• Michael Dooley

A Saul Bass Book… Finally!

You’ve read Steve Heller’s effusive review of Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design in the N.Y. Times this past Sunday; it’s the one that concludes, “… an essential portrait of a designer who successfully balanced art and commerce, and who remains an influence on contemporary graphic and motion design.” Well, Pat Kirkham – the book’s co-editor with Saul’s daughter Jennifer – is set to discuss it at L.A.’s Hammer Museum this coming Tuesday, Dec. 13th. And if Santa’s arrived early at your house, she’ll even sign your copy.

Everyone familiar with Saul’s name knows that his stature in film title design is equivalent to Paul Rand’s in corporate identity. For the hypnotic title sequence of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Saul collaborated with another moving picture pioneer, John Whitney, Sr. A fellow Los Angeles resident, John was the first to utilize the computer as an artistic design medium, even naming his business “Motion Graphics, Inc” 40 years before the phrase became a standard job description. Saul himself was the first designer to create comprehensive, cross-media “identity” campaigns to promote movies, starting back in 1955.

Saul’s prodigious accomplishments, which now fill the newly published 400-plus page hardcover, spanned four decades, from the 1950s to his death in 1996. Even into his seventies, Saul was designing titles for Martin Scorsese that rank among his best. I fondly remember those later days when he’d regularly attend design events held by AIGA/LA, a chapter he helped found. I’d find him cordial, congenial, and always attentive, with his wife and work partner Elaine by his side.

It’s a shame that one of the last century’s greatest designers didn’t live to see a book devoted to his output. Unfortunately, such neglect of Southern California designers is all too common: Steve Heller’s Born Modern, documenting the career of mid-century modern’s design master Alvin Lustig, was published only last year.

But moving on, it’s now time to celebrate, and to appreciate A Life‘s authors Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham. And those of us fortunate enough to live in L.A. can look forward to thanking Pat in person next week.

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