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Interview: LeRoy Neiman, Author of All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs

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LeRoy Neiman married fine art to popular art with his brilliantly colored, energetic depictions of sports, celebrities, America at play, life on safari, and many famous locations.

Mr. Neiman was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  He left high school in 1942 to join the U.S. Army, returning four years later to obtain his high school degree. He then studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where, for a time, he also taught), the University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois.

Early in the 1950s Mr. Neiman became a fashion illustrator for the department store of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., where he met Playboy founder Hugh Hefner in 1953.

LeRoy Neiman resides in New York City overlooking Central Park, where he keeps his studio, offices, archives and penthouse on separate floors.

The release of his latest book, All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies, and Provocateurs, also marks the tremendous milestone of his 91st birthday.

Readers can learn more about LeRoy Neiman by visiting his website and Facebook page as well as be able to purchase his latest work at Amazon.

What films have you appeared in, Mr. Neiman?

I played an artist in a comedy called Rooster. It was a zany film by Glen Larson, a friend who produced several successful television series including Magnum PI.

Among the hundreds of paintings you’ve completed, how many do you have in your own personal collection? Do you have a favorite?

It has been difficult to hold onto many paintings but I have retained a few. Possibly the current favorite is titled Big Band completed in 2005. It measures 13 feet x 9 feet. It has 18 nearly life size recognizable portraits of the biggest jazz stars that I knew and saw perform in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and includes Wynton Marsalis.

Just out of curiosity, is the 1999 portrait of John Elway in the quarterback’s personal collection or is it on view elsewhere?

The John Elway painting is in a private collection.

Hugh Hefner is a very well known man that many do not know too much about beyond the Playboy Bunnies and the Playboy persona.  How would you describe your relationship with Hugh Hefner?

I loved working with Hef and he always treated me well.

What was the first and only courtroom drawing you drew?

The Hefner pornography case.

What Italian bombshell were you “blown away by” in terms of her beauty?

Gina Lollobrigida.

There was a mobster who you drew at Madison Square Garden.  Could you tell us who that was?

Frank Costello.

A little birdie made mention of this, and I wanted to ask you about it. Which athlete claims that the portrait you made of him changed his life?

George Foreman went from being an angry, surly person to a smiling, religious man.

Who was the very first great boxer that you had the pleasure to met?

Retired heavyweight champion Gene Tunney.

What very cool young star of The Social Network is a relative of the art dealer who made your art a commercial success?

That’s Armie Hammer, grandson of the late Armand Hammer, who bought the long-lived and much revered Knoedler & Co., the first gallery ever to open in New York City back in 1846.

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I want to thank Mr. Neiman for taking the time to answer a few questions for readers and wanted to add a bit about his latest book All Told to pique readers’ curiosity even further!  Here, from the inner flap:

“With hundreds of photos and color illustrations, a memoir filled with the biggest celebrities in twentieth-century sport, art, sex, theater, music, film, and beyond, by LeRoy Neiman—the artist who defined a century in vibrating color.

 LeRoy Neiman—arguably the world’s most recognizable contemporary artist—broke the barrier between fine art and popular art in the 1960s. His prints continue to bring in $10 million a year in sales. But it is the life he’s lived and the people he’s known that make the memoir of this swashbuckling bon vivant with the famous mustache such a marvelous historical canvas. His is the story of a scrappy Depression-era kid who had talent, insatiable curiosity, and a knack for wrangling himself into places he didn’t belong. As a result, he hobnobbed with everyone who’s anyone and created indelible images that helped define a century.

Neiman sat ringside with some of the most extraordinary figures of the twentieth century. Instructor and confidant to Muhammad Ali throughout his tumultuous career, Neiman also traveled with Sinatra, cavorted with Dali and Warhol, watched afternoon soaps with Dizzy Gillespie, played in Sly Stallone’s Rocky movies, exchanged quips with Nixon, smoked cigars with Castro, and experienced the September 5, 1972, terrorist attacks at the Munich Olympics alongside Peter Jennings, Howard Cosell, and Jim McKay. And then there’s his contribution to the culture-shifting influence of Playboy. Neiman recalls his half-century relationship with Hugh Hefner—as principle artistic contributor to Playboy since its founding in 1954, setting up studios in London and Paris to cover his Playboy beat, “Man at His Leisure,” and his mythic creation Femlin, made famous on the pages of Playboy magazine for nearly six decades. 

With his life’s work, and now in All Told, LeRoy Neiman has captured sports heroes, movie stars, presidents, dish washers, jet-setters, and jockeys—a panoramic record of society like no other.”

Curious?!  I know I am and can’t wait to check this out even further!

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