Saul Bass Book Reviews

Saul Bass

by Pat Kirkham and Jennifer Bass

440 pages, hardcover, $75, published by Laurence King Publishing,


It’s hard to believe a book on the work of Saul Bass has never been published before. As one of the most famed graphic designers of the twentieth century, Bass single-handedly transformed the film title genre while simultaneously crafting the world’s most iconic corporate identities. “He wasn’t just an artist who contributed to the first several minutes of some of the greatest movies in history...he was one of the best filmmakers of this, or any other time,” says director Steven Spielberg.

Well, the legend has finally received his due. With over 400 pages, 1,400 illustrations and a gushing foreword by Martin Scorsese, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design is a mammoth retrospective of the designer’s 60-year career. The book zooms in on Bass’s staggeringly versatile creations, offering an amazingly comprehensive overview of his life and work.

It takes us behind-the-scenes of his film sequences and poster designs for movies like The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, Vertigo, Spartacus and Cape Fear. Logos and identity systems for Quaker Oats, Minolta, AT&T, United Airlines, United Way and Avery are among the many highlighted. Plus, his lesser-known but equally clever designs are featured: commercials, packaging, album covers, posters, typefaces, environments and even building and furniture designs. It’s truly mind-blowing the amount of innovative work Bass produced in his lifetime and in nearly every creative medium.

But unlike other eye-candy compendiums, this book is as inspiring and intriguing to read, as it is to ogle over. Written by design historian Pat Kirkham, who knew and worked intimately with Bass, the narrative weaves a personal glimpse into the influences and experiences that shaped Bass as an artist.

In addition to relic photographs from early childhood to hobnobbing with Hollywood celebs to designer-in-action, Bass’s own voice threads throughout providing insight into his creative process, context to his work and amusing anecdotes. He shares what it was like landing his first design job in the 1930s, creating for eccentric Howard Hughes, meeting Charlie Chaplin, working with director Otto Preminger, designing the storyboards for Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene and presenting his logo concepts to giants such as Bell System.

A labor of love, the book was designed by Bass’s daughter Jennifer, who promised her eight-year-old self to someday bring her father’s steadfast dream of creating a book on his life’s work to fruition—if he didn’t. Bass died before he fulfilled his vision. Now, a talented designer in her own right, Jennifer pays homage to her father (and mother, Bass’s longtime creative partner) in meticulously crafting a classic minimalist design that brings their work center stage.

Bass ingeniously had a knack for distilling complex visuals and stories to the simplest and most compelling of forms. As he explained, “We try for the idea that is so simple it will make you think—and rethink.” This book will make you do just that. —Stephanie Orma



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