If we could all go back in time, I suspect no one would object to revisiting 1961. A decade of prosperity made the 1950’s a nostalgic time and John F. Kennedy’s inauguration promised a New Frontier for America. The combination of nostalgia and promise created a go-go economy in the ‘60s that spawned a new age of consumerism. Much of the packaging, design and promotion of those consumer products was based in Chicago, and the best of it came out of a small shop named Goldsholl & Associates.
The Goldsholls were Mort and Millie, partners in life and business who fell under the influence of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and his Bauhaus-inspired School of Design (now the Illinois Institute of Design) and went on to create one of the most influential design firms of the era. Their work endures in logos for Motorola, IMC and the Peace Corps, packaging for dozens of commercial products, print and television commercials. But their first love was experimental film, and they used that passion to turn the staid world of industrial films on its head, producing corporate communications that sizzled in the tempo of the times.
A Frustrated Painter
Mort Goldsholl was born in 1911 with the dream of becoming a great painter. “That dream dissolved in the nightmare of a depression and factory work for too many years,” he recalled. But he did manage to find work in the advertising industry, producing mat books, layouts, engravings and typeset. He also found Millie, his future wife, who shared his passion for design. That passion led them to the School of Design where Moholy-Nagy was preaching the doctrine of design awareness. His was the first school in Chicago to offer a design degree so while Mort kept his day job, Millie enrolled. But both gravitated to seminars and classes where Moholy-Nagy, himself an experimental filmmaker, invited friends like Luis Bunuel and Salvadore Dali to show theirs. “Film is the art of the century,” he would say, and the Goldsholls set out to prove it.
In a 1992 interview, Mort spoke of a special project he spent months on. He would take a single film slide, slice away pieces of the film and replace it with hair, feathers, dirt and other objects to make abstract images that, when projected, turned into impressionistic collages. He called the process “light painting.” When he showed it to Maholy-Nagy, his mentor walked him around the school into every classroom announcing, “This is what design is about.”
In 1955, Mort and Millie established Goldsholl & Associates. Mort already had packaging and design clients, so he became titular head with responsibility for the design division, while Millie took charge of building a film division. By 1963, the company had grown to about 30 employees so the Goldsholls built a spare office building on frontage road in Northfield, filling it with a stage, sound and editing suites for the movies alongside the designers. Millie compared it to a beehive, but noted the proximity led to collaborations and experiments that wouldn’t have happened any other way. Filmmaking for the Goldsholls was a cerebral process that nevertheless thrived on serendipity.
“We are involved here in every step of the film process, from idea to imagery,” Millie told an interviewer shortly after moving in, “and we find this maintains the integrity of the concept. Phonics can be manipulated with the same freedom as image. The auditory is mobilized to create mood. Images may be heard, and sound seen. It is not so much in the components of the film structure that its art resides, but rather in relationships, interaction and transitions that it assumes its significance.
“The pulse or rhythm of a film can produce tension, excitement and release,” she continued. “In editing, the film maker gives wings to the parts . . . cleaving them from their place in time and space . . . releasing them into a designer’s stratosphere––there to be juggled, taken, rejected, extended, clipped, superimposed and recomposed.”
A Free Screening
On Sunday, April 7, The Chicago Film Archives will be presenting the work of Mort and Millie Goldsholl at the Chicago Cultural Center as the first step in gaining wider recognition for their work. There will be 14 short films on display – five of which are cultural milestones in the world of corporate communications.
The first is a stop-action animation of two gloves calling in a Kleenex tissue to clean up a spill. It was made before Kleenex was a household name and helped establish its reputation as an all-purpose wipe rag. The second is a remarkable film for Scientific Research Associates (SRA, then a division of IBM) about the learning process. It approaches language as Buckminster Fuller would approach architecture (with a dose of Wittgenstein thrown in). SRA’s challenge was to sell its complex set of reading tools to school teachers, and the Goldsholls met the challenge by having most of the dialogue delivered by kids.
Also on the docket is a 1964 Goldsholl campaign for Old Milwaukee Beer featuring dancing beer bottles, a 1930 experimental film by Moholy-Nagy himself, and personal short films from Goldsholl alumni Larwrence Janiak and Frank Mouris. (Mouris’ film is a tour de force itself, packing 11,592 still images into a nine-minute narrative of his life that becomes the collective biography of the era. It won the 1974 Academy Award for short film animation). Millie’s personal films are represented by two animated shorts –– “Intergalactic Zoo” (1970) which is dedicated to the men, women and children of Mars, and “Up is Down” (1969) an anti-war film encouraging kids to be non-comformists.
Another film that stands out as an example of the Goldsholl style is a 1960’s piece for the Magazine Publishers Association called “First Impression.” It is another very cerebral narrative track describing the inner workings of a consumer’s eye that all but disappears into the vivid imagery of a smartly edited montage of music and photos. Mort Goldsholl himself wrote the words, and they are powerful in and of themselves. Here, for instance is his description of “Color”:
It is joy, verve, dimension. . . . Color is Wow! . . . Color is calm . . . shocking . . . scale . . . luscious . . . extreme . . . relaxing . . . zip . . . cheerful . . . distinguished . . . wayyyyouttt! . . . restraint . . . imagine . . . dignified . . . intriguing . . . delicate . . . exotic . . . atmosphere . . . opulent . . . strong . . . soft . . . expansive . . . pure . . . seductive . . .
Color is yes. Color is memory . . . strongly impressed, fondly stored. Color is appetite and desire . . . color is a spur . . . color is reality . . . color . . . the magazine page captures it, communicates it. Appetite and desire stimulate attitudes and response, motivate demand. The magazine page can hold a dot of color, or a petal of color, or a garden of color, or a world of color.
[If Goldsholl’s tribute to color seems a bit rapsodic, that may be because he had a long standing relationship with the Martin-Senour Paint Company going back to 1951. He designed their trademarks, packaging, billboards, stationery, exhibits and commercials. He even invented a device for mixing and dispensing paint of exactly the same color every time––that he patented and sold as the “Colorbot”.]
Just Do It
The Goldsholls worked together for 40 years until the company closed down in the 1990s. Mort died in 1995. Millie died last May. In its heyday, the company was a breeding ground for young film talent, including Chicago filmmakers Wayne Boyer, Tom Freese and Larry Janiak, and Richard Greenberg, a designer who decided to join his brother in New York to start the iconic R/Greenberg Associates.
When he was asked what he liked most about his company, Mort Goldsholl said, “I enjoy my work immensely, but seldom the results. The playtime in design is the most joyful experience––the wasted moments in scribbles, dribbles and scratches that formulate vague thoughts into ideas and dreams into action. I don’t know how or why this is so. The problem is to get the final design to match the fleeting idea. The big dreams about the great work of art can too easily be dissipated in the practicalities of solutions, clients, markets, statistics, sales, function and committee decisions.
When he was asked what he learned in his career, he cited a quote from the Spanish poet Jose Ramon Jiminez: “When they give you ruled paper-write the other way.”
“I seem to have adopted that as a personal slogan,” he said. “This could also be modified to read, ‘make your own ruled paper––but write.’ Write, draw, paint, design, film, compose, play. Do it your own way. Do it for others and for yourself. But do it.”
“Out of the Vault 2013: Meet Mort & Millie” will be showing a collection of Goldsholl films starting at 3 PM Sunday, April 7 at the Chicago Cultural Center. Admission is free (but donations are welcome!)