An artist, Fitzgerald worked in the entertainment industry, in a very specific niche: title design. Also known as “the credits,” there are the “main” (or beginning) titles, and the end titles — and Fitzgerald was the go-to master for many directors, including Francis Ford Coppola, John Huston, Mike Nichols, Robert Redford, Arthur Penn, Michael Cimino, Warren Beatty, Herbert Ross, John Hughes, and Quentin Tarantino. After graduating from Art Center College of Design in 1951, he went to work at Pacific Title & Art Studio, which did title work for Warner Bros., MGM, and 20th Century Fox, among others. “Master of montage, wizard of the three-minute movie, Fitzgerald doesn’t create title sequences so much as trailers; briskly edited filmettes that provide a dense, but uncluttered, précis of things to come,” said Film Comment magazine. “This is power-pop art.” Four of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1968 opened with Fitzgerald’s title designs: In the Heat of the Night, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and Bonnie and Clyde.
For Auntie Mame (1958), Fitzgerald animated the view through a kaleidoscope because, he said later, “it really needed something colorful up in the beginning — a very colorful design but sort of abstract — because Mame was a colorful character.” He worked on The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Doris Day’s Pillow Talk (1959), and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). For 1962’s The Music Man (see video below), he directed 35 technicians who built sets, painted and animated the musical instruments and marching band, and then edited it all together with a medley of the film’s music into a short movie of its own to set the mood for the audience. When working with Warren Beatty on Bonnie and Clyde, Fitzgerald said, Beatty convinced him that he would have more artistic control if he had his own title studio, so in 1968, he struck out on his own, creating title sequences for Catch-22 (1970), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), The Breakfast Club (1985), Total Recall (1990), Groundhog Day (1993), and hundreds and hundreds more. He also worked on television shows, including Maverick, The Beverly Hillbillies, Mr. Ed, It Takes a Thief, Night Gallery, Columbo, McMillan & Wife, Knots Landing, Dallas, Matlock, and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. He won three Emmy Awards for his TV work. And then he gave back, teaching at the University of California/Los Angeles, the American Film Institute, and the Art Center College of Design. Fitzgerald died at his home on Whidbey Island, Wash., on September 30. He was 89.