I don’t know about you, but when I see a film, I am there for the opening credits and I stay for the closing sequences.
Why isn’t there an Academy Award for Best Title Design? After all, there are Oscars given for Best Sound Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design, so why not recognize title design too? The Emmy Awards honor television title sequences. Why not the Oscars? Well, there was once, sort of.
At the very first Academy Awards in 1929, The Red Mill won the Oscar for Best Title Writing, an award that recognized the silent film with the best intertitles. But with the new talking pictures, the Title Writing category became obsolete and it was phased out the following year.
In 1999, a Best Title Design category was proposed to the Academy Board of Governors, who meet yearly to consider new award categories, but the idea was nixed.
In 1951, Wayne Fitzgerald, just out of art school, began work at Pacific Title & Art Studio, with the idea of producing television commercials, but he couldn’t shake the idea that the title and end sequences for films should be more than just “book covers”. That idea began a 55-year career designing title sequences for more than 1000 films and television series, including The Three Faces Of Eve (1957), Imitation Of Life (1959), Pillow Talk (1959), The Music Man (1962), My Fair Lady (1964), The Graduate (1967) Chinatown (1974), Nine To Five (1980), Footloose (1984), and Total Recall (1990), to name just a few. In addition to opening and closing titles, the gifted Fitzgerald shot montage sequences for Rocky III and Tootsie (both 1982).
He worked with the best directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, John Huston, Mike Nichols, Robert Redford, Roman Polanski, Arthur Penn, Michael Cimino, Warren Beatty, Herbert Ross, and Quentin Tarantino.
Fitzgerald had a reputation for consummate professionalism. He was focused intently on the budding art of crafting opening credits that set the mood and tone of films and thus generated audience intrigue and expectation. He was part of a small cadre of title designers including Saul Bass, Friz Freleng and Maurice Binder who were true pioneers of this new concept of film openings titles.
During production of Bonnie And Clyde (1967) Fitzgerald found himself caught between studio head Jack Warner and producer and film star Warren Beatty, who disagreed on Fitzgerald’s title sequence. As head of Pacific Title’s Warner Bros. account, Fitzgerald knew he had to choose Warner’s side, even though the studio boss had no official role in making the film. An angry Beatty urged Fitzgerald to start his own title design firm so he could avoid studio meddling. Fitzgerald resigned from Pacific Title the next day.
His opening sequence for Bonnie And Clyde is a series of snapshots, the outlaw couple’s favorite mode of self-promotion, became famous. The Los Angeles Times review read: ” …there is an awareness that we are not in for quite what we expected begins with the titles.”
Fitzgerald, in a 1982 interview in Film Comment, explained the old approach to title sequences:
“You did an illustration, you put the name of the picture on there, you had about eight titles and it faded out, and you got on with the movie, and everybody sort of ignored it.”
As title sequences got longer to highlight more actors and film professionals, they began to put audiences to sleep. Fitzgerald knew that a new approach to title design would be like producing his own mini-movies that were then attached to the main film. He captured the workday world for gay director Colin Higgins‘ 9 to 5 with scenes of people running to work, spilling coffee, chasing buses. His credit sequence for Lawrence Kasdan‘s The Big Chill (1983) shows a man being dressed, with the audience unaware until the end that he is a corpse.
Fitzgerald’s opening sequence for Chinatown with its washed-out yellow-on-brown titles, the credits scrolling against a backdrop of diagonal lines clues the audience that we are about to enter the 1930s world of film noir.
Fitzgerald’s opening sequence for Mike Nichols‘ Catch-22 begins with a bucolic scene with the muffled sound of a distant dog barking and chirping birds, when suddenly there is the deafening roar of a giant bomber. For Grease (1978), he cleverly used high school yearbook end titles.
Fitzgerald won three Emmy Awards. He was a two-term governor, representing title designers, for Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, of which he was a two-term governor representing title designers. He was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which, as you know, has no Academy Award for Best Title Design.
LGBTQ film fans, please note the title sequences below:
Fitzgerald’s own closing credits rolled on Monday, September 30.
Here is my favorite: