By the 1980s movie poster design became more photo-based than illustrated, forever changing the artform. Though many of the most valuable movie posters were painted in the early days of film, the ’70s and early ’80s saw some of the most recognizable designs. Several of them were created by Richard Amsel.
As an illustrator and graphic designer, Amsel was known for his illustration work on movie posters, as well as album covers and magazine covers. He had a flexible style, creating detailed portraiture and pop art – all with precision and style. For his movie posters, Amsel was able to embrace a movie’s time period and setting, making each work standout on their own.
When 20th Century Fox held a national search for an artist to create a poster for the Barbra Streisand musical Hello, Dolly!, Amsel’s proposed design was chosen. At that time, Amsel was a 22-year-old student at the Philadelphia College of Art.
Soon he gained popularity in the New York art scene, grabbing Barry Manilow’s attention, who was performing with Bette Midler in clubs and bars. Once Midler was introduced to Amsel, he was hired to create the cover art for her first album, The Divine Miss M. This led to more work on album covers and a series of magazine ads for fashion designer Oleg Cassini.
His movie poster commissions really took off in the 1970s, which included some of the most popular films of the time. For the Paul Newman and Robert Redford crime dramady The Sting, he put the handsome stars front and center, looking roguish and fun. On his Chinatown poster, Amsel utilized the movie’s noir aspect, painting a detailed portrait of Jack Nicholson with Faye Dunaway manifesting from the smoke of his cigarette.
This period also saw Amsel’s art on posters for such films as The Champ, Julia, The Last Picture Show, The Last Tycoon, The Muppet Movie, Murder on the Orient Express, Papillon, and The Shootist.
Though posters in the ’80s were moving more prominently toward photo-based posters versus painted art, Amsel was able to remain productive, including the colorful, campy Flash Gordon, and the fantasy The Dark Crystal.
It was in the early ’80s that Amsel created his most memorable posters for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Amsel made posters for the initial release in ’81 and one for the rerelease in ’82, both of which captured Harrison Ford’s rugged handsomeness as Indiana Jones. Flanking the central image are subtle references to the danger that the hero will face, all in sandy tones of orange and tan.
His work on magazine covers, particularly TV Guide, are also quite memorable. In ’72, TV Guide commissioned him to create a cover of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, coinciding with the TV movie about their relationship. From there, he created 40 covers for the magazine over 13 years, many of which are now collector’s items. They feature Mary Tyler Moore, Elvis Presley, Ingrid Bergman, John Travolta, Tom Selleck, Nancy Reagan, Johnny Carson, Katherine Hepburn, Frank Sinatra, and Princess Grace.
Perhaps the most well loved cover was one he did of Lucille Ball, done in 1974 to honor her retirement from television. Another of the most popular was of Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable, which was done for the TV debut of Gone with the Wind. He did a portrait of Lily Tomlin for Time magazine that is a part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.