Al Dorne

1966 Hall of Fame Inductee: Al Dorne

Illustrator Albert Dorne was born in the slums of New York’s Lower East Side. Despite childhood afflictions with tuberculosis, heart trouble, and poverty, his dream was to become an artist. After finishing the seventh grade, Dorne’s formal education came to a halt, as he needed to find work to support his mother, two sisters, and younger brother. At the age of thirteen, he managed four newsstands in New York; at fourteen, he became an office boy with a movie chain; at fifteen he was a salesman for another movie chain.

At sixteen, Dorne was married and began to worry that the career he had planned in art was slipping away. To get started, he took a job without pay in an artist’s studio as a general handyman working from nine to five and simultaneously took another job as a shipping clerk, working from midnight to nine in the morning. When Dorne was close to seventeen he became, for a short period, a professional fighter, winning ten bouts. In his eleventh fight, a veteran flattened him and Dorne decided boxing was not the road to becoming an artist. 

Finally, he began working for advertising accounts, and his art began to appear in national magazines such as Life, Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, Look, and Liberty. At age 22, he was earning $500 a week. Through the 1930s and 1940s, he became the highest paid, and most sought-after, artist in the country. He made a series of colorful advertisements for The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company in the whirlwind national advertising campaign of 1946–1948, initiated by general sales manager, Mike G. Hammergren and industrial designer Paul M. Fuller. 

The fact that so many aspiring artists needed help gave him an idea that culminated in the Famous Artists School, founded in 1948. He developed a home study program prepared and directed by America’s foremost artists, and built his program into one of the largest correspondence schools in the world. In the early sixties, he also founded the Famous Writers School and the Famous Photographers School. The schools had more than 50,000 students in the United States and 54 foreign countries. In 1963, the schools grossed $10 million. 

In 1963, Dorne received the Horatio Alger Award for success in his chosen field. He was a former president of the Society of Illustrators and a member of the Presidents Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped. Among his achievements, Dorne ranked high his being co-founder of the Code of Ethics and Fair Practices of the Profession of Commercial Art and Illustration. In 1953, he was awarded the first Gold Medal for a "distinguished career" by the New York Art Directors Club. Adelphi College conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree in 1958.

He died on December 15, 1965 in the University Hospital, New York City.

(Information on the biography above is based, in part, on writings from the book, "The Illustrator In America, 1880-1890," A Century of Illustration, by Walt and Roger Reed, and from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.)