“Do you mind if I smoke?” Spiros Angelikas asks me, politely. His voice is smooth, smoky, calm, and assured, with a thick but decipherable, distinguished Greek accent. His pose and style remind me of a cross between Aristotle Onassis and that “Most interesting man in the world” guy from the Dos Equis beer commercials.
“No, not at all,” I answer, smiling back. I remind myself that this is his home, after all, and the man should feel free to do as he damn well pleases. I abstain from outing myself as an asthmatic, and try my best to hold back coughs as he lights up his first cigarette.
I saved my coughing fits for my drive back to Pennsylvania later that evening. I think I nearly hacked up a lung. Yet it was a small price to pay for being in Angelikas’ company -- as, in my eyes, the man is surely very, very interesting indeed.
Spiros Angelikas was the designer and owner of the ad agency, Spiros Associates, and had a long relationship with Paramount Pictures on such films as AIRPLANE, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, FRIDAY THE 13th, and the STAR TREK film series. He’s dealt with numerous illustrators over the years (Peak, Struzan among them), and worked directly with Richard Amsel on both NIJINSKY and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
As with Hildebrandt, the Angelikas interview was a long time coming, as I had to postpone my flight several times over several months. Spiros’ son, Harry – a gifted advertising design pro in his own right -- was instrumental in arranging the interview. He was also a pillar of patience.
To hear Spiros Angelikas recall his working relationship with Richard Amsel is something to behold. I’ve heard several recollections from Amsel’s colleagues about the artist’s talent and dedication, but Angelikas’ interview was easily the most candid and telling. While Amsel was often softspoken and shy in his interactions with people, he wouldn’t hesitate to fiercely stick to his guns when it came to certain creative decisions. If he believed in something strongly, he could be defiant, stubborn, and inflexible...even if it meant jeopardizing his chances at getting the job.
Such was the case with the first RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster. People loved the artwork, but a demand for a modification had been made by the powers that be. Amsel refused to do it.
Spiros pleaded his case, but again, Amsel refused. More pleads, more refusals. On and on, over and over. Things grew so tense that Spiros personally went to Amsel’s apartment and begged him to make the change, confiding that the artist would risk losing the film campaign altogether if he didn’t relent.
Amsel ultimately gave in and did as he was told. (As to who imposed the order, Spiros wasn’t sure; it could have come from Lucasfilm, Paramount, or Harrison Ford, but no matter...)
And just what was the change that caused all this drama? And why wasn’t Amsel involved with the poster campaigns for INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM?
Patience, my friends. You’ll have to see the film to find out.
It’s not that Amsel was always impossible to work with. On NIJINKSY, Amsel had to create a number of variants, and it was a comparatively smooth process. But RAIDERS was a particular job, and the artist had a particular vision.
Spiros had another telling story about the first RAIDERS poster, one where he himself had to stick to his creative guns at considerable risk. The poster’s initial mass print run was made without the opportunity to review the artist’s proof – a process where the color and print quality are properly evaluated, and calibration changes could be made if necessary. Because of this, Spiros couldn’t QC the posters until after they had been printed and distributed throughout the country.
What he saw upset him. The colors appeared desaturated and faded, and didn’t reflect the vibrancy of Amsel’s original illustration. So Spiros marched into Paramount and insisted they perform not only a replacement print run of the poster at a different facility, but a recall of all the original posters already in theaters.
An expensive request, to be sure, and Amsel himself was especially appreciative.
Spiros laid out two pristine quality posters, side by side on a pool table. It was easy to spot their differences. The “bad” print resembles the color quality of my own copy of the poster, currently hung within my studio – faded after nearly 36 years of exposure to the sun. The “good” reprint (which still looks new, thanks to Spiros giving it proper care) is considerably more vibrant, and faithful to Amsel’s illustration. The original posters that were recalled are also unique in that they don’t have the serial branding on the bottom as the reprints do.
Above: At left, the color corrected reprint of Amsel's first RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster. At right is one of the rare original posters that was recalled. Note the lack of serial branding at the bottom.
“Do you want one of these Raiders’ artworks?” Spiros asks me.
I didn’t understand him at first. I mumbled in confusion a little bit with him and Harry, thinking that they were offering me an 8x10 picture of Amsel’s artwork, which I already had a transparency of. No need, I figured, as I didn’t want to trouble them.
“No,” Harry jumps in. “Do you want one of the original versions of the poster?”
Do I/Fuck me/Holy shit/I’m still not sure I understand all this/I’m not worthy, I think to myself in disbelief. Then: “Are you serious?”
“Yeah,” Harry says warmly. “I talked to someone about that version, and they had no idea how to even price it. They’re pretty rare, and this one isn’t folded.”
Harry picks up one of the recalled posters from the pool table and carefully rolls it up. He grabs a mailing tube, analyses it, steps out, and returns a minute later. He had perfectly cut the tube to the required length, and carefully placed the poster inside.
I’m nearly crying, and it’s not from the cigarette smoke.
I later joked to Spiros that he should hold up a glass of beer and say, “Stay thirsty, my friends!” to the camera. It was a cheap laugh, but a good one -- made in the presence of good, generous, charming, and very, very interesting company.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
UPDATE: Back from the framers!