Al Savitt was born Alfred Savitz on August 10, 1922 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. His father, Hyman Savitz, was born in 1884 in Russia and came to America in 1892. His mother, Rose Eskowitz, was born in 1889 in Austria and came America to 1904. Both of his parents were Jewish. They married in 1914 and had four children, Sally (born 1915), Sam (born 1918), Alfred (born 1922), and Evelyn (born 1927). The family lived at 52 Hancock Street. His father worked as a timekeeper at an iron foundry.
By 1930 the father had lost his job at the foundry and become an itinerant salesman. The family was poor, but the Great Depression brought hard times to most families in Wilkes-Barre, which is a hard-scrabble coal mining town that traditionally welcomed immigrants as a source of cheap labor for coal mining. Most of the sons of these immigrants left Wilkes-Barre after graduating school or stayed in town and joined their fathers in the coal mines.
Alfred and his older brother Sam loved to draw. Sam drew comics for the school newspaper and was determined to become a successful illustrator.
In 1935 Sam graduated high school and moved to NYC, where he lived with an uncle and attended Pratt Institute of Brooklyn. He studied with Frank Reilly (1906-1967) and H. Winfield Scott.
Alfred was thirteen when his big brother left home to start his journey to become a celebrated New York illustrator, under the modified name, Sam Savitt.
In 1936 Alfred began to attend Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) High School, where he found a welcome admiration for his own art talent. He drew the comic for the school newspaper as well as memorable posters for the football games, which were displayed in shop windows of stores on Main Street. He was also the Art Editor of the school year book, The Garchive. His high school art teacher, Alexander Murray (1886-1959), encouraged him to go to art school after graduating and to pursue a career as a professional artist.
Alexander Murray was born July 20, 1886 in nearby Kingston, Pennsylvania. He was a landscape painter and author of several articles on art that had been published in nationwide magazines. He also wrote several books on art instruction, one of which was sold through mail order advertisements in Popular Mechanics.
Along with Alexander Murray and the Savitz brothers, it is curious that this same gritty district along the Susquehanna River in Luzerne County, PA, was also the birthplace of George Catlin (1796-1872), Franz Kline (1910-1962), Elmer C. Stoner and Rudolph Belarski.
In the spring of 1940 during Alfred's final senior semester in high school his little sister Evelyn became seriously ill and was hospitalized. On May 3 her doctors performed an operation, and then while recuperating in the hospital, she died at the age of thirteen on June 5, 1940.
This tragic death was a terrible shock for everyone in the family, but for the sensitive young artist it was an acutely unbearable heartbreak, from which he never fully recovered.
He graduated high school, but instead of following his earlier dream to become a celebrated artist, he stayed at home and worked with his father in Wilkes Barre. A profound unhappiness affected his health, and during WWII he was not selected for military service.
On November 13, 1944 his father died at the age of fifty-three.
In 1945 he finally left town and moved to NYC, where he lived with his older sister Sally, who had married and was raising a family in Brooklyn.
He enrolled in Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, where his older brother had earlier studied with his same teachers, Frank Reilly and H. W. Scott.
While attending art school, as if to make up for lost time, Alfred also began to sell pen and ink story illustrations to pulp magazines. His work eventually appeared in a wide range of titles, such as Action Stories, Exciting Western, Fighting Western, Fight Stories, Giant Western, Leading Western, Masked Rider Western, Popular Western, Speed Western, Texas Rangers, The Rio Kid Western, Thrilling Ranch Stories, Thrilling Western, Triple Western, Super-Detective, West, and Top Western Fiction Annual. Most of his work is signed "Al Savitts" or "Al Savitt," in keeping with his more-famous brother's modification of the family name.
Although Sam Savitt was a celebrated illustrator of pulps, comics, books, posters, advertising and slick magazines, his younger brother Alfred Savitt did so much work for pulp magazines that his career in this one field eclipsed that of his more-famous brother.
In 1948 he received a Certificate of Completion of the Pratt Institute's three-year art training program.
On May 9, 1950 his mother died at the age of fifty-eight in Wilkes Barre, PA.
During the final years of the "golden age of comic books" he drew comics for Better Publications, Dell Publishing, and Fiction House, but by 1953 the comic book industry was devastated by political demagoguery, self-censorship and lost readership.
In 1955 he moved to his own apartment at 809 Lexington Avenue, near sixty-second street, on the swanky Upper East Side of Manhattan. One of his neighbors was the artist Jay McArdle, who had also drawn pen and ink line art for many of the same pulp magazines.
On December 12, 1959 his influential high school art teacher, Alexander Murray, died at the age of seventy-three in Red Bank, New Jersey, where he had moved from Wilkes-Barre after WWII to raise a family and operate the Murray Art School, as well as an art studio and art supply store.
During the 1960s and 1970s Al Savitt illustrated juvenile books for publishers, such as Harcourt Brace, McGraw Hill, and Criterion Books.
After several years of declining health and a prolonged illness, Alfred Savitt died at age eighty-three on March 9, 2009.
© David Saunders 2013