd,” wrote one critic. It ran for 77 performances and has never been heard from again.
(L to R) Jesse Jackson, Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen, Jr.
If this had been a real theater drawing, it almost certainly would have appeared the Sunday before the Democratic National Convention in the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times. Instead it appeared the Sunday after, atop a review of the four-day event by drama critic and American Repertory Theater director Robert Brustein on the paper’s Op-Ed page. It didn’t matter to Hirschfeld. He captured Jackson’s “Rhett Butler sideburns, Kevin Kline mustache, [and] Bambi eyes,” as described by Brustein, and Dukasis, who he said, “it was clear a star had been born.” Nevertheless, despite great writing and competent performances, the act was not selected for either a four or eight year run in Washington.
(L to R) Annie Golden, Victor Garber, Terrance Mann, Jonathan Hadary, and Debra Monk
When the subject of Sondheim’s musical was first announced, many people wanted to be outraged. A musical about presidential assassins seemed to be shocking and if nothing else, in bad taste. “There are always people who think that certain subjects are not right for musicals,” said Sondheim in an article that accompanied this drawing. “I remember that there was a letter of protest when Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific opened that said, ‘How dare they write a musical about miscegenation?’ South Pacific hardly seems like a shocker today, but it was in 1949. There were people who were horrified that such a serious and upsetting subject as interracial marriage should be dealt with by the most popular musical writers of the day.” Sondheim weathered the same storm, although his reviews for this production were not as good as South Pacific’s. The show included nine assassins and the action took place at a carnival shooting booth. Despite its lukewarm response, the show has gone on to receive greater appreciation, and many more productions.
(Clockwise from to left) Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Dule Hille, John Spencer, Martin Sheen, Janel Moloney, Rob Lowe, Bradley Whitford, Aaron Sorkin, Kevin Falls, and John Wells
This popular television series was in its third season when the producers of the show decided to commission a work of the primary cast and creative team as gifts for the cast and crew of the show. Hirschfeld had drawn Martin Sheen in the White House before, when he played Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the 1974 docudrama, The Missiles of October. He drew him one other political role: Brutus in Julius Caesar. While this work could have easily been a TV Guide cover, it has never been published before now.