The Mad Man of movie posters
From ‘Casablanca’ to ‘Alien’, Bill Gold is responsible for posters as memorable as the films themselves. He opens his sketchbook for Horatia Harrod.
Several years ago, Bill Gold and his wife Susan went for lunch at a restaurant near their home in Connecticut. Their table happened to be beside a striking Klimt-style poster for the 1967 film Camelot, and the couple soon got chatting to the restaurant’s owner about where and how he’d acquired it.
‘You know’ Susan said, ‘my husband here designed that poster.’
The owner looked back at the pair of them unimpressed. ‘No he didn’t,’ he said, pointing a finger at a signature on the poster, ‘that guy, Bob Peak, did.’
Talk about a blow to the ego. Fortunately Bill Gold is used to people not understanding his job: creative director in the film poster business. Even Tony Nourmand, editor of the recently published monograph Bill Gold: PosterWorks and a dealer in movie posters for two decades, had only heard Gold’s name two or three times before they started working together. ‘In America, there’s no tradition of designers signing their work’ he says, ‘so it’s very hard to tell who designed what.’
Also, Bill Gold has a pretty healthy ego. Here’s why: if you were watching films in the second half of the 20th century, you’ll know his work. As Clint Eastwood (below, with Gold on the right) writes in the foreword to the book: ‘The first image you have of many of your favourite films is probably a Bill Gold creation.’
His first poster was for Casablanca in 1942; the last he put his name to was Mystic River in 2003; in between there were some 2,000 posters for films of every genre, among them Dial M for Murder, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, My Fair Lady, Bullitt, The Wild Bunch, Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, Deliverance, The Exorcist, For Your Eyes Only, Goodfellas and Unforgiven.
On any given poster Gold might have taken the photograph, drawn the illustration, designed the typeface and set the colours. Or he might have done none of those things. That’s part of the reason why people get confused about what a creative director does.
In the case of Camelot, Bob Peak was the illustrator, ‘but all the design was dominated by my art direction’, Gold says. ‘I dictated the whole design to him, I gave him the Klimt reference, I led him into doing what he did.’
Gold began his working life at Warner Brothers in his hometown, New York. Before designing his first poster, for Casablanca, he wasn’t able to see the film. His first sketches didn’t wow the Warner’s people – they thought he made the movie look too much like a love story. So Gold put a pistol in Humphrey Bogart’s hand – ‘I think it may have been the gun from High Sierra’ – and he was up and running.
Even if Bogart only flashed his pistol briefly, Gold knew that an audience looking for excitement looks for a gun. ‘It’s a matter of directing the sight of the viewer’ he says. ‘Even if it wasn’t exactly the way the movie was, you had to come up with something that marketed it and led the audience to believe that they wanted to see it.’
In 1959, he moved to Los Angeles and opened Bill Gold Advertising. Gold worked like a maniac, overseeing every aspect of every poster that came out of his studio. For every poster that was used, he and his team designed eight or more fully realised alternatives. There’s one for Catch-22, a toy aeroplane in a lavatory bowl, shot from above, with the tag-line: ‘The first film to put war in its place.’ So irreverent, so perfect. The studio nixed it.
Gold worked with Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon. They were kindred spirits in a sense, a pair of uncompromising perfectionists. Naturally Kubrick drove Gold crazy. ‘It was a great prestige thing to be working with him.’ He says, ‘but Kubrick’s favourite saying was: “You want anything done right, do it yourself”, and that became very abusive to everybody who worked with him who’s creative.’
The person who appreciated Gold most was Clint Eastwood. They were introduced in 1971, when Gold did the poster for Dirty Harry, and Gold worked on every film Eastwood directed up to 2003’s Mystic River.
‘It was the most satisfying relationship I had with any director’, Gold says, ‘because Clint is a terrific guy to work with. “Less is more” is Clint’s favourite phrase, and mine too.’
Gold even did a sketch for Eastwood’s yet to be released Hereafter. ‘It was something I did many years ago, a photograph of a face with two hands covering it. The idea was sensational and Clint loved it.’ Matt Damon, the star, was unavailable to be photographed, so the poster was never completed. But, with 2,000 posters in the archive and a book giving definite proof that one man really was behind six decades’ worth of iconic film posters, who needs it?
To read full article, click here.
To view image gallery, click here.