Bill Gold, 97; his posters captured movie magic
NEW YORK — Bill Gold, who created posters for “Casablanca,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Alien,” “Mystic River,” and hundreds of other films with an artistry that captured the intrigue, romance, and drama of Hollywood for nearly 70 years, died Sunday in Greenwich, Conn. He was 97.
In the niche of poster art for films, Mr. Gold was a behind-the-scenes superstar whose work, mostly for Warner Bros. and Clint Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions, was displayed at theaters and in promotional campaigns across America from 1942 to 2011. While he was largely uncredited until the Internet age, his posters offered moviegoers tantalizing glimpses of the raptures awaiting in the cinema darkness.
Long before poster artists turned to photography and computer-generated images in the 1980s and ’90s, illustrators like Mr. Gold billboarded movies with freehand drawings, based on scripts and first screen prints, that hinted at plots and moods and mysteries, without giving away too much — priming audiences for love, betrayal, jealousy, murder.
Mr. Gold comfortably spanned the years from paperboard to the computer era, and many of his posters became nearly as famous as the movies they promoted. Some won design awards; many were coveted by film buffs, sold at auctions, or collected in expensively bound art books. The best originals came to be considered rare and costly classics of the genre.
For Michael Curtiz’s “Casablanca” (1942), Mr. Gold’s second assignment, he drew Humphrey Bogart in trench coat and fedora, dominant in the foreground, with a constellation of co-stars — Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, and others — in the airport fog behind him. To raise the drama, Gold put a pistol in Bogart’s hand. And he put fear and regret, not love, in Bergman’s eyes, to avoid stepping on his last lines.
“Classic movie posters are memorable; they are held in as much affection as the movies themselves,” Lars Trodson wrote on the film website The Roundtable in 2009. “When a classic movie is matched by a classic poster, you’re held in the thrall of a distinct and pleasurable memory. The poster image becomes part of the movie experience, and is, in the end, another of the reasons why movies are so essential to us.”
Mr. Gold caught the steamy languor of Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), with portraits of Marlon Brando’s crudely menacing Stanley Kowalski and Vivien Leigh’s birdlike Blanche Dubois thrown together in the mad cacophony of a dilapidated New Orleans tenement at the end of the Desire line.
And for Eastwood’s “Mystic River” (2003), a dark tragedy of child molestation and murder linking three men, friends since childhood in Irish Catholic Boston, who are haunted by secrets of grief and vengeance, Mr. Gold pared complexities to a penetrating simplicity. He depicted upside-down reflections of the three enigmatic men walking on water. “We bury our sins,” the caption says. “We wash them clean.”
He retired in 2003 but continued to design posters. His last, in 2011, was for “J. Edgar,” Clint Eastwood’s biopic of the longtime FBI director.