Born 1920, Birmingham, Alabama
Deceased 1975, Los Angeles, California
Recognized for his pioneering contributions to the field of television graphics and for leading the way for future African American designers.
In 1945, before Jackie Robinson played Major League baseball, or Marian Anderson sang at the Metropolitan Opera, Georg Olden, the grandson of a slave, took a job with CBS. There, as head of the network’s division of on-air promotions at the dawn of television, Olden pioneered the field of broadcast graphics. Working under CBS’s art director, William Golden, he supervised the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke; helped produce the vote-tallying scoreboard for the first televised presidential election returns (the 1952 race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson); and collaborated with esteemed artists and designers, including David Stone Martin, Ed Benguiat, Alex Steinweiss and Bob Gill.
Olden was widely celebrated in his day. The 1981 reference book 250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography notes that between 1951 and 1960—the year Olden left CBS to work in advertising—his name appeared 108 times in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals. By 1970 he had won seven Clio awards and had even designed the Clio statuette in 1962, a figure inspired by Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture. Olden was respected not only for helping to usher TV from a fledgling industry into a golden age, but also for serving as a model for black America. Ebony magazine profiled him several times in the 1950s and ’60s as one who had grasped the opportunities offered by a new communications medium and risen to an executive rank. But it was far from easy. In 1954, Ebony reported that of the 72,400 people employed full-time in television, fewer than 200 were black. The jobs included “print-machine operator” and “wardrobe mistress.” “Acceptance is a matter of talent,” Olden told the magazine in 1963. “In my work I’ve never felt like a Negro. Maybe I’ve been lucky.”
(He and I have something in common, I too sir, have never felt like a negro in my work!)