Before you wonder why you should give thanks to early CBS promotional holiday programming, consider the rich history behind the campaign. It all starts with the Columbia Broadcast System, better known as CBS TV. If you’re like most, only two designers come to mind: William Golden (pictured below) and Lou Dorfsman. Indeed, the CBS logo, still in use after 62 years, is more often than not credited solely to Golden. Based on a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign as well as a Shaker drawing, the “Network Eye” signaled the distinction between listening to radio and watching the newfangled technology of television.
There’s some speculation about whether designer George Olden, then an employee of Golden’s (try not to let their rhyming names confuse you), worked on the logo as well. And yet another unsung hero of this long-lasting mark is artist and designer Kurt Weihs, who also worked at CBS.
A little backstory: CBS started in Chicago in 1927 as the “United Independent Broadcasters” network. Soon an investor, the Columbia Phonograph Company, joined ranks and the Columbia Broadcast System was born, helmed by a 26-year-old William S. Paley, the new company’s first president.
Experimentations with TV began in the 1920s and were introduced to the public at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, but it wasn’t until 1948 that the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) emerged as CBS’ rival with programming that included Milton Berle’s popular “Texaco Star Theater” and concerts by conductor Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Paley and CBS countered with shows by radio and film stars Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, and Charlie McCarthy.
Golden, who had worked chiefly in editorial design at The Examiner, Hearst’s Journal American, and Condé Nast’s House & Garden, joined CBS in 1937 as a designer in the promotion department, and moved up to art director three years later. In 1941, he joined the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C., and in 1943, he entered the U.S. Army as a private, while still art directing army training manuals.
After his discharge in 1946 he returned to CBS to lead a design team that now included Olden, Weihs, and Dorfsman. With Didot for their logotype and the Margritte-inspired eye for their mark, they created an instantly recognizable identity and produced myriad national print ads, promotional materials, and on-air graphics that were provocative, conceptually driven, and exhibited a clean, modernist aesthetic.
It debuted on October 20, 1951. Golden wished to replace the logo the following year but was dissuaded by CBS President Frank Stanton, and so it remained in place.
This promotional “Thanksgiving Festival Kit” from the AIGA Design Archives (above) is credited to both Golden and Weihs. The humorous cover of the booklet features two pilgrims, the taller playing a mandolin and the shorter playing a long-necked lute. The booklet celebrated the holiday broadcast of “an hour long holiday musical treat!” on November 24, 1956.
Weihs would leave CBS in 1961 (Golden died in 1959) to become art director at Lois Holland Callaway Inc. with George Lois. Together, they went to create show-stopping work at various ad agencies and studios for the next 40 years.