Friday, January 15, 2021

Milton Glaser (1929-2020)

I just learned, to my amazement and sadness, that the great Milton Glaser has died.  Maybe due to the pandemic and my own isolation, I found this out seven months after his death on June 26, 2020 (his 91st birthday!). I realize he was quite elderly but he was a demi-god, or semi-god, to me, and gods don't die.

My first awareness of him was back in college - Portland State - in the late 1960's when my classmate and artistic genius, David Harriman, turned me on to Pushpin Studios in New York, and specifically, Mr. Glaser.

Of course, it was my desire to do something in illustration after school, since I didn't have the technical knowledge at the time to make animated films, which is what I really dreamed about doing.  That's when I fell in love with Glaser's work.

His classic Bob Dylan poster was all the rage at that time - and I copied his different typeface designs for the film and music posters I was creating.  So I started collecting the Pushpin graphic magazine religiously.  Also, I looked for his art in New York magazine (which he co-created).

It was at that time I decided to move to New York City, because Milton taught a class at the School of Visual Arts on design and illustration.  That's it!  I'll move to New York and be one of Milton's apprentices!  So I signed up for classes at SVA, positive that because of the strength of my art that I'd be assigned to his class.  Better think again, Billy Boy - by the time I arrived and saw my class schedule, I realized that Milton's class was a very popular one, and only he chose who his students would be, via a portfolio review. 

Damn, I missed my chance - after two semesters I decided I couldn't afford art school and began to take my portfolio around.  

Here are a couple of incidents that I heard about Milton Glaser that are very revealing.  Apparently, when the Beatles decided to do an animated feature film, with themselves as characters, the producers and George Dunning, the director, asked Milton Glaser to be the design director.  Unfortunately, he was too busy designing restaurants and running his studio to take on such a heavy commitment, so he recommended German illustrator Heinz Edelman, who had a style very similar to Milton's, and of course, he did a super brilliant job.  But the story goes that the artist Peter Max was an intern at Pushpin Studios at the time, and he felt that he should have been chosen for the job.  And because his style is now so close to Milton's, he claims that he was the true designer of "Yellow Submarine". 

And another legendary story, that Mr. Glaser was asked to design a promotional ad for New York City, which at the time was having severe financial and cultural difficulties.  He was in a cab, on his way to meet the client to present his sketches when he got the idea for the "I Love NY" logo.  He sketched it down and the client loved it - but not only that, he decided to make the design copyright free.  He could have been a billionaire if he'd copyrighted the idea - but he wanted to give it to the world, and that's one reason you can see his design in every tourist stop in every city all over the world.  Thank you, Milton!

You'll be happy to know I finally met the great man at an SVA function about 10 years ago - and he was kind enough to chat with me for a while.  Of course, he had no idea who I was - I don't think he was much of a fan of animation.  He's way too busy.  I even sent him a DVD of my film "Your Face" but sadly, I never heard back from him.  

Still, I got to talk to one of my ultimate heroes - who knows how my life would have turned out if I had been able to take his class?  Oh, well, it's too late now.  

Thanks for reading, 

Bill P. 

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