There are interesting and noteworthy people all around us. Some we know about. Others hover beneath our personal radar and go undetected and, as a result, unappreciated. Editta Sherman is one of those people. Not at all a household name, she enjoyed her notoriety among a secluded group of special people—entertainers, most of whom we are familiar with. Editta Sherman died last month. Contributing Editor, Ron Carmean, tells her story on today’s blog…so at least a few more people will see Editta’s “blip” on their screen.
The year was 1912. On April 15, the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, over 1,500 people died. On April 20, Fenway Park opened in Boston. The Red Sox later in the year won the World Series. On July 9, Editta Rinaldo was born in Philadelphia. Twenty-three years later, she married Harold Sherman, a sound engineer. Her name changed to Editta Sherman. In time, her name would change again. She became known as the Duchess of Carnegie Hall.
Skip ahead 100 years. The fate of the Titanic had become the source of many books and films. Fenway Park, still in operation, had become the oldest stadium in Baseball. And Ms. Sherman celebrated her 100th birthday and continued to be recognized as an exceptional portrait photographer.
Between those two dates, 1912 and 2012, was Ms. Sherman’s story. Her Father was a photographer. From him she learned the craft that became her profession. After WWII, Ms. Sherman and her husband spent a Summer taking pictures of celebrities in Edgartown, Mass. In the late 1940s, they moved to New York City and into Carnegie Hall. She continued her work with her husband as her business manager and assistant. Unfortunately, Mr. Sherman died early (age 50) due to diabetes and complications from his illness. Editta was left with 5 children to raise on her own.
The American Theater Wing provided her with entertainers to photograph. Her friendship with Andy Warhol brought her more people who desired to have their photographs taken. In time, her reputation grew and subjects came directly to her. Her apartment doubled as her studio for her profession. She and other artists and actors lived in apartments in Carnegie Hall. At their peak, 170 apartments were occupied. Andrew Carnegie designed his Hall so that the artists in a variety of professions would be able to live and work together in one building. The outcome was a community of artists, just as Carnegie envisioned. Leonard Bernstein and Harry Belafonte performed in Carnegie Hall, while many other individuals worked and lived there. Ms. Sherman’s subjects included almost everyone: Angela Lansbury, Mary Martin, Henry Fonda, Yul Brynner, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe, and President Obama. In time, it seemed she knew everyone in the entertainment business. Those who resided in a Carnegie Hall apartment could count on Ms. Sherman furnishing them with homemade soups if they were ill.
In the 1950s, the Hall itself was scheduled to be torn down by the city. But the efforts of the apartments’ residents won the day. Ms. Sherman was the most visible champion of their cause. Her professional success, her friendship with entertainers, and her strong feelings associated with the community became even more well-known. For decades, she was referred as The Duchess of Carnegie Hall. She was so prominent within New York City that the newly elected Mayor (Bill de Blasio) made a personal visit to her during a campaign. Editta Sherman lived and worked in Carnegie Hall until the Summer of 2010. It was her home and photography studio for over 60 years. She became the Hall’s symbol, conscience, and elder stateswomen. Then, once again, New York City said the Hall’s residents would be relocated to more modern facilities. Their dwellings were needed for educational and rehearsal space. This time, the city’s desire prevailed. All residents of the Hall were re-settled in a modern facility. “New” was not what they wanted; a close knit and familiar living arrangement was desired. It was not to be. Ms. Sherman was vocal about her disappointment. So were other residents.
Three years later, on November 1, 2013, Ms. Sherman died. She was 101 years old. But for anyone familiar with the arts and entertainment in New York, the spirit of the Duchess of Carnegie Hall remains.