The artist twins, Ida Libby Dengrove and Freda L. Reiter, c. 1970s. Both worked as courtroom illustrators for the competing television networks of ABC and NBC.
Even in childhood, Freda Leibovitz and her mirror twin sister, Ida – one was left handed and the other right-handed – were acclaimed for skilled drawings from life; by age 12, they were spending summers selling portraits at the Cape May resorts on the Jersey Shore. In 1949, Freda (now using her husband’s last name Reiter) discovered courtroom illustration working first in black-and-white for the Philadelphia Inquirer and then switching to color pastels after moving to ABC-TV in 1966. Ida (now Dengrove) was hired by rival NBC-TV in 1972.
While the two twins had been close, working in direct competition for competing television networks became a stress on their relationship. According to family legend, tensions led to a complete break during the Watergate trials. The rupture was apparently brought on when the Associated Press asked defendant John Mitchell which of the two courtroom artists, Ida or Freda, he preferred. The Attorney General injudiciously replied that Ida was not only a much better artist but also looked ten years younger than Freda.
We won’t take sides about who was the better artist. Both women were at the top of their profession. Ida Libby Dengrove’s oeuvre is now housed in the collection of the Law Library of the University of Virginia. When Freda Reiter’s work went up for auction following her death in 1986, Gallery 98 acquired the collection of pastels that are now featured in this online exhibition of Watergate courtroom sketches.