Bill Gold, Iconic Master of the Movie Poster, Dies at 97
His résumé included 'Casablanca,' 'A Clockwork Orange,' 'The Exorcist,' 'Dog Day Afternoon' and decades' worth of Eastwood films.
Bill Gold, who revolutionized the art of the movie poster over a seven-decade career that began with Casablanca and included A Clockwork Orange, The Exorcist and dozens of Clint Eastwood films, has died. He was 97.
Gold died at Greenwich Hospital in Greenwich, Connecticut, on Sunday, according to family spokeswomen Christine Gillow.
The Brooklyn native began at Warner Bros. in the early 1940s and had a hand in more than 2,000 posters during his iconic career, working on films for everyone from Alfred Hitchcock (1954's Dial M for Murder), Elia Kazan (1955's East of Eden) and Federico Fellini (1963's 8 1/2) to Sam Peckinpah (1969's The Wild Bunch), Robert Altman (1971's McCabe & Mrs. Miller) and Martin Scorsese (1990's GoodFellas).
Gold, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Hollywood Reporter during its 1994 Key Art Awards ceremony, had a way of setting the mood for a movie using a less-is-more philosophy.
"We try not to tell the whole story," he told CBS News in March. "We try to tell a minimum amount of a story, because anything more than that is confusing."
Gold's fruitful relationship with Eastwood began with Dirty Harry (1971), and he gave the actor a gun or a gritty countenance on posters for such films The Enforcer (1976), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), The Gauntlet (1977), Pale Rider (1985) and Unforgiven (1992).
Gold retired after working on the Eastwood-directed Mystic River (2003) but re-emerged to do the poster for the filmmaker's J. Edgar (2011).
"With Bill, I knew he would bring great ideas, and the poster he created would be one less thing we had to think about," Eastwood writes in the introduction to the 2010 book Bill Gold PosterWorks. "He respected the film, he respected the story, and he always respected what we were trying to accomplish.
"Four of the films he worked on won best picture Oscars, including Unforgiven. The first image you have of many of your favorite films is probably a Bill Gold creation."
Movie critic Leonard Maltin once noted that each of Gold's posters is "as individual as the movies they are promoting. I can't discern a Bill Gold style, which is a compliment, because rather than trying to shoehorn a disparate array of movies into one way of thinking visually, he adapted himself to such a wide variety."
Gold "started drawing at age 8 and never stopped," he said in a 2016 interview. After graduating from Pratt Institute in New York City, he approached the art director of the poster department at Warner Bros.' offices in New York.
"He sent me away on a trial to design posters for four earlier films: Escape Me Never and [The Adventures of] Robin Hood with Errol Flynn, The Man I Love with Ida Lupino and Bette Davis' Winter Meeting," he recalled.
Gold passed the test and was hired at age 21, and his first assignment was Casablanca (1942).
As he told CBS News, Gold laid out the poster for Casablanca and placed a gun in Humphrey Bogart's hand at the last minute: "Somebody suggested, 'This is Bogart. Let's put a gun in his hand. That's the way he acts, the way he exaggerates his action. We don't want just a head of him. It's too boring!' "
The gun was taken from another Bogie film, High Sierra (1941). Gold also was assigned work on Warners' Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) around this time.
After enlisting and serving three years during World War II, when he made training films for the U.S. Army Air Force, Gold returned to Warner Bros. and in the late 1950s moved west to work on the studios' Burbank lot. He started his own company in the early 1960s back in New York.
Gold's poster for William Friedkin'sThe Exorcist (1973) — showing the priest played by Max von Sydow under a shaft of light outside the Georgetown home of the possessed young girl (Linda Blair) — was created after he was told not to "show anything that had any hint of religious connotation."
Gold also worked on posters for The Searchers (1956), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Funny Girl (1968), My Fair Lady (1968), Bullitt (1968), Woodstock (1970), Klute (1971), Deliverance (1972), The Sting (1973), Blazing Saddles (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), On Golden Pond (1981), For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1988).
In 2011, producer Sid Ganis, who headed advertising at Warner Bros. during the 1970s, told THR that Gold was "the maestro. He was the one directing his art directors and directing his copy writers on what to do, which was a great thing. He was also the one who communicated with the studio. He was the guy in charge of the symphony."
Survivors include his wife, Susan, son Bob, daughter in-law Joanne, daughter Marcy, grandson Spencer, granddaughter Dylann and her fiancé Justin, great nephew Jaaron and "man's best friend" Willoughby.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation at alzinfo.org.