Celebrating the Life and Legacy of the Grandfather of Movie Poster Design, Bill Gold

The world of cinema lost one of its key influences last weekend as news of the passing of Bill Gold emerged from family spokeswoman Christine Gillow. He was 97 years old when he died at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut.

His is a name you might not be familiar with, but you know his work. Gold had been one of the influential drivers of the evolution of movie poster art and design for more than seven decades.

Bill Gold
Photo courtesy of Susan Gold

Gold graduated from New York's Pratt Institute and began his career in the 1940s at Warner Bros. (with his second-ever project being the creation of the poster for the classic Casablanca) as part of their advertising department and worked his way up to the head of poster design only seven years later. In 1959 he left the company and formed his own studio in conjunction with his brother, Charlie. They worked together until Bill's retirement in 1987, but he continued to do occasional pieces all the way up to 2011 with his last project being J. Edgar. Over the span of his career he had a hand in working on more than 2,000 projects (with each one having as many as 80 sketch draft variants).

His guiding style was to capture the feel and essence of a film and communicate it while giving away as little as possible. Many of his posters remain immediately recognizable, even decades after their leaving the theater and video stores. Some of his classic posters include: Alien (1979), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Exorcist (1973), Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Clash of the Titans (1981), My Favorite Year (1982), Platoon (1986), and The Untouchables (1987). Throughout his career he had a close working relationship with Clint Eastwood, for whom he created posters for dozens of films. He created the posters for six films which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

In recent years Bill lamented in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about what he thought of as being the norm for today's posters:

"They're just showing the actors, so every movie looks like the next one. If a man and a woman are next to each other, it must be a love story."

Graphic design critic Michael Beirut spoke of Bill's work:

Gold approached every single movie as a chance to advance the storytelling. A static image, in theory, can't possibly have the same power as a 90-minute film, yet he could somehow encapsulate the adventure you are going to have in 90 minutes.

Gold was a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Art Directors Club and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is survived by his wife, Susan, two children Robert and Marcy Gold, two grandchildren, and his beloved dog, Willoughby.

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About Bill Watters

Games programmer by day, geek culture and fandom writer by night. You'll find me writing most often about tv and movies with a healthy side dose of the goings-on around the convention and fandom scene.
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