Features

Ken Fallin – A Voyeur of the Soul, Part 1

By: Alix Cohen

April 22, 2023: Ken Fallin is a soft spoken, modest man who smiles easily but prefers his subjects to look serious. His world revolves around the visual, yet unlike husband Stanley, what he wears is to him unimportant. You may have seen his caricatures on the walls of New World Stages, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, or decorating Playbill covers of Forbidden Broadway. This is a man who sees differently, a man who captures in essential strokes what reviewers and journalists endeavor to describe in paragraphs or what family and friends can’t articulate.

By: Alix Cohen

April 22, 2023: Ken Fallin is a soft spoken, modest man who smiles easily but prefers his subjects to look serious. His world revolves around the visual, yet unlike husband Stanley, what he wears is to him unimportant. You may have seen his caricatures on the walls of New World Stages, in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, or decorating Playbill covers of Forbidden Broadway. This is a man who sees differently, a man who captures in essential strokes what reviewers and journalists endeavor to describe in paragraphs or what family and friends can’t articulate.

Young Kenny

There wasn’t much culture in the Fallins’ Working class, Jacksonville, Florida home. Raised Southern Baptist, Ken had the “expected” girlfriend in high school. He didn’t come out to his father until he was 25. The rehearsed speech was delivered without faltering on a drive to the airport. “He said the usual thing, we love you no matter what, but you know it’s a sin.” His dad also asked that Ken not tell his mother. “She wouldn’t understand.” The artist now regrets keeping his word. “She never really knew me,” he says softly. Years later, he’d introduce his partner, Stanley, as a roommate.

Peter, Paul and Mary – the first drawing at 13 years-old

At 14, an older friend took Ken to his first musical, a community theater production of Guys and Dolls. “I was mesmerized.” He then went alone to How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, sitting in the last row of the balcony. Music and laughter hooked the teenager. By high school, he was writing sketches accompanied by Broadway songs with changed lyrics. A guidance counselor suggested these be put together in a show. The Mad, Mad World of Lee (Lee High School) was a big success. He’s still writing.

Ken Fallin, 1965, at work on his revue

At 15, after a surgery, Ken was confined to hospital. The same (perceptive) mentor brought him a stack of Theater Arts Magazine (the magazine ran 1916-1964) each with a play in it, and every week, a copy of Variety. Flames were fanned, aspirations to act solidified. A schoolmate and his father invited him to New York for the weekend. It was Ken’s first plane trip. They stayed at The Waldorf Towers and dined at The Four Seasons. Friday night the three had house seats to Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! Saturday evening they saw Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. The boy was understandably dazzled. “I thought, I’ve gotta live here.” He grins.

MANY years later, Ken Fallin would meet Carol Channing

As to his other talent/interest, “I always drew. I loved the comics and would copy styles – MAD Magazine was a favorite – but never thought of it as a career.” Ken illustrated his friends’ school reports and contributed to the church newspaper. Around this time, he saw his first Hirschfeld – in Life Magazine. “I didn’t know the people he drew, but was attracted to the style of caricature and started drawing people that way. Some of my early subjects were nice about it, others didn’t understand. It was a hobby, like some boys play baseball.”

Ken played Bud Frump in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Ken participated in school plays and, after graduation, at community theater. Everyone was encouraging. His parents came to see him. Because they didn’t understand his resolve or what an actor’s life might be, the Fallins never objected to their son’s career choice, nor did they encourage. Cliché warnings about show business came from elsewhere, including his friend’s father. Attitude was the same with his art. “Years later, when I started working for newspapers, my father wondered why I was paid to draw.” Up go his eyebrows. “In the little town where they eventually lived, though, he showed all his friends the newspapers.”

Ken Fallin and Pat Sousa – The Prom

The teen compartmentalized art. Ken created no program, poster or set design for theater. He didn’t caricature fellow actors until much later doing Stock in Pennsylvania. Then, he relates with a grin, “I made more money drawing at five dollars a sketch than acting.” At 17, he arrived in New York to test it. Like many young people with dreams and a budget, staying at the YMCA. He walked around for a week, attending no theater, visiting no museums. Another year down south and he felt ready.

A friend from home moved to Manhattan providing a soft landing. One of their roommates got him a job in the bookkeeping department at Tiffany’s. Tipped off, he’d run downstairs to observe celebrities. Ken “auditioned for everything just to walk on a stage.” (In those days, auditions were held in person at theaters.) He took a musical comedy class with Charles Nelson Reilly and hovered at stage doors, not to ask for autographs, just to see his heroes.

Stanley and Ken – Now and Forever

In 1969, Ken Fallin met the love of his life, Stanley Steinberg, in the lobby of The Plaza Hotel. “He thought I was like a potentate,” his now husband recalls warmly.  Their first date was Mame with Ann Miller (tickets were secured after Ken said yes), then dinner at Rumpelmayer’s. Stanley lived in Boston. I ask whether it was love at first sight. “I think so,” Stanley replies. “I have nothing else to compare it to.” The young men started to commute back and forth from Boston, then lived alternately in the two cities. (They’ve been together 54 years, married 13.)

Stanley had no idea Ken was an artist until he was sent an elaborate, illustrated birthday card consisting of some eight pages. “It was as personal as it could get. I was very complimentary, he was very dismissive. It was just something he did,” Stanley says. “I nudged him, but he’s always liked drawing. He does it for his own pleasure.”

Harold Prince and Stephen Sondheim for The Dramatists Guild Foundation

Ken’s next civilian job was working 2 a.m. to 10 a.m. with the Federal Reserve. One night, he fell asleep and woke to find the work completed. It scared him. He quit. Perhaps college was the answer?  In Boston, he started at Emerson hoping to go into education, but gravitated to the drama department. The money lasted one year. “I never tried to get a student loan.” He shrugs. At school, he was commissioned to do a drawing for the spring musical. “All of a sudden, people assumed he was an artist, not an actor. It was a different kind of recognition,” Stanley comments. Ken tried Art Institute of Boston, but was discouraged from his chosen genre of caricature.

The couple moved back to New York. Ken took courses in Book and Record Album Cover Design and Cartooning at Parsons School of Design. The last was taught by Mort Gerberg. Every week students were required  to submit 11 cartoons to The New Yorker, tag line and all. “You had to prove you sent them by bringing in the rejection slip. Gerberg would have different practitioners talk to the class. Charles Adams and George Booth were highlights. “It was a great experience.” The tide had turned. Stanley says he showed no signs of bitterness or jealousy in regard to theater.

Prince, Ted Kennedy, David Bowie – Obit Drawings

There were trade magazine cartoons, then Wall Street Journal obituary drawings. They nicknamed him “vulture with a pen.” When the pope died, Ken assumed the Journal would respectfully use a photo, but the publication asked for his usual drawing. Currently, he pens business and political “celebrities” for WSJ. “Pens” is literal. Like Hirschfeld, Ken does not use a computer. He draws on illustration board, then inks the art, using a Hunt steel quill # 104 and Dr. Ph. Martin’s BLACK STAR Matt India Ink. Controlled drawing with a quill is very difficult.

So many portraits, so little time

One unexpected commission was to chronicle attendees for a Coty convention.  As he isn’t a quick sketch party caricaturist, Ken took Polaroids of the 25-30 attendees. He would go home and draw. He did this two successive years. “The first time, I took photos at night and lost everyone’s hair to darkness.” He smiles. “When we left,” Stanley recalls, “the guy that ran the place handed him $1000 cash. I think that may have been forget the actors’ life for me, the moment when he didn’t think I’m doing it because I’m not acting.” “It was more, money than I’d ever seen. I wasn’t earning a living at it yet,” Ken says.

Left: Ken with his original poster design; Right: the 20-year anniversary

In 1982, Forbidden Broadway opened in New York. Thinking the show might want a Hirschfeld-like drawing for publicity, he sent creator Gerard Alessandrini samples of his work without even having seen the revue. It was Kismet. After a successful year, the show decided to change its artwork. Ken designed every poster and advertisement for companies of Forbidden Broadway over the years. “In Boston they did daily ads and paid real money. Even London hired me.”

Fallin by Fallin
All photos and art courtesy of Ken Fallin

Ken Fallin How I See Them

Read A Voyeur of the Soul, Part 2