Friday, November 17, 2023

A Tale of Paperbacks and Predators

(Above) Assignment—Moon Girl, by Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1972), part of his Sam Durell espionage series.

Roger Kastel, who created the artwork for two of Hollywood’s iconic film posters and painted a variety of collectible paperback book covers, passed away on November 8. He was 92 years old.

In its obituary, Deadline recalls that
Kastel’s best-known work included imagery central to the posters for Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back. He also illustrated vivid book covers for the likes of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives and H.G Wells’ The Invisible Man.

Jaws illustration was originally created for Peter Benchley’s novel on which the film was based. Describing the process of its creation, Kastel remembered, “I did a very rough sketch, and [the publisher] said, ‘That’s great, just make the shark realistic and bigger. Make him very much bigger!'”

It worked. Benchley’s book was a bestseller and Universal [Pictures] execs, knowing a good thing when they saw it, used Kastel’s art in the movie poster.
Born in White Plains, New York, on June 11, 1931, he went on to graduate from White Plains High School, attend the distinguished Art Students League in New York City, and then serve for four years with the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. His Web site says Kastel had begun drawing cartoons in his teens, but finally “sold his first [paperback cover] illustration in the early 1960s and illustrated paperback book covers and movie posters over the next forty years.” It’s said that during his career, Kastel produced more than 1,000 illustrations for the major book publishers in New York.

But it was his ominous painting for the front of the 1975 Bantam Books paperback reprint of Jaws that earned him international acclaim. When Universal reused that illustration on its movie placard, it reportedly marked “the first time that a poster image became a merchandising product in itself.” The Jaws gig also scored Kastel the commission to create the publicity poster for George Lucas’ 1980 Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (a creation he based on classic Gone with the Wind artwork). In addition, says The Hollywood Reporter, Kastel “came up with the posters for such other films as Doctor Faustus (1967), starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Great Train Robbery (1978), starring Sean Connery.”

Roger Karl Kastel was a long-standing member of the Society of Illustrators, and his talents were recognized in books such as 200 Years of American Illustration, by Henry Clarence Pitz (1977), and The Illustrator in America: 1860-2000, by Walt Reed (2001). He died of kidney and heart failure at a hospice facility in Massachusetts, leaving behind his wife of 66 years, the former Grace Trowbridge.

I showcased a number of Kastel’s book covers in a piece I wrote some years ago about the 40th anniversary of Jaws’ big-screen debut. But another one (Assignment—Moon Girl) is to be found atop this post, and below are two more I happened across more recently: The Skeleton Coast Contract, by Philip Atlee (Gold Medal, 1968), and A Woman Called Fancy, by Frank Yerby (Pocket, 1966).

You should also enjoy reading this interview Michael Stradford conducted with Kastel while he was researching his 2021 book, Steve Holland: The World's Greatest Illustration Art Model.

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