Philip Gips, creator of celebrated film posters, dies at 88

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Philip Gips, creator of celebrated film posters, dies at 88
Gips designed a macabre look for the poster of “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), a horror story about a young woman (played by Mia Farrow) who believes that her odd neighbors in the Manhattan apartment building where she and her husband (John Cassavetes) live are Satanists who have impregnated her with a demon child.

by Richard Sandomir

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- Philip Gips, a graphic artist who created many celebrated movie posters, including those for “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Alien,” which hinted at the terror audiences would experience but gave away nothing of the films’ plots, died Oct. 3 in a hospital in White Plains, New York. He was 88.

His son Michael said the cause was complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia.

Starting in the 1960s, Gips — sometimes in collaboration with Stephen Frankfurt, a friend and his partner in a Manhattan advertising agency — created a succession of posters with imagery that captured the essence of the movies they advertised.

“He was an equal giant among his peers in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s” like Bill Gold and Bob Peak, said Dwight Cleveland, a collector and the author of “Cinema on Paper: The Graphic Genius of Movie Posters” (2019).

Gips designed a macabre look for the poster of “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), a horror story about a young woman (played by Mia Farrow) who believes that her odd neighbors in the Manhattan apartment building where she and her husband (John Cassavetes) live are Satanists who have impregnated her with a demon child.

The poster, drenched in an eerie green, depicts a faraway baby carriage propped on a rocky ridge in shadow and silhouetted against an ethereal image of Farrow, in profile, staring dazedly into the sky.

“It made you wonder, ‘Who would leave a baby carriage in unfriendly terrain, and who is this character in the spooky glow?’” Cleveland said by phone.

For “Alien” (1979), a horror story about members of a spaceship crew who find a chamber with thousands of eggs on a distant planet, Gips created a single menacing image for the poster: an alien egg, suspended in space, releasing something green and yellow and murky.

The portentous tagline — “In space no one can hear you scream” — was provided by Gips’ wife, Barbara (Solinger) Gips, a copywriter, and is arguably better known than the glowing egg.

Philip Sheldon Gips was born March 28, 1931, in the Bronx to Murray and Roe (Nevins) Gips. His father managed residential properties, and his mother was a homemaker.

Philip started drawing as a boy. When he was 13, he filled a book with original comics, some of them inspired by World War II.

He earned a bachelor’s degree at the Cooper Union in Manhattan and a master’s from the Yale School of Art and Architecture. While at Yale, he and Lou Klein became the art directors of Monocle, a political satire magazine edited and published by Victor Navasky, a student at Yale Law School. Gips and Klein stayed at Monocle — their jobs at the magazine were part time — into the early 1960s. Navasky later became editor of The Nation.

After graduating from Yale, Gips held several jobs, including one at Time-Life Books, where he was an art director for two years. He and Klein then started an advertising firm, the first of several in which he would be involved, including Gips Balkind, founded in 1968. Frankfurt joined it as a partner 20 years later.

As an executive at the Young & Rubicam ad agency, Frankfurt — a pioneer in movie marketing campaigns who also designed the title sequence of “To Kill a Mockingbird” — asked Gips to design film posters. Their relationship moved from assignments to collaborations; as a result, determining who did exactly what on each poster can be tricky. Frankfurt died in 2012.

Soon after “Rosemary’s Baby,” Gips designed two posters for “Downhill Racer,” Michael Ritchie’s 1969 film about an arrogant skier, played by Robert Redford.

One poster featured an outsize portrait of two lovers about to kiss, juxtaposed with the tiny figure of a skier racing down a slope. The other showed a skier, the image distorted by his speed, racing toward the camera, the background a blaze of blue.

In a 2007 survey of the greatest movie posters, Premiere magazine ranked the one for “Downhill Racer” with the two lovers and the one for “Rosemary’s Baby” in its top 25.

Gips’ poster for the French soft-core pornographic film “Emmanuelle” (1974) is a sensual image of a woman, her lips apart. The words — “X was never like this” — appear to come out of her mouth. That poster is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Although posters were Gips’ best-known work, he and his firms also designed annual reports, album covers, signage and corporate logos, including the one that ESPN has used since 1985.

Among many other movies, he also did posters for “Superman” (1978), “All That Jazz” (1979), “The Verdict” (1982), “Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985), “Fatal Attraction” (1987) and “Casualties of War” (1989). He later designed posters for the A&E cable channel. He retired in 2007.

In addition to his son Michael, Gips is survived by his wife; a daughter, Dana Gips; three other sons, Steven, David and James; 11 grandchildren; and a sister, Zelda Lempert.

Not all of Gips’ most memorable work was seen by the public.

While designing a poster for “Network” (1976) — a project that Frankfurt also worked on — Gips suggested that the unhinged news anchorman at the center of the story, Howard Beale (played by Peter Finch), be pictured strung up on a television antenna, as if he were being crucified.

“The tagline was supposed to be ‘The Greatest Story Ever Sold,’” Michael Gips said in a phone interview. “But it was far too controversial for the studio.”

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