Let’s set the scene for this work. It’s 1954. Two years earlier Bass had hung out his shingle as an independent designer, not working exclusively for one studio or ad agency. In 1953, Bass wrote a piece about film advertising for Graphis, the “International Bi-Monthly for Graphic and Applied Art,” as the magazine said of itself. Graphis was published out of Zurich, Switzerland, and had been started in 1944. (The company was sold in 1986 and relocated to New York. While Graphis annuals are still being published, the last Graphis magazine was published in 2005.)
Here’s part of what Bass wrote in Graphis No. 48, the edition of the magazine for July/August 1953: “It is important to note that there is little creative and mature film advertising produced in the United States. That which is produced, comes about sporadically, and does not grow out of a consistent attitude or policy of any business organization. There are many reasons for this, but they all focalize in the lack of confidence of the advertiser in the maturity and taste of the audience (a frequently encountered phenomenon in other businesses as well). This attitude can be traced back to the film itself. Certainly the men who make films for insensitive audiences (as many film makers see it), would hardly be expected to abandon the cliché in the material that is devised to bring the audience to the film. Where a more creative approach to the advertising is undertaken, it is usually as a result of attitudes that were expressed first in the film.
“In relating the material to its social milieu, some note should be made of the tradition and background to the promotion of motion pictures. It must be remembered that in its early years in America, the motion picture was regarded as an entertainment novelty, not as a serious art form. As a result, methods of promotion developed that were greatly akin in spirit to that employed in promoting the circus; with the attendant exaggerated claims and sensationalism.”
Bass adds: “One distinguishing characteristic of the American [motion picture] work is its imaginative use of photography. This, the most widely used graphic technique in American motion picture advertising, may have developed in order to satisfy the generally skeptical attitude of the consumer, which harks back to the circus days when the only proof was in the seeing. The photograph seems to carry the necessary reassurance that what is promised will be there.”
Here are the six rough drawings that Al Kallis did for Bass for the 1954 movie “Magnificent Obsession,” starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. As with all of Kallis’ work for Bass, Al says Saul was very specific about what each drawing should look like. As far as I can tell, none of these drawings were actually used by Universal-International to advertise the film in any way — not as consumer or trade ads nor as posters.
However, the Kallis drawing of Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in No. 4, above, became the central image for both the posters and the ads for the film. Futhermore, the following ad (on the right), taken from the pressbook of the film, appears to be a combination of the Hudson/Wyman image from No. 4 and the rectangular images of the stars from Kallis drawing No. 2.
Here are the posters that were actually used for the film, again, per the movie’s pressbook:
To this day Kallis has a small color version of the image he drew for the 24-sheet in his home office:
Kallis’ usual procedure, when working with Bass — he also did some non-movie work for Bass, for such Bass clients as Qantas Air Lines and Pabco Paints — was that he would turn in the rough black and white drawings, and Bass would then eventually tell him if he wanted any of the roughs made into finished work, and whether or not they were to be done in color.
In this instance, Kallis said he could not recall whether Bass asked him to do the finished image above for the 24-sheet, or if Kallis’ Dad, who was in charge of the ads for Universal-International at that time, later asked him to do it.
Finally, interestingly, the No. 1 drawing that Kallis did above for Bass reminds me of a stunning non-Bass movie poster made much later, in 1969, for the Robert Redford movie about competitive skiing called “Downhill Racer.” I believe it was designed by the late Advertising Hall of Fame Art Director Stephen Frankfurt:
The links below take you to the other Bass/Kallis work in this story: