From the 1950s up until his death in 1996, Saul Bass was the go-to graphic designer for film and commercial branding. From his classic openings to films like Psycho and The Man with the Golden Arm, to his remarkable and memorable posters for films like Vertigo and Anatomy of a Murder, Saul Bass was the perfect marriage of design and film. Saul Bass designed logos and branding for countless companies and organizations from Girl Scouts to Exxon.
Saul Bass was based largely in Los Angeles, but was born in the Bronx district of New York in 1920. As a child he was terribly creative and drew constantly. He later joined the Art Students League and Brooklyn College. There he was introduced to Gyorgy Kepes, a colleague of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. When the Nazi threat became too much, they both fled to the United States. Bass was introduced to the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivist style through Kepes.
After several apprenticeships around New York, he became a freelance designer and decided that moving to Los Angeles would be best for his career. He was soon hired in 1954, by Otto Preminger to design a film poster for his new movie, Carmen Jones. He was so impressed by the poster that he asked Bass to design the opening film credits. This film was the start of Saul Bass’ commercial career. He designed the opening credits for The Seven Year Itch in 1955, but his most controversial opening, The Man With the Golden Arm, quickly overshadowed it.
The film is centered around a drug addicted jazz musician, played by Frank Sinatra. The opening credits show moving bars, which combine to form the jagged arm of the drug addict. This was met with much dislike by critics and moviegoers. Bass also designed posters for Preminger’s Exodus(1960), which portrayed the founding of the state of Israel.
Shortly after, he began his work with Alfred Hitchcock. In 1958, he was given the task of designing Hitchcock’s new film, Vertigo, starring James Stewart and Kim Novak. Bass illustrated two figures silhouetted in a dramatic spiral. The dramatic colors and edgy type are directly representative to the main characters mental stability and easily let the viewer know what the mood of the film will be. He continued to work with Hitchcock for many other films including North by Northwest(1959) and Psycho(1960).
Bass, all along aspired to be a director and in 1974, he released Phase IV. It did terribly, and Bass returned to design, but this time, with logos and branding. Some of his most famous logos include: The United Way, Warner Communications, Girl Scouts, AT&T, Bell Telephone Systems and United Airlines.
Saul Bass returned to film in the 1990s and created several opening credits for Martin Scorsese, director and long time friend, including Goodfellas(1990), and Casino(1995). Bass died the following year. Bass’ work is truly inspiring and is seen everyday, around the world, in homes, on buses, planes, and on clothing.