Features

Ken Fallin, A Voyeur of the Soul, Part 2

By: Alix Cohen

April 22, 2023: Ken and Stanley decided to go back to Boston, keeping the New York apartment. “You could do that then. I knew somebody that knew somebody at The Boston Herald, so I submitted work. They hired me to do a weekly entertainment-based drawing for the magazine.” Sometimes he’d be comped to theater, at others, he worked from photos. The steady job lasted five years. He audibly sighs.

By: Alix Cohen

April 22, 2023: Ken and Stanley decided to go back to Boston, keeping the New York apartment. “You could do that then. I knew somebody that knew somebody at The Boston Herald, so I submitted work. They hired me to do a weekly entertainment-based drawing for the magazine.” Sometimes he’d be comped to theater, at others, he worked from photos. The steady job lasted five years. He audibly sighs.

He secured Holiday-themed work for American Express, then a restaurant campaign. Of the latter, he recalls, “I did eight a week, made $8,000. It was unbelievable.” For Belvedere Vodka, Ken spent 12 months turning celebrities into vodka bottles. “Since the company sponsored The National Poker Championship, I made all the champs into bottles.” Ken and Stanley got a free trip to Las Vegas. His framed work was up in the lobby.

BMG Records hired him to draw classical composers doing modern things. “Handel for the Highway” had the composer driving a fast car, wind in his hair. For Squawkbox, he depicted several business executives, including Donald Trump. The contract stipulated subjects got to approve their likenesses. “I thought it was going to be hell. In fact, it wasn’t a problem. Warren Buffet wanted to be smiling; another man asked that his tie be changed,” he recalls.

Warren Buffet and Donald Trump

When The Fogg Art Museum mounted a big Hirschfeld exhibit, curators let Ken pour over the icon’s annotated sketchbooks. This may be the first instance of hearing the icon made observational notes. “It was heaven!” Opening night he just happened to be walking towards the door when the honoree and his wife stepped out of a cab. “I ran over and greeted them. They thought I was from Harvard and let me escort them in.”

Hirschfeld was a fan of Forbidden Broadway often attending opening nights. According to Alessandrini, on one occasion he saw Ken’s Playbill art and thought the drawing was his. High praise. A few years later, Ken socially met widow Louise Hirschfeld. She invited Ken and Stanley for drinks and offered to show them the house. The studio was on its top floor. Nothing had been touched. Louise asked if Ken would like to sit in the famous barber chair at her husband’s drawing table. Would he?! Even the memory causes frisson.

Ken Fallin and Louise Hirschfeld

“I own three Hirschfelds. I used to go to Margo Feiden’s (the artist’s representative) old place on 10th Street. They were very casual. I’d spend hours going through drawings.” The art hangs in his dining room studio.

For 15 years, Ken lectured and taught on Crystal Cruise Line trips two to four times annually. “I went places I’d never go on my own. We met fabulous people and  stayed connected to some of them,” Ken tells me. When they encountered Bob Hesse and his partner, Bob was carrying two clippings of Fallin drawings, one of Obama, one of Biden. He had no idea the artist would be on the cruise. “I always take stuff with me; I never want to be without,” he told Ken who later obliged with a drawing. About two years ago, Hesse passed. Much to the artist’s surprise, the cover on his memorial program was Ken’s caricature.

The Zelweggers & the invitation

The parents of actress Renee Zelwegger attended a caricature drawing class in which he drew them as an example. They used the art for their 50th Wedding Anniversary invitation – to which Ken and Stanley were invited. Renee wrote about the drawing, “His talent as an artist transcends the pen; he seems a gifted voyeur of the soul.” His portraitsare often described as depicting some mysterious insight. Stanley recalls one patron saying, “You get beyond the resemblance, beneath the skin.”

