Frank Mayo as drawn by Mon Randall.
In the world of popular culture, everything is about the sell. Photos, posters, graphics, all becomes a means of ballyhoo in attempts to lure consumers to purchase or view product. In the early decades of the twentieth century, master showmen employed artists to design striking advertising key art to lure audiences into theatres, be it posters on the street or alluring advertisements in magazines.
While some of these artists gained widespread recognition, like Batiste Madalena, Henry Clive, James Montgomery Flagg, or John Held, many toiled in obscurity though they too were creating eye-catching designs. Mon Randall drew gorgeous ads, heralds, and even title art in the style of old masters, but never gained great fame for his work.
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Mon Randall’s artwork was featured in Motion Picture World.
Little can be found of Randall’s early life, be it in ancestry.com, newspapers, or books. Per census records, Randall was born in Haley, Idaho, on April 15, 1891, and supposedly ended up with his family in Los Angeles, eventually becoming a newspaper cartoonist for the Scripps-McRae news service. Randall served as a title artist at Essanay in Chicago per a June 5, 1915, article in Billboard, later freelancing to become the Triangle Film Corporation’s head artist.
Randall focused mostly on pen and ink drawings in the style of the Renaissance and classic art, bringing out rich character detail and depth of feeling in his portraits. At the same time he could flesh out simple cartoons or even elaborate designs such as elaborate art titles for William S. Hart’s “Hell’s Hinges” in 1916. Trades in July 1917 state that he was originating and designing “bizarre” and “fantastic” gowns for Louise Glaum, ones that attracted attention in all fashion centers.
Artists work on production of art titles at the Ince studio.
The April 16, 1918, Motion Picture News wrote that Randall wanted to volunteer his services as an ambulance driver in France during the great war, hoping to ship his large Marmon touring car overseas in order to help the Red Star Society, similar to the Red Cross. It appears he never made it overseas, as he is listed as creating art titles for “The Romance of Tarzan” in October 1918.
Not long after, Universal Feature Film Manufacturing Company lured him to New York to serve as head of their art department, to create everything from poster designs to ads. William Parker, agent to King Vidor, wrote the Los Angeles Daily Herald October 20, 1919 after meeting him there, noting “Mon conceived the illuminated subtitle when he was with Triangle.” His obituary in the trades described it as “creating a new technique in handling plates for sub-titles. Randall was responsible for designing novel and artistic title plates to capture the film’s or scene’s mood.” This entailed employing oils or pastels to paint opaque art inferring the background and feeling of films.
During this time at Universal, Randall conceived and created lovely original pen and ink drawings for everything ranging from Erich von Stroheim titles, to Lon Chaney key art to melodramas featuring the studio’s top female talent like Miss Dupont. He even created title art for such films as “Hitchin’ Posts.”
Randall attempted to enter the producing field himself, with the March 27, 1920 Los Angeles Herla announcing that he and former World War I flying ace Herbert Glennon would co-direct “Auto Pilot,” featuringfeatuing the talents and skills of renowned stunt flyer Ormer Locklear. Sadly, perhaps production had never started before Locklear tied tragically in a crash in August of that year.
Willilam S. Hart remembered his work for Triangle and “Hell’s Hinges,” hiring him to pen a gorgeous portrait for his last film in 1920. The Los Angeles Herald printed it on December 2, 1920, praising and saluting the work of a man they compared to an old master for his skillful depiction of character.
Thomas Ince drawn by Mon Randall.
Randall worked a short time for the Paramount Los Angeles exchange in 1923 before joining Metro Goldwyn Mayer as head of their art title department in late 1924, designing eye-catching ads, posters, and the like as well as pulling together stills scripts.
In 1930, Randall and Harry Johnston formed their own freelance title company to offer “complete advertising and exploitation art work,” per the February 8, 1930 Variety. While his talent as an artist was unquestioned, his business sense was less so. Within a short year, Randall returned to Universal as art title head, returning to what he did best: draw. Trades reported he was creating title poster designs for such films as “Glamour” and “Little Man, What Now?”
Randall’s success allowed him to purchase an orange farm in Corona, where he grew and raised his own fruit. He was happily riding his bicycle at the ranch when he suffered a heart attack on July 20, 1935, dying the next day. Randall was only 44, survived by his wife and mother. Per the July 21, 1935 Los Angeles Times, Randall was cremated before a Christian Scientist service.
Though Mon Randall created visually stunning posters and ads he is virtually forgotten today, dying way too much before his time. At least his gorgeous work lives on, showing the full range of his talent and skill.