Skip to comments.The Creative Integrity of William Golden
Posted on 10/11/2009 10:17:43 PM PDT by B-Chan
Recently I revisited The Visual Craft of William Golden, a book published in the early-Sixties about the legendary CBS creative director. There is an essay in the book by CBS exec John Cowden that sheds light on Goldens artistic integrity, and helps to explain why the advertising work created under his guidance remains to this day the strongest body of advertising ever created for a TV network.
Goldens world revolved around graphic design, illustration and advertising, but I find his experiences to be relevant to creative people working in any commercial field, and especially animation. For example, Cowden recounted how Golden was offered a promotion from creative director to an upper management position. Golden flatly turned down the offer, Cowden wrote:
Many years ago, when he was offered the title of Vice President in charge of Advertising and Sales Promotion, he said no thanks. His reasons were significantand characteristic. He said the stripes would be bars that they would force him to become a company man to take the so-called broad view at the expense of principle.The story, incidentally, has an ironic but delightful ending. In scorning the conventional status symbols, Bill won far more. By turning down a vice presidency, he eventually gained a respect and status that outranked any vice president in the company.
Bill preferred to keep his independence and to preserve his inalienable right to shoutwhen the occasion demandedthat the emperor wasnt wearing any clothes. In any case, he said he didnt want to go to meetings, or be snowed under by administrative duties. I mention this because it reveals how Bill was willing to sacrifice anythingincluding his own advancementif he felt it stood in the way of better design and advertising.
Contrast Goldens unwavering integrity to all of the animation artists in recent years who have moved into high-profile executive and management positions. In every casewith the notable exception of John Lasseter [OSCAR®-winning director and screenwriter, now chief creative officer of both Pixar and Disney animation studios-- BC], these artists have unwittingly weakened their creative influence and become part of the problem by entrenching themselves within broken production systems.
Golden, who refused to become a part of upper management, also had his own ways of dealing with clueless business people. Again, from Cowdens essay:
This integrity and pride in craft were also apparent in his willingness to lay his job on the line if anyone tried to invade his special area of responsibility. I remember a layout for a rate card he once submitted to his superiorthe President of the Division. It came back by messenger with a note saying I dont like it very much. Lets discuss. Bills answer was simply to scotchtape a drawing pencil to the corner of a large layout pad and send it back with this message scribbled across the top sheet: Lets not. Why dont you make a better one. There was no reply. The rate card was produced as originally designed.
ACADEMY AWARD(S)®, OSCAR(S)®, OSCAR NIGHT® and OSCAR® statuette design mark are the registered trademarks and service marks, and the OSCAR® statuette the copyrighted property, of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
William Golden was the creative director at CBS during its glory years. He created the CBS "look", including the famous Eye, and with it the entire field known today as "corporate identity".
I have no idea what William Golden's politics were, and I don't really care. However, as a former advertising art director myself, I find his work and his story to be equally compelling. Suffice it to say that a guy like Golden would never survive in today's corporate world, where refusing to grovel before the Front-Office Scum is a guaranteed way to end up with the contents of your desk in a box by the end of the workday. William Golden did not take crap from bean-counters, marketing pimps, or stuffed-shirt MBA jockeys. He was a designer and did not tolerate Money Men who insisted they knew more than he did about his field. He could and did put his career on the line many times rather than permit non-designers from "corporate leadership" to interfere with his craft.
William Golden died in 1959 at the age of 48 -- far too early. We won't see his like again. There were men in those days.