Wayne Fitzgerald, Prolific Main Title Designer, Dies at 89

Courtesy of MaryEllen Courtney
Wayne Fitzgerald

He worked on films including 'Pillow Talk,' 'My Fair Lady,' 'Apocalypse Now,' 'Dick Tracy' and 'Basic Instinct.'

Wayne Fitzgerald, the main title designer who set the tone and atmosphere for hundreds of films, from Auntie Mame and Pillow Talk to The Godfather: Part II and Total Recall, has died. He was 89.

Fitzgerald died Monday on South Whidbey Island in Washington after a brief illness, his wife, MaryEllen Courtney, told The Hollywood Reporter

Fitzgerald spent some 55 years in the business, including his first 17 at Pacific Title & Art Studio, where he rose to lead its art and design department.

Fitzgerald's lengthy résumé — he has 460 listed credits on IMDb — also included collaborations with Francis Ford Coppola on The Conversation (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Outsiders (1983), The Rainmaker (1997) and The Godfather Part III (1990); with Warren Beatty on Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Reds (1981), Dick Tracy (1990) and Love Affair (1994); and with Roman Polanski on Rosemary's Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974).

A three-time Emmy winner, Fitzgerald also helped introduce scores of TV shows, among them MaverickThe Beverly HillbilliesMr. EdIt Takes a ThiefNight GalleryColumboMcMillan & WifeKnots LandingThe Days and Nights of Molly DoddDallas, Matlock  and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Wrote Mitch Tuchman in a 1982 profile for Film Comment: "Master of montage, wizard of the three-minute movie, Fitzgerald doesn't create title sequences so much as trailers; briskly edited filmettes that provide a dense, but uncluttered, précis of things to come. This is power-pop art."

The website Art of the Title describes Fitzgerald's work on the Rosalind Russell-starring Auntie Mame (1958) as "a vivid and joyful piece of title design."

"First, the Warner Bros. logo on pink glass like strawberry skin. The red velvet hands, the cigarette holder, and that little cylinder, all decked in jewels, coming together to introduce a vortex of color. The kaleidoscope envelops us in a swirl of vibrant, shifting shards of painted glass as a piece from Bronislau Kaper's elegant score plays and glittering sequins and gems gather to form several of the credits."

Said Fitzgerald in an interview on the site: "I was shown the movie, and it was decided that it really needed something colorful up in the beginning — a very colorful design but sort of abstract — because Mame was a colorful character. That’s the best we could do in this sort of abstract form — just make it very colorful." 

The titles on Pillow Talk (1959) open with three panels, with Doris Day on one side, Rock Hudson on the other and the credits in the middle. The actors toss pillows back and forth that wipe the text on and off the screen. 

Born in Los Angeles on March 19, 1930, Fitzgerald served in submarines during the Korean War. He graduated in 1951 from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and his first show business job was at Pacific Title & Art, which did all the main titles for Warner Bros., MGM and Fox films and for some Paramount and Columbia movies as well. He eventually set up films including Silk Stockings (1957), Touch of Evil (1958), Imitation of Life (1959), The Music Man (1962) and My Fair Lady (1964).

Studio chief Jack Warner liked his titles large on the screen, which made Fitzgerald's subtle stills sequence for Bonnie and Clyde a hard sell. Beatty convinced him that he'd never be able to do his best work until he went out on his own, so he launched Wayne Fitzgerald FilmDesign Inc. in 1968.

That led to work on 9 to 5 (1980), National Lampoon's Vacation (1983), Footloose (1984), John Hughes' Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), Wyatt Earp (1994) and Kingpin (1996).

Fitzgerald won a Primetime Emmy in 1987 for the NBC drama The Bronx Zoo and Daytime Emmys in '88 and '92 for the soap operas The Bold and the Beautiful and The Guiding Light, respectively.

Every Fitzgerald deal was done with a handshake and he never had a written contract. He got "stiffed" for $5,000 just once, his wife said.

Survivors also include his children Mark, Eric and Courtney and grandsons Rae, Porter and Bodhi.

A member of the DGA, Fitzgerald never directed a word of dialogue but, as his wife put it, he "directed lions and tigers, no bears. Coyotes and horses, pillows, poodles and Bob's goldfish. Plus stars, magicians, dancers, wannabe dancers and stoned folk singers. From planes, trains and automobiles, helicopters and submarines. From the roof of Atlanta stadium to locked down inside Sing Sing prison."