The Spectacular Marketing of America
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A fairly pedantic and at times self-serving walk through the signs of our times. The idea that signs are a reflection of a society’s soul is an intriguing one. Unfortunately, Starr, now president of her family’s sign company, ArtKraft Straus, and Hayman (Journalism/New York Univ.) don’t delve as deeply into this idea as they promise when they write in their opening sentence, “Our signs tell us who we are.” Still, the book is fairly useful in its historic tracing of America’s fixation with neon, something about which Starr knows quite a bit since Artkraft Strauss has literally lit much of Times Square for the last century. The authors trace the beginnings of the square’s status as the supersign center of the world. There’s a section on O.J. Gude, nicknamed the “Lamplighter of Broadway,” and information on the division between Thomas Edison and his championing of direct current versus the alternating current theories of Nikola Tesla. The authors chronicle as well neon’s metamorphosis from a symbol of richness in the 1920s to its later tackier connotation. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the description of the creation of larger moving signs such as the 60-foot-tall Miss Youth Forum, a sensuous babe who sashayed across a 100-foot-wide sign on top of the Brill Building beginning in 1947. The section on how the lighting community banded together to fight the proposed renovation of Times Square, a rehabilitation that they feared would make the Great White Way a lot less white, is interesting as well. From Times Square, Signs and Wonders moves westward to look at the development of signs in Las Vegas, a.k.a. Glitter Gulch, and Hollywood. More than the average person would ever care to know about signage, but a serviceable history for lighting and marketing buffs nonetheless. (48 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-48602-2
Page count: 303pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998