CINEMA RETRO RECENTLY VIEWED AN ADVANCED SCREENER OF A SUPERB NEW DOCUMENTARY TRIBUTE TO ROBERT MCGINNIS, ONE OF THE GREATEST CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS. WE ASKED THE FILM'S PRODUCER, PAUL JILBERT, TO PROVIDE OUR READERS WITH THE BACKGROUND STORY.
Robert McGinnis: Painting the Last Rose of Summer
A new documentary on the life and work of one of the greatest contemporary artists - and a legend in the field of classic movie poster design.
By Paul Jilbert
As the 1980’s came to a close, I noticed something was missing in the glass movie poster display cases of my favorite movie houses: the illustrated movie poster. Suddenly, the explosive action scenes, handsome leading men and beautiful women were being reduced to drab, colorless photographic headshots. I found myself longing for the images of artists such as Bob Peak, Frank McCarthy, Howard Terpning and my favorite movie poster artist, Robert McGinnis. In the back of my mind I thought that some kind of program or video should be made about these artists. Several years later, I had just completed my first illustrator documentary on the work of James Bama ( In the 1960s Jimmy created those cool Doc Savage : Man Of Bronze paperback cover images).
It was through the encouragement of my friend, illustrator Barry Klugerman and my mentor, Jim Steranko (the brilliant writer-artist of the 1960’s Marvel comics Nick Fury: Agent Of Shield) that I decided to produce a documentary on Robert McGinnis. It was the perfect project for me.
I began collecting James Bond posters in the 1970’s, beginning with Diamonds Are Forever. I spent many summers teaching myself to draw comics and copying the style of McGinnis' famed female figures of the 1960s, who were noted for their bold sexuality. I must have re-drawn Bob’s Diamonds Are Forever poster over a dozen times. Years later, I contacted him and explained I had just completed the James Bama project - and asked if he would participate in a documentary dedicated to the McGinnis legacy. Bob wanted to see the Bama program. He called back to say he was very impressed and gave me the green light for a documentary about him.
Three months later, I arrived in Connecticut and met Bob in his studio. The walls were adorned with several original illustrations from his Carter Brown book covers, as well as his romance paperback paintings. I was, of course, speechless and it took all of my concentration to set up my Betacam and lights. This was a one-man production crew, so everything had to go right the first time - especially as this marked the only occasion that the publicty-shy Bob McGinnis had allowed anyone to film in his studio. The large, cumbersome black Betacam camera can be intimidating as hell, resembling a sort of Darth Vader transformer. I learned from shooting news and directing commercials that one must take on a very casual conversational mode and talk like neighbors on each side of the picket fence. Bob was very patient and very giving of information about his life and work ethic. Our conversations covered a wide variety of aspects pertaining to his career: Ohio landscapes, early technical artwork, story illustrations, editorial work for magazines such as Good Housekeeping, and a personal favorite Guideposts magazine. A good portion of time was spent discussing Bob's now famous Western images. We also discussed his paintings for movie posters and I was surprised to learn that Breakfast At Tiffany’s was Bob’s very first movie assignment. No one was more surprised than Bob when this poster became an icon of American pop culture. “They were just assignments and I never thought they would live on their own, so I wish I had done a better job” he said. Arabesque starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren is a McGinnis favorite. He requested from the studio that the tiger stripe dress that Loren wore in the film to be sent to him, as he wanted to have a local model pose in it to get just the right angles he was looking for. “She really was one of the great beauties of the time”, he recalled.
The year 1965 brought the world of James Bond to Bob’s studio. Chief of United Artists publicity Don Smolen commissioned McGinnis and fellow artist Frank McCarthy to create art images for Thunderball. Said Smolen “If you wanted beautiful women in Bond posters, there was only one man- Bob McGinnis.” McCarthy painted the action images and McGinnis painted the women. There is an interesting side story in the documentary about the “revision” that needed to be made by Smolen to McGinnis’s Diamonds Are Forever art long before the lifesaving pre-Photoshop days. Suffice it to say, the last minute revision was a nerve-wracking experience for all concerned.
This artwork of Sean Connery and Claudine Auger was not used in the main ad campaign for Thunderball.
McGinnis was flown to the Thunderball set at Pinewood Studios in England to take reference photos - a respect shown to a well-known artist that is virtually unheard of today. Years later, Don Smolen presented him with the challenge of creating a poster image for Cotton Comes to Harlem, one of the most prominent films of the Blaxploitation era - though this was a class production with top stars. Smolen, who wanted the film to appeal to all audiences across racial lines, said that McGinnis' work was "Bob's best poster art ever." Other iconic movie poster images created by McGinnins include the poster art for Barbarella, The Odd Couple, Sleeper and the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale that boasted the now famous image of the psychadelic girl.
I consider it a rare privilege to have been given the opportunity to create this intimate portrait of Bob McGinnis. A highlight of my documentary is a segment that follows his entire creative process from black-and-white model reference photos to the completed painting. I filmed it over a three day period with my camera rather intrusively situated over Bob's shoulder!
I’d like to thank Bob and his wonderful wife Ferne for allowing me to record this man’s incredible work and artistry. You can view a trailer and reserve a DVD of the documentary at our website: www.theillustratorstv.com.