Autumn 2021

The name’s Caroff. Joe Caroff

Thilo von Debschitz profiles a man who designed some of the best known movie identities of the past six decades. [EXTRACT]

In 1962, Joe Caroff came up with with the idea of turning the number ‘7’ of ‘007’ into a gun for the first James Bond film Dr. No. Almost six decades and 25 Bond films later, Caroff’s logo is still hard at work.

Joe Caroff

The 007 logo for the James Bond films is just as familiar to us as the poster for West Side Story, yet hardly anyone knows Joe Caroff, the creator of both these resonant images. With a career spanning generations, Caroff has created graphic design of iconic value that is especially memorable for its typographic ingenuity. In his youth, Caroff, who celebrated his hundredth birthday on 18 August 2021, worked as the right-hand man for the world-famous poster designer Jean Carlu – literally, because the Frenchman had lost his right arm as a young man due to an accident. ‘At Carlu there were no set times. Sometimes he asked me to come at eight in the morning, sometimes not before ten in the evening. I was able to take part in large design projects and learn a lot of different techniques from him that were very useful in my later professional life,’ Caroff recalls. For example, Charles T. Coiner, art director at the agency N. W. Ayer & Son and creative advisor to the US government, commissioned Jean Carlu to create the famous 1942 propaganda poster ‘America’s Answer! Production’. Caroff was allowed to assist on this particular project …

Caroff’s movie poster for West Side Story from 1961, often wrongly attributed to Saul Bass, who designed the animated opening sequence of the film.

Joe Caroff – West Side Story Poster

Thilo von Debschitz, graphic designer and author, Wiesbaden, Germany

Read the full version in Eye no. 102 vol. 26, 2021

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