Jack Kerness, who worked as an art director for Hollywood studios with filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, died of natural causes Jan. 9 in Canoga Park, Calif. He was 98.
Kerness entered the motion picture industry in 1934 as assistant art director in the New York office of Gaumont British Pictures. His first assignment was to art direct the one sheet poster for the American release of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps.” Two years later he moved on to Grand National Pictures.
During his four decades at Columbia, Kerness worked with prominent artists and illustrators including James Montgomery Flagg, Bradford Crandall, Alberto Vargas, and George Petty. During the 1940s, he was responsible for hiring artists to portray stars; in later decades, he hired notable photographers such as Bob Coburn.
Among their collaborations was the Coburn’s full length photo of Rita Hayworth in the motion picture, “Gilda.” The poster, which was art directed by Kerness with the addition of a background and a curl of cigarette smoke, has been called one of the best movie posters of all time.
Born in Brooklyn, he graduated NYU before starting his film business career.
Following his years at Columbia, he joined Universal Pictures in 1976 as graphic arts director. He moved over to MGM in 1980 in a similar capacity, remaining there until 1987, when he became associated with Intervisual Books, where he did quality control for pop-up books. He returned to the entertainment industry when he joined the Scott Mednick Advertising Agency where he worked on the CBS television account among others before retiring in the mid 1990s.
After retiring, Kerness became an active volunteer with the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Golden Boot Association. He was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, serving on its Foreign Language Film Awards Committee for a number of years.
He is survived by his longtime companion, Gloria Singer, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Donations may be made to the Motion Picture and Television Fund, 23388 Mulholland Drive, Woodland Hills, CA 91364.