Newspaper caricaturist and illustrator Sam Norkin's rare album cover art is showcased over at the Drew Friedman blog.
Sam was a career newspaper illustrator. Drew points out that he had 4000 published drawings of NYC performers to his credit during his seven decade career.
Norkin was also the most well-known of the various imitators of the legendary theatrical caricaturist, the great Al Hirschfeld. The good natured Hirschfeld even laughingly refers to Norkin in the documentary "The Line King" as his imitator.
From 1940 to 1956, Norkin's Hirschfeld-esque illustrations were featured in the New York Herald Tribune and then from 1956-1982 his work was featured weekly in the New York Daily News.
Sam was a member of the Berndt Toast Gang, and would regularly drive out to Huntington, Long Island from his West Side apartment. He began taking the train in 2004 when he was in his 80s. He didn't want to take the train, but his wife and doctor insisted.
So, the last Wednesday night of the month, my phone would ring. "Mike? This is Sam. Are you going to the lunch tomorrow?" Of course I was. "Would you mind if we met and could go in together?" He wasn't happy about not driving, but he wasn't going to let that stop him from going to the monthly lunches with cartoonist colleagues.
So we would meet at Penn Station and take the train to Long Island.
So, a couple of stories, and then I have to get going:
I remember one time he told me about a description in THE GREAT GATSBY of the giant piles of old ash; remains from millions of Manhattan coal stoves and fireplaces. I didn't know the passage, having last read the book in ninth grade. Well, they used to be right there. He pointed out the window of the LIRR train. He remembered actually seeing them in real life when he was younger. They were huge, just like Fitzgerald described them. Hard to believe, he added, that they were gone.
He was a gracious fellow, always interested and curious. I remember having coffee with him and another cartoonist. We were waiting for the train back to the city. We were, of course, talking about drawing for a living. I guess that's the number one topic at these lunches. Sam said, "I can't do what Mike does." And then he went back to his coffee. We asked him what he meant. And he said that he could draw, but he "couldn't do gags like Mike and other gag cartoonists do."
Maybe it was an offhand remark, but, regardless, it was a very kind thing to say. Sam was frank and did not say things he didn't mean.
I miss the those days, and I miss traveling with Sam Norkin.