Their clothes are not tattered, nor do they live in drafty garrets or cold-water tenements. Already rich and famous, they seek neither money nor notoriety. But many multifaceted musicians, actors and writers still find themselves driven by the urge to paint, draw or sculpt. Writers particularly have a long history of picking up the occasional paintbrush, according to Kathleen Hjerter; her new book Doubly Gifted explores the artwork of such authors as William Blake, Victor Hugo, James Agee and Gunter Grass. The current list of versatile talents who feel the urge to "dip directly into physical reality," in the words of Closet Cartoonist John Updike, runs the creative gamut from Bob Dylan to Luciano Pavarotti and from Peter Falk to Anthony Quinn.
Like many other celebrity artists, Tony Bennett attended art school and might have earned his living with a brush and palette had his voice not been his fortune. "I love to do it, and because I am blessed with the ability to be very single-minded, I do it every day," says Bennett, who recently attended the opening of a gallery show of his art in Tucson. In addition to still lifes and European street scenes, Bennett has painted portraits of Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Charlie Chaplin and New York Governor Mario Cuomo. "My painting is a record of my life," explains Bennett, "the people I've met and those I admire." Bennett is not the only celebrity artist with a penchant for famous subjects. Veteran Actor Quinn began painting at age eight with renderings of matinee idols such as Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks. He recently staged an exhibition of more than 80 paintings and sculptures at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and is planning another by year's end in Hawaii.
Sometimes simple boredom can spark what later becomes a burning obsession. Back in 1969, Falk started doing sketches of his briefcase to pass the time between scenes while in Yugoslavia to film Castle Keep. I started drawing and it suddenly become my addiction," recalls the star of TV's Columbo. Today Falk remains an ardent art "junkie" who likes "to draw women with their hair up, with their hair down, with their clothes on, with their clothes off." The beginning of Morley Safer's colorist muse was equally mundane. "For a long time I was doing the interiors of hotels and motels," recalls the globe-trotting 60 Minutes correspondent. Then came a dinner with Novelist Kurt Vonnegut and his daughter Edie, who saw potential in Safer's watercolor strokes and urged him to exhibit his art. "He was good then, but I tell you, he is very damn good now," says Vonnegut, who is the proud owner of two Safer pictures and is also a sometime painter. "I'm an artist who paints what he sees," says Safer, who has progressed to Riviera landscapes. "It is almost a compulsion."
Of course, the yearning to cross over to another medium can work in the other direction. Singer Joni Mitchell, who paints most of her album covers as well as large acrylic canvases, has always expressed herself both vocally and visually, and once suggested the possibility during a diner with the now deceased artist Georgia O'Keeffe. Recalls Mitchell: "She leaned forward at the table and said, 'Oh, I would have liked to have made music, but you can't do both.' And I said, 'Oh, yes, you can.' 'Really?' she said, and I could just see her going out to get violin lessons or taking up the accordion."
—By Guy D. Garcia. Reported by Scott Brown/Los Angeles and Roger Franklin/New York