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Friday, October 13, 2017

Basil Gogos

How many of Basil Gogos' movie creatures can you name? Extra points if you can name the actors playing them. Subtract ten points if you can name them all--you need to get a life.
I was about seven, (maybe eight) years old when my family got our first television. The date would have been about 1952. It was black and white, of course, but not the little eight or ten-inch round screen most people bring to mind when they picture vintage TV sets. Ours was a grand and glorious Zenith table model with a custom-tailored base that gave it the look of a console TV. The screen was a generous 21-inches (measured diagonally, of course. At the time, 24-inches was a big as they came. As impressive as our "home entertainment center" may have appeared in the living room, it was grossly lacking in program choices. We got only one channel, WTAP TV, broadcasting out of Parkersburg, West Virginia, which carried only NBC programming. (The programming day began at two in the afternoon, ending at midnight.) Out of all that I remember Superman at four in the afternoon, Your Hit Parade one evening each week, and maybe a western or two interspersed among the other limited offerings with a local half-hour of news that would be laughable by today's production standards.

Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, by Basil Gogos
In the late 1950s, Universal Studios released their vast library of horror classics to television (though apparently not to NBC). I never saw a single one. Thus I never developed a taste for such fare, which thankfully lingers to this day. Later in life I did come to recognize the names Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, and others. However, until he died about a month ago (September 13, 2017), I had never heard the name of the artist who had much to do with making these actors famous--Basil Gogos.

Born in 1929, the artist eventually went from painting monster movie images to inventing them at Hollywood's behest.
Famous Monsters of
Filmland, 1961
Today, Gogos' paintings are as iconic as his subjects. Gogos' early work was in men's adventure magazine and paperback book art as well as work on movie posters and other areas. The release of Universal Stu-dios' horror classics to television sparked a "monster craze" among baby-boomers, which gave birth to a new phenomenon--the monster magazine. Famous Monsters of Filmland (right), was filled with monster photos and articles on horror movies and their stars. It was the premier publication for young horror film fans. Issues of the new magazine practically flew off the newsstand shelves and into kids' hands due in no small part to their striking cover paintings by Basil Gogos. Like a Bizarre Norman Rockwell, his stylish portraits of horror film characters and stars were extremely popular on magazine covers throughout the '60s and '70s. Gogos' interpretations of movie monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frank-enstein, and the Phantom of the Opera, breathed new life into the old black and white movie classics. His powerful use of color and bold, expressionist brushwork gave a sense of excitement and, at the same time, sophistication to his paintings which has gone unmatched for more than fifty years.

Basil Gogos was born into a Greek family living in Egypt. When he was sixteen, he and his family immigrated to the U.S. Having always been Interested in art, even from a young age, Gogos spent his early adult years at various jobs while only studying art periodically. Gogos attended several New York area schools. While attending New York's Art Students League, Gogos had his greatest artistic growth studying with noted illustrator Frank J. Reilly. After winning a com-petition sponsored by Pocket Books at school, Gogos began his professional career with the cover painting for a western paperback novel called Pursuit (right) published in 1959.
Pursuit (1959), cover
art by Basil Gogos.

Gogos cover pinup, 1967.
During the 1960s, Basil Gogos provided a steady stream of illustrations for a variety of New York-based publications. The majority of his work during this period was for men's adventure magazines for which he painted many scenes of World War II battles, jungle perils, and crime, as well as cheesecake portraits of beautiful women. Famous Mon-sters of Filmland magazine, created by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman, premiered in 1958 and was aimed at young readers who were then discovering the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s on television. The mag-azine's covers were usually eye-catching close-ups of horror movie characters. Gogos' first horror cover of Famous Mon-sters of Filmland #9 in 1960 featuring an impressionistic portrait of Vincent Price from House of Usher painted in shades of red, yellow and green. Over the next two decades, Gogos created almost fifty covers for Famous Monsters, many of which have become iconic images of that period. Gogos also provided cover art for several other magazines including Creepy, Eerie, Spaceman, Wildest Westerns and The Spirit.

The Sand People from Star Wars was largely Gogos' own creation.

Possibly the ugliest and most
truly frightening character
Gogos ever created--The
Hideous Sun Demon, 1959.
Basil Gogos' Famous Monsters cover art has featured most of the classic horror characters--The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, King Kong, Godzilla and The Creature from the Black Lagoon and popular horror actors like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. Gogos often cap-tured his subjects in an array of vivid colors using a technique in which the artist imagined the character bathed in colors from multiple light sources. He enjoyed painting monsters more than most of his more conventional assign-ments because of the freedom he was given and because of the challenge of painting such unusual characters which he endeavored to portray as both fright-ening and sympathetic.

Basil Gogos' pencil portrait of the most
beautiful witch to even grace a TV screen
--Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha

TV's funniest monster, Herman
Munster, (Fred Gwynn),
Basil Gogos.


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