As best as Mitch can recall, he began getting assignments to illustrate movie posters in the late 50's.
"I was doing work for an agency that had United Artists as a client, and they asked me to do one." The first job went well and lead to more and more movie poster assignments, work that Mitch found both gratifying and lucrative.
When we spoke on the phone last week and Mitch told me he had done a lot of movie posters, I had to confess I was completely unaware of that aspect of his career. "Oh, yeah," he replied. "You know, I did the first James Bond movie, Dr. No."
"You're kidding!" was my startled reaction. Mitch chuckled, "Yeah, it's actually kind of funny: I don't think they had any idea at the time just what a valuable property they had. They actually said to me, 'Don't worry too much about likenesses on this one -- this just has a couple of unknown actors (Sean Connery and Ursula Andress) from England in it' !"
"Of course," Mitch continued, "It was a huge hit... and as soon as they realized that the sexy women were a big part of the draw, they got Bob McGinnis to do the next one. And I want to say unequivocally that I have never for one instant felt the least bit jealous of Bob for that. Bob loved drawing sexy women and he was perfect for those posters. And besides, I was busy working on other films."
Mitch did several movie posters a year, tailing off, he says, about twenty years ago.
I asked if he'd made frequent trips to Hollywood while working on all those assignments but he replied that he did not. "No... never. I did them all from home. The agency would arrange a screening of the film, of course, and afterwards they'd hand me a huge volume of stills and other reference that I'd take back to my studio. And I'd just do my sketches and send them in."
"I never went on location -- with one exception... when I did the poster for the film 'Hawaii', when I actually did go to Hawaii."
All the while, Mitch continued to produce an endless stream of fantastic paperback covers. "I was an early member of the Graphic Artists Guild," he says, "and one of the things I was asked to deal with was to try to get the price up for paperback covers. The publishers were paying about $300 a cover... and our goal at the beginning was to try to get that number up around $800... and I'm pleased to say that we accomplished that goal in a fairly short time."
During the sixties and into the seventies, Mitch tried working with several different reps, including Tom Holloway ( "He represented Bernie Fuchs and Austin Briggs" ), Bill Neely of Neely and Associates, and Coby Whitmore's brother, Tom Whitmore.
But try as he might, Mitch found it tougher and tougher to land new assignments. His signature style, in all its glorious, crackling roughness, just wasn't grabbing the art directors of the 1970's.
"I found I had to switch to a greater degree of realism. Its what the market was looking for."
Mitch says it was an easy transition. "Back at Fredman~Chaite, at the beginning of my career, I was doing realism, so it was no problem."
The switch in style came with a switch to another, final rep: Joseph Mendola & Associates. And for the last ten years before his retirement Mitch's one steady client was Harlequinn Romance.
At age 85, Mitch has been retired for a few years now - but that doesn't mean he's slowed down...
After our initial conversation I was unable to reach him again with my follow-up questions. I tried a couple of times, but kept getting his machine. But the following day, my phone rang... it was Mitch calling me back.
He apologized for having missed my calls and said brightly, "Sorry about yesterday, I was out all day playing tennis!"
* Many thanks to Armando Mendez and Tom Palmer for generousy sharing their Mitchell Hooks scans for today's post.
* My Mitchell Hooks Flickr set.