“Being portrayed by Kenneth Fallin is like falling through Alice’s Rabbit Hole, being squeezed and bumped and twisted about by the experience along the way and when you land on your feet on the other side, well, you look really and truly MORE LIKE YOURSELF than you ever could have imagined. He distills and concocts an image that is THE REAL YOU!” (Costume Designer William Ivy Long) “I am SO flattered and amazed that he actually captured me in the drawing…he got ME and my expression. This is a first for me. And I’ve been around!” (Actress Anita Gillette)

Anita Gillette and William Ivy Long

Wall Street Journal drawings accompany articles which his editor Kate sends along as often as possible. Like seeing someone in a play, the art has an opportunity for context. Stanley says Ken never reads frame of reference. He goes through photos, zeros in on an image like a divining rod, and draws.

Who has he drawn he’d’ve liked to have met? Streisand, of course. Friend Richard Jay Alexander who directs her concerts invited Ken and Stanley to a dress rehearsal in Philadelphia. Ken sketched her in a dress with a high slit. Every year on her birthday, Alexander sends the star images of herself she mightn’t have seen. He sent her the image. She called the next morning. “He captured my legs!” (Other portraitists were focused elsewhere.) Streisand asked for the drawing. “I’d sold it but I made a print. She sent me a lovely note,”  Ken notes.

Barbra Streisand

Years ago the artist might’ve been easily intimidated by the star. Now, accustomed to theater and backstage, he thinks of well known personalities as just people. Only Stanley catches glimpses of his husband’s 1967 persona. When Danny Burstein welcomed the pair after performance, Ken excused himself after complimenting the actor. “You’re leaving already?” Burstein exclaimed. Stanley remembers Ken looked shocked. (They’re friends now.) Atmosphere can rock him as well. An invitation to visit Judi Dench anticipated until Ken saw her extravagant, celebrity-filled dressing room.

Ken Fallin, Marilyn Maye, Stanley Steinberg

One private collection started when a man gifted Marilyn Maye with a Fallin caricature of her. The artist estimates that client now owns 40. Another belongs to a woman whose first purchase was a drawing of Barbara Cook gifted to Kelli O’Hara. She then purchased several others. He’s never talked to or met the client, but he and Stanley sit in her front row seats for The New York Pops. It all happens through emails. She lives with a drawing for awhile, then passes it on to another appreciator.

Kelli O’Hara, Ken Fallin, Matthew Morrison

O’Hara herself has been captured in four shows and a concert. “People used to say I have a pug nose, but no one has ever said it more artistically than Ken Fallin. The first time I saw one of Ken’s sketches of me, I met that pug nose with a healthy dose of resistance, but as the years went by, as the sketches changed and…circumstances deepened along with lines in my face, I can’t help but recognize the pug nose at the center of me…Ken’s sketches stay forever. And that is very personal.” (Kelli O’Hara)  Pablo Picasso referring to his portrait of Gertrude Stein: “Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.”

“I tend to draw people not smiling, it’s more interesting…Really good looking people are more difficult because their features are so even…If someone objects to one of my drawings I say, ‘too bad.’ I’m not unkind…I try to depict both the character and, in the case of theater, the actor…” About ten years ago, Ken decided he wanted something more than just a printed tag line and started to embed FALLIN in all his art (like Hirschfeld’s Nina). “It’s fun.” Fun is a common word in Ken’s lexicon.

Life of Pi, A Doll’s House, Shucked

The artist had worked with Playbill and Broadway World for ten years when Broadway World’s editor started to ask for changes in order to be to be politically correct. (A politically correct caricature is an oxymoron.) “Having had no problems in the past, I was let go because of the ‘woke’ thing.” Times Square Chronicles welcomed him. You’ll find the work there now as well as The Wall Street Journal. At the moment he’s busy with commissioned work. There’s a book proposal out there. Oh, and Ken Fallin is writing a full length comedy!

“I never know when I get up in the morning. That really makes life interesting. I’ve always feared being bored.” (Ken Fallin) A happy man.

Ken Fallin and Alfie

Car·i·ca·ture: a picture, description, or imitation of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated

Read A Voyeur of the Soul, Part 1

Ken Fallin How I See Them

All Photos and Art courtesy of Ken Fallin