Artist caricatured legit, film stars

Artist, caricaturist and illustrator Sam Norkin, who lent his talents to Variety as well to Back Stage, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe, died July 30 of natural causes. He was 94.

Norkin depicted and commented upon the performing arts — theater, dance, opera, jazz, pop, classical music and even the circus — in America through more than 4,000 published drawings across more than seven decades.

His first sale, to the New York Herald Tribune, was of a 1940 drawing of Alfred Hitchcock directing his romantic comedy “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

His stage illustrations appeared in the Tribune from 1940-1956. (At the time, newspapers wanted art of upcoming productions, but opportunities for photographs of the cast in costume were not available until after a show’s premiere; Norkin thus made drawings during rehearsals, fittings for costumes and the like.)

From 1956-72, his work, ranging across all of the performing arts, appeared in the New York Daily News. His theatrical work also appeared in the newspapers of cities where shows tried out before heading to Broadway, including the Globe, Post and Inquirer. Variety was among the publications in which his drawings of theater, opera and ballet — and of movie stars — appeared. At the New York Daily News he was also a cultural reporter.

Born in Brooklyn, Norkin studied with muralist Mordi Gassner from ages 9 to 18. After high school he attended the Metropolitan Art School and later Cooper Union and the School of Fine and Industrial Art.

His reminiscences on the theater and a selection of drawings were brought together in the 1994 book “Sam Norkin: Drawings — Stories.” In 2009, he provided the illustrations for Tom McMorrow’s “Having Fun With Words of Wit and Wisdom.”

Norkin was a longtime member of the Drama Desk, the association of drama critics and editors, serving on its board for more than 40 years and doing a stint as its president. In June, the Drama Desk board established the Sam Norkin Off Broadway Award, an annual special nod that will be presented for the first time in 2012. He received a Drama Desk award for his “lifetime body of work” in 1995.

Norkin is survived by his wife of 43 years, Frances Norkin; a son and a daughter; two grandchildren; a stepdaughter and a stepson and several stepgrandchildren.

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