Cemeteries aren't usually thought of as hotbeds of activity, but last Saturday night at the Forest Lawn Museum, atop the memorial park's Glendale grounds, proved the exception. As a blues band blared and colored lights splashed off the white walls of an adjacent chapel, several hundred guests ate, drank, danced and kibitzed in the museum plaza — all in the name of art.
The occasion was "Drew & Bob: Masters of the Movies," the latest exhibit in the museum's series of open-to-the-public cultural events. The show runs through May 26.
One can be excused if the names Drew and Bob don't immediately ring bells. To a great many film buffs, illustrators, directors and producers, they need no introduction. The rest of us are acquainted with Drew Struzan and Bob Peak through the iconic movie posters they created: more than 200 in all, including Struzan's classic paintings for "Stars Wars," "Rambo," "Indiana Jones" and "Back to the Future," and Peak's designs for "Apocalypse Now," "My Fair Lady," "Star Trek" and "Camelot." Some 50 early sketches and finished art for Struzan and Peak's posters (the two men worked separately) were on display at the museum, along with abstract and straightforward paintings from each artist's career. Struzan, 66, was on hand to meet and greet. Peak, who died in 1992 at 65, was represented by his son, Tom Peak.
Both men, whose work literally defines the art of the film poster, had ties to Southern California and its design community. Kansas-raised Peak realized that a career in art might be feasible when, as a sailor during the Korean War, he drew portraits of his shipmates to send to their loved ones back home. He moved to Los Angeles to attend the Art Center, when the prestigious school (now Pasadena's Art Center College of Design) was located on Third Street in Hancock Park.
Upon graduation, says Tom Peak, his father "headed straight for New York, to work in advertising. It was the real 'Mad Men' era. He did work for Coke, Time magazine, fashion layouts, then got the call to work on the campaign for 'West Side Story.' Then came 'The Birdman of Alcatraz,' 'Camelot' and he was on his way." Despite the movie connection, Bob Peak continued to live and work in New York and Connecticut.
"Almost everybody at Art Center went on to New York, because that's where the illustration work was," explains Drew Struzan, who, as a promising teenage art student in San Francisco, trekked to Art Center sometime after Bob Peak. "I didn't. We'd gotten married in 1968 and had a baby, so I took what work I could get here: doing album covers for record companies, at $50 a cover."
If the pay was low, Struzan's visibility was high. His numerous designs for such acts as the Beach Boys and Alice Cooper led to his first calls from film studios, who asked his record-label employers, "Who's the guy who did this cover?" Struzan left music for movies, never looked back, and eventually wound up as the go-to guy for filmmakers like Spielberg, Lucas and Guillermo del Toro.
"Ultimately that did happen," Struzan says with a laugh, "but it took 30 years. Most of the time, you're working for a studio, for a thousand bosses, each one with a different opinion about the project. It's tough."
Still, meeting Bob Zemeckis, who told Struzan, "I've been waiting all my life to make a movie good enough for you to do my poster," provided considerable validation. Struzan drew posters for all three "Back to the Future" features.
Their work-for-hire arrangements didn't stop Struzan and Peak from generating dazzling work that not only sold tickets but imprinted itself upon American popular culture. Among Peak's original artwork on display at "Drew & Bob" are his ominous depiction of Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz for "Apocalypse Now," the steely blade of "Excalibur" and the rainbow shaft of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." Struzan is represented by, among other works, the hatted visage of Harrison Ford for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the helmeted Darth Vader of "Return of the Jedi," and the Maxfield Parrish-inspired art for "Pan's Labyrinth."
Both Peak and Struzan are the subjects of new studies: the just-issued coffee-table book "The Art of Bob Peak" and the documentary (on DVD and available via Netflix) "Drew: The Man Behind the Poster."
At last weekend's reception, guests included some esteemed peers in art and Hollywood, including comics artist/production designer William Stout, Disney animator Floyd Norman, "Blade Runner"' designer Syd Mead, and "How to Train Your Dragon" co-writer/director Dean DeBlois.
For Pasadena resident Struzan, there's always the possibility of the phone ringing with new offers, particularly since rumors are rife about "Star Wars Episode VII." "No, Disney hasn't called me," he says. "I do have other directors and studios saying, 'When we're ready with a project, would you consider us?' It's kind of a wonderful place to be."
Where: Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 S. Glendale Ave, Glendale.
When: Through May 26. Open every day except Monday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
More info: (323) 340-4792, firstname.lastname@example.org
GENE SCULATTI is a Los Angeles music journalist and the author of "The Catalog of Cool" and "100 Best Selling Albums of the '60s."