World-renowned artist, caricaturist, illustrator and cultural critic Sam Norkin died in his sleep early yesterday morning. He chose to donate his body to New York’s Presbyterian Hospital.
For more than seven decades, Mr. Norkin depicted and described the performing arts in America through his sketches and artworks. During his long career, he created more than 4,000 published drawings of theater, dance, opera, jazz, pop, circus and classical music. He was also a writer, lecturer and noted raconteur. His first sale was a 1940 drawing of Alfred Hitchcock directing “Mr. and Mrs. North” that ran in the New York Herald Tribune – it netted him the princely sum of $15.00.
From 1940 to 1956, his witty and elegant stage illustrations were featured in the Tribune. During the next 26 years, he covered all of the performing arts for the New York Daily News. Uniquely, his theater drawings also appeared in newspapers in all cities where shows made their debuts in preparation for Broadway, including the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Toronto Star. His drawings of theater, opera, ballet and film celebrities were also published in Variety, Backstage, the Los Angeles Times and many other publications. His portraits frequently appeared on covers of the magazines Saturday Review and Harpers. Mr. Norkin also served as an art critic for the Carnegie Hall house program and was a cultural reporter for the New York Daily News.
Sam Norkin was born in Brooklyn on January 10, 1917. He was accepted into muralist Mordi Gassner’s life classes for talented teenagers at the age of nine and studied with him for nine years. He attended the Metropolitan Art School after high school and later studied at Cooper Union and The School of Fine and Industrial Art. During the 1940’s, newspaper editors wanted to devote more space to new theatrical events, but advance photo opportunities in street clothes did not reflect the essence of the productions. He “dressed” the performers in their costumes based on costume sketches and added the scenic design, thus providing an accurate illustration prior to an opening. When he began doing theatrical caricatures, he also supplied his own captions, which eventually prompted him to write articles and reviews.
His theater reminiscences and a selection of 266 drawings came together in the book Sam Norkin: Drawings – Stories (Heinemann, 1994). In 2009, he provided the illustrations for Having Fun
With Words of Wit and Wisdom, written by his friend and colleague Tom McMorrow. Artwork by Mr. Norkin has twice been exhibited at the prestigious Lincoln Center Library and Museum of the Performing Arts; The Museum of the City of New York; the Metropolitan Opera House; the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY; and in various galleries on the East coast.
Mr. Norkin was a longtime member of the Drama Desk, the association of drama critics and editors, and served as its President. He was a member of the Drama Desk Board for more than 40 years. In June 2011, the Drama Desk Board of Directors established an annual special award in his memory – the Sam Norkin Off Broadway Award –which will be presented for the first time at the 67th Annual Drama Desk Awards in 2012. Upon the news of his passing, current Drama Desk President Isa Goldberg remarked that “Sam was a lovely, sweet man, beloved by all. His contributions to the organization will always be remembered.”
Numerous awards received over the years by Mr. Norkin include an award for “Outstanding Theater Art” from the League of American Theatres and Producers (1980); an award for “Lifetime Body of Work” from the Drama Desk (1995), which is the association of drama critics and editors; and two awards from the National Cartoonists Society: the “Special Features Award” (1980) and the “Silver T-Square Award” (1984).
Sam Norkin is survived by his wife and constant companion of 43 years, Frances Norkin; his son Richard Norkin and wife Mary; his daughter Laura DeSena and husband Fred; grandsons Johann and Sam Waes (Laura’s sons); Frances’ daughter Sue Fallon and her daughter, Dr. Kim Fallon and husband Brett Merker and their three sons; her son Ken Landsman and wife Renee and their sons, Dr. Michael Brucculeri and wife Maartje and their two sons; and Officer Jim Brucculeri and wife Cathryn.
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