What does one do when your publisher walks into your office, drops a box of photos on your desks, and asks, “Can you make a book out of this?” For me the answer was simple: call Paula Scher. Back to her in a bit.
The genre of The Films of… books was created in the early ’50s by publishers Alan Wilson and Morris Sorkin of Citadel Press. In the days before the Internet Movie Database, these books listed complete film details for the major stars of the day: James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, et al. Citadel was purchased about a decade later by renegade publisher Lyle Stuart, who hired me as his art director many years later. Then in the early ’90s, Spy Magazine founder Steven Schragis purchased the company. Why all this background info? Stay with me, we’re almost there.
Steven had the novel idea of selling these film books in video rental stores (remember those?). One such title was The Films of Lana Turner by author Lou Valentino, published in 1979. Valentino returned in 1991 with fellow film memorabilia collector and MCA/Universal Pictures’ New York press contact, Edward Z. Epstein, who plopped the aforementioned box of photos on my desk.
Which finally brings me back to Paula. Paula had recently moved to Pentagram from her own studio, Koppel and Scher. When I called her and told her about the project she said send it over. As she recalls, “All I remember is that there was no specific editorial content to that book and no idea, just a bunch of beautiful celeb photos by a pile of different photographers. So I took the title of the book literally and edited the photos so they were all close-ups, and then blew up pictures of lips and eyes. It was a pretty happy experiment—I always liked that book.”
What Paula created was stunning. The photos oozed sensuality, and Paula’s dramatic cropping and juxtapositions increased the effect ten-fold. Side note: among the more expected stars that also appear in the book, such as Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, Jean Harlow, Montgomery Clift, and Errol Flynn, it’s John Wayne—known neither for his lips nor his eyes—who manages to hold his own.
I hired Stevan A. Baron, the head of production at Aperture as a consultant and together we went on press to assure the highest quality printing. When this was achieved, we held in our hands a hauntingly beautiful book. In the 11th hour we were prohibited from using matte UV coating on the cover (which would have created an elegant effect) for fear the books would scuff when shipped. I tried to prevent the glossy cover we wound up with, but there are some battles you just can’t win, and it’s still a mistake I regret some 20 years on. Nonetheless, the book appears twice in the AIGA Archives as part of “A Decade of Entertainment Graphics” in 1992 and the following year in “The Cover Show.”