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Photographer Editta Sherman, 'Duchess Of Carnegie Hall,' Dies At 101

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Photographer Editta Sherman, 'Duchess Of Carnegie Hall,' Dies At 101


Photographer Editta Sherman, 'Duchess Of Carnegie Hall,' Dies At 101

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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On photographer Editta Sherman's website, there's now this note. Her vibrant sparkling life faded from this earth on November 1st, All Saints Day. She is at peace now and she is clothed in her ballerina dress with her diamond shoes dancing her way home to our hearts. Editta Sherman was 101 when she died, a legend as a portrait photographer. She'd tell you that herself.

For six decades, in her light-filled studio on top of New York's Carnegie Hall, she photographed celebrities from Leonard Bernstein to Yul Brynner to Joe DiMaggio. Here she is in an interview when she was in her 90s, which was posted on YouTube.


EDITTA SHERMAN: I expect to be here until I die. I expect to live to be 100.

BLOCK: Joseph Astor was a fellow tenant and friend of Editta Sherman in the Carnegie Artist Studios and he made a documentary about his colorful residence called Loft Bohemia. He joins me from New York to talk about her. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOSEPH ASTOR: My pleasure.

BLOCK: And she was known as the duchess of Carnegie Hall. Sounds like she was a huge personality.

ASTOR: A huge personality, but that wasn't the only side of her. In fact, it was Bill Cunningham, our other neighbor and photographer friend, who gave her that title and nobody could have filled it better than she.

BLOCK: And why was that? What made her the duchess of Carnegie Hall?

ASTOR: She was always the figurehead of the place. And I don't know. It's difficult to describe because she wasn't just the tiara-wearing queen of Carnegie Studios, she was the great mother of all of us, making lentil soup when people were sick, you found it hanging on the doorknob of your studio in a plastic bag.

BLOCK: Can you describe her studio for us? She lived there with her husband. She raised five children there. What was it like?

ASTOR: Well, spectacular ceiling heights, maybe 20-30 feet, skylights above and north-facing windows in front. Perfect for photographers with that light.

BLOCK: And it was in that studio that she'd be taking these portraits of everybody from Carl Sandberg, Charlton Heston. Talk a bit about her camera. What did she use?

ASTOR: She had a giant Kodak 8x10 view camera on wheels. It looked like a person itself. The aperture holes, for those photographers out there, were cut out of a piece of cardboard and she'd slip them in and out of the lens by hand. And she'd squeeze a little red bulb and that's what would release the shutter.

But more than that, more than any of those sort of low-tech things, I think it was really her personality that really animated the subjects, they responded to. It really made those portraits come alive and be so wonderful as they are.

BLOCK: When she was talking about what she was trying to capture in these photographs of these famous people, she said, I tried to photograph what I admired about them.

ASTOR: And I think it was mutual. When they saw her, she was always dressed up. When I've seen her photograph sessions, it was almost like a choreographed dance. She'd sort of dance around the camera, she'd give directions, and the subjects would just come alive for her.

BLOCK: There was a memorial service for Editta Sherman this week. Were you there?

ASTOR: Yes, I was.

BLOCK: What was it like?

ASTOR: Well, it seemed appropriate in that there were beautiful pictures from all aspects of her life near the coffin and on the other side, there was an enormous hat made out of flowers all spray painted.

BLOCK: She loved hats.

ASTOR: What's a stronger word than that? You know, there was a lot of Bohemian artists. There was a massive amount of grandchildren and great grandchildren. I think there was 31. I forget how many. So there was lots of family and all sorts of friends and people whose lives she touched.

BLOCK: That's Joseph Astor, remembering fellow photographer and friend Editta Sherman, the Duchess of Carnegie Hall, who died last week at age 101. Mr. Astor, thanks so much.

ASTOR: Oh, it was my pleasure entirely.

BLOCK: And a book of her photographs will be published next year. It's titled "Studio 1208," the number of her apartment at Carnegie Hall.

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