What else can be said about Saul Bass? Plenty, as TV Week’s Chuck Ross demonstrated a few days ago when he posted twelve pages featuring “A Treasure Trove of Previously Unpublished Works,” with detailed commentary. These are among Bass’s formative efforts, just before the breakthroughs that would cement his status as Feature Films’ Founding Father of Graphic Design Modernism.
Ross has uploaded dozens of mid-1950s concept sketches for posters and other publicity material, rendered by Al Kallis under Bass’s precise direction. They include work for Judy Garland’s A Star is Born, Dorothy Dandridge’s Carmen Jones, Burt Lancaster’s The Rose Tattoo, and several other films starring the likes of Henry Fonda, Bette Davis, and Olivia de Havilland. Wait, back up: Al who?
Al Kallis is an illustrator, art director, and International House of Pancakes co-founder, currently in his nineties. His career spans from Roger Corman “B” movie advertising artist to award-winning documentary filmmaker. Ross also notes that Kallis also worked for Bass on Qantas Air and Pabco Paints.
Naturally, Kallis is included in Pat Kirkham and Jennifer Bass’s epic “Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design,” published by Laurence King; I covered its release for Print here. At the end of Ross’s intro, he questions why the book only includes two—uncredited—drawings by Kallis, who showed Kirkham most all of his work. Ross goes on to speculate that the authors may have wanted to focus primarily on Bass’ finished designs. Rather than leaving such relevant issues unresolved, I decided to contact them both.
Bass’s daughter replied that “Basically the scope of the book was so broad, and the amount of material so vast, that the very early trade ad work had to be represented by only a few pieces. I do know that Al Kallis is someone who we specifically mentioned and quoted throughout the footnotes for that section regarding his illustration work and his friendship with my father.” Kirkham further explained that in order to accommodate as much as possible of Bass’s vast body of work, editorial and design decisions beyond her control resulted in radically reducing images and credits, as well as much of her text. “You can imagine that over such a varied career that lasted for 60 years, something had to go. The book is almost too heavy to handle!”
Below is a sampling of the Bass/Kallis roughs on Ross’s site, along with a few published promo pieces. Many were used, others not, but all are worth checking out. I’ve also included as a bonus feature: Saucer Men! Crab Monsters! She-Monster! Voodoo Woman! and other post-Bass Kallis half-sheet artwork for the sort of schlock flicks that had a, shall we say, more lenient design approval process.
• SEE Bass and Kallis score for Preminger’s “Carmen Jones” (1954), the musical that debuted Bass’s title sequence career [accepted].
• SEE variations on a “My Sister Eileen” (1955) theme, two of which danced their way into ads and posters [accepted].
• SEE incorrectly punctuated “its” [replaced] surrounding bosom buddies Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman for “Magnificent Obsession” (1954) [accepted].
• SEE another “Magnificent Obsession” layout [rejected] recycled into a “Star is Born” layout [also rejected].
• SEE stunned Judy Garlands overlaid with vintage tacky starbursts because, uh, “A Star is Born” (1954) [rejected].
• SEE Robert Mitchum blocked by pre-“Man With the Golden Arm” bars in “Not as a Stranger” (1955) [accepted].
• SEE inappropriately heavy treatments for the lighthearted drama “Mister Roberts” (1955) [rejected].
• SEE Anna Magnani’s face semi-obscured behind a naked Burt Lancaster with “The Rose Tattoo” (1955) [semi-rejected].
• SEE geometric shapes emanating “On the Threshold of Space” (1956), when Bass was on the threshold of abandoning traditional figurative representation – and Al Kallis – in favor of abstract iconography and its consequent revolutionary effects on film graphics [accepted].
And, appearing after that for drive-in entertainment across the country: The Kallis from Beyond Saul Bass…
The teachings of Saul Bass evolved into the subject of a doctorate thesis and is now an online course. Saul Bass’ mentee, Dr. Bill Haig, transformed his experience of working alongside with Bass into an incredible and valuable concept, credible logo design. Learn from this logo design expert in the Credible Logo Design and Branding Success course.
You can find Al Kallis’s recently published autobiography here. And for further Saul Bass reading see my Print feature, “Spike Lee’s Other Poster Design Bamboozle.”
Graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker Saul Bass (1920-1996) developed an iconic style evident throughout his expansive repertoire. His style, and especially his influence on the storytelling potential of opening credits, has influences numerous films and television series.
In Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design, author Jan-Christopher Horak examines the life, work, and creative process of this prominent designer. Discover the humble beginnings of Bass’s life, his collaborations with prominent directors like Robert Aldrich, Stanley Kubrick, and Martin Scorsese, and learn more about his personal style, like his appreciation of modern art and subsequent incorporation of it into his body of work.