• Inducted in 1977
  • Design
  • Born May 8, 1920
  • Died April 25, 2014

Saul Bass

After all the honors and recognition, Bass’ view of himself and his work remains characteristically uncluttered. “There is nothing glamorous in what I do. I’m a working man. Perhaps I’m luckier than most in that I receive considerable satisfaction from doing useful work which I, and sometimes others, think is good.”

From the very beginning of his career, painting signs on store windows in the Bronx while attending high school, Bass learned respect for craft and process. “The failure to deal with these issues is one of the irritating weaknesses of today’s educational system.”

Largely self-taught, he is careful to give credit to those influences who opened conceptual doors: Howard Trafton at the Art Students League and particularly György Kepes at Brooklyn College. (Kepes returned the compliment by including a chapter on Bass in his comprehensive six-volume Vision and Value .)

During the course of his astonishingly productive career, Bass has functioned in numerous roles: art director, designer, photographer, illustrator, and filmmaker. The variety of his output makes him hard to pigeonhole, or even to anticipate what area he will turn up in next. “I don’t think versatility is either good or bad. For myself what matters is doing work that interests me and doing it as well as I can.”

Sometimes it appears that Saul Bass is interested in almost everything. Still there is a sense of continuity in the distinguished landmarks of his career. His association with producer/director Otto Preminger led him from designing graphic symbols for film advertising to reinventing feature film credit titles. The titles he created for “The Man With The Golden Arm,” “Anatomy Of A Murder,” “West Side Story,” “Walk on the Wild Side,” and “Around The World In Eighty Days” are still considered by many as examples of a visual and conceptual sensibility rarely matched in Hollywood films before or since.

Turning to short films and commercials, Bass’ work has received numerous awards. “The Searching Eye” was commissioned by Kodak for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. “From Here to There” was made for United Airlines. Kaiser Aluminum sponsored “Why Man Creates,” which was honored with the Gold Medal from the Moscow Film Festival as well as an Academy Award. In 1974, Bass directed his first feature film, “Phase IV.”

The clarity and logic of Bass’ design work is perhaps most clearly evident in his corporate design work. In theory, a corporate trademark represents the key visual phrase that conveys the essence of what is useful for a corporation to communicate about itself. “I find corporations almost as fascinating as people. Every company I have ever worked for has a unique aura. The secret and the challenge are learning how to express and make comprehensible the subtext.”

In addition to his work in corporate identity, Bass has designed packages for many of America’s leading package goods firms. His work as poster designer, photographer and illustrator has received widespread recognition. His work hangs in museums around the world.

In Los Angeles, California, Saul Bass sits in his cluttered office continuing to do what interests him. As a result, it’s virtually impossible for any North American to pass through a day without encountering a Bass design, artifact or image. “You’d think by now it wouldn’t mean as much. The other day a Bell System service van drove by and my 9-year-old son, Jeffrey, said ‘Look Daddy there goes one of your trucks.’ You know, I still enjoy hearing that.”

Please note: Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 1977.