Art Director, 1970-72
Design Director, 1973-74
Gross majored in fine art at Pratt Institute in the ’60s, left school to do art direction at magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Eye, and was responsible for some award-winning design work for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He joined the staff of National Lampoon as art director in the fall of 1970.
Gross brought a professional, Madison Avenue style to the magazine, replacing the wacky comic book look of Cloud Studios, the group of “underground” artists who had been hired when the magazine started. Instead of trying to make it look “funny,” his approach was to present the material in a straight-forward, almost dead-pan manner, and, in the case of parody, to mimic the target down to the smallest detail, sometimes using special paper stocks or inserts. The effect was sophisticated, funnier, and much more subversive.
His first full issue was the November 1970 “Nostalgia” issue and from the Norman Rockwell parody on the cover to the “1956 Ezra Taft Benson High School Yearbook” parody (which was expanded upon later with the 1964 High School Yearbook Parody), the tone of the magazine was set for years to come. The editors soon discovered that Gross could faithfully imitate graphically anything they threw at him. Under his capable direction, sales of the magazine started to pick up for the first time.
He is also credited with creation of the popular “Funny Pages” section of the magazine.
David Kaestle was brought in as a partner in 1972 to art direct special projects (including the Encyclopedia of Humor and the 1964 High School Yearbook Parody) and soon, with the growth of the magazine, the two were art directing alternate issues to manage the workload. They were able to get many well-known and talented artists to work for the magazine and garnered many design and art direction awards during this period.
In 1974, the graphic design magazine Print featured a cover story on National Lampoon. Accompanying the article was a parody of Print magazine itself, created by the editors and art staff of National Lampoon.
Gross and Kaestle left the magazine at the end of 1974 and formed Pellegrini, Kaestle, & Gross, Inc., which contributed to the magazine on special projects through the late ’70s.
In 1981, Gross was art director and associate producer on Heavy Metal, the animated movie based on the National Lampoon sister publication of the same name. His Hollywood career took off from there and he went on to become producer or executive producer on Ghostbusters (for which he designed the “no ghosts” logo), Ghostbusters II, Twins, Beethoven, Legal Eagles, Kindergarten Cop, and Dave. He was also the producer for Real Ghostbusters and Beethoven for television.
He left the movie business in 1995 and moved to Italy to paint, survived a bout with cancer, and relocated to Oceanside, California, where he was a curator for the Oceanside Museum of Art. He did some development work for television and some design and consulting through David Kaestle Inc. in New York.
His cancer returned in early 2014. The diagnosis was terminal this time, but he kept going for another year and a half. He died on November 16, 2015 at the age of 70. R.I.P., Michael.
Michael Gross’s Online Portfolio (Unfortunately, Michael’s portfolio site seems to have disappeared since his death.)
Michael Gross Obituary in The New York Times
Other works by Michael Gross
The Book of Alien
By Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross, 1979
The 80s: A Look Back
Edited by Tony Hendra, Christopher Cerf, and Peter Ebling; Art Directed by Michael Gross, 1979
Production designer and associate producer, 1981
Associate producer, 1984
Executive producer, 1986
Executive producer, 1988
Executive producer, 1989
Executive producer, 1990
Stop! Or My mom Will Shoot
Executive producer and second unit director, 1993
The Real Ghostbusters
Executive producer, 1994