Bill Gold, the graphic designer responsible for some of the most indelible and powerful images in Hollywood history, died Sunday at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut. He was 97, and his death, the result of complications of Alzheimer’s disease, was confirmed by a family spokeswoman.
From 1942 – the year he designed the Casablanca poster that would land the gun-toting Humphrey Bogart on countless college dorm walls for decades – to 2011, when a ranting Leonardo DiCaprio was transformed into an aging J. Edgar Hoover for J. Edgar, Gold’s poster art and designs for scores and scores of movies not only enticed audiences into handing over whatever was the going rate for tickets, but sometimes even bettered the films themselves.
But at their best – and many of the best, along with the rarest, are coveted by collectors – the posters became inseparable from the films they promoted, becoming one in the minds of audiences before the first ticket was purchased, and often many years later.
Five of the films for which Gold designed posters were best-picture Oscar-winners: Casablanca, My Fair Lady, The Sting, Ordinary People, Platoon and Unforgiven.
A few examples, to pick an inexcusably token number from the hundreds of posters: The lonely silhouette of a man in the night, an otherworldly light from a second-floor window pinning him in both terror and determination, his satchel containing all he’d need to fight the devil (The Exorcist). A t-shirted Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, his bicep bulging from the death grip he has on the wrist of the vulnerable, doomed Blanche DuBois (Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire).
Gold’s posters often became visual touchstones for their films: A white dove perched on the neck of a guitar for Woodstock; a car’s bullet-ridden windshield through which we see the laughing Bonnie & Clyde; a gun-pointing Clint Eastwood daring his target (and his audience) for Dirty Harry; and Roger Moore’s 007 spied between the inverted “V” of a woman’s bare legs (For Your Eyes Only), a crossbow only one of his possible fates.
Born in 1921 Brooklyn, Gold studied design at New York’s Pratt Institute before joining the ad department of Warner Bros in 1941. The next year, Yankee Doodle Dandy starring James Cagney became his first assignment, with Casablanca coming soon after. By the 1960s he’d started his own advertising firm in New York (later moving to Stamford, Connecticut).
Among his most lasting professional collaborations was a working relationship with director Clint Eastwood. Gold designed posters for every Eastwood film, including Dirty Harry, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven and Mystic River. He came out of retirement in 2011 for Eastwood’s J. Edgar.
Gold was a member of the Society of Illustrators, the Art Directors Club and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He is survived by his wife, children Robert and Marcy Gold, and two grandchildren.