The endangered art of the hand-drawn movie poster lost one of its leading practitioners yesterday, as Bill Gold, creator of iconic movie posters for such films as Casablanca (1942), Dial M For Murder (1954), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Dirty Harry (1971), The Exorcist (1973), The Sting (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Unforgiven (1992), has died. A spokeswoman for his family says that Gold died in a Connecticut hospital on Sunday from complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 97.
Born in Brooklyn, Gold studied illustration at New York City design college Pratt Institute before beginning his career at the Warner Bros. art department in Manhattan in the early 1940s. His second-ever assignment at the age of 21 was the iconic poster for Casablanca (1942), for which he lifted an image of a gun from the poster for another Humphrey Bogart film, High Sierra (1941). After returning from a three-year tour of duty making films for the U.S. Army towards the end of World War II, Gold returned to Warner Bros., where he worked until starting his own ad firm in the early ‘60s, where he employed another iconic illustrator, Bob Peak.
Gold designed more than 2,000 posters in his career, working for directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Elia Kazan, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, and Martin Scorsese, among many others. He retired in 2003 after completing the poster for Mystic River, which inverted the silhouetted male figures and blue-and-black color scheme of his poster for The Wild Bunch (1969). He came out of retirement in 2011, however, to design the poster for J. Edgar for his friend Clint Eastwood, his most lasting collaboration that began with Dirty Harry in 1971 and continued through Eastwood’s directorial career.
As a studio employee and then as the head of an advertising firm working for studio clients, Gold rarely received credit for his artwork, and neither did his employees. (Figuring out the exact authorship of posters created by his firm can be complicated, as with the campaigns for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Alien (1979).) Gold’s work was finally collected in the now out-of-print 2010 book Bill Gold PosterWorks, for which Eastwood wrote in the introduction: “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.”