Cover: Ed Benguiat, 1927-2020

Remembering Ed Benguiat

GDC Fellow and Canadian typography legend Rod McDonald reminisces about his friend and colleague Ed Benguiat who passed away on October 15 at age 92.

When I learned of the death of Ed Benguiat last Thursday it occurred to me that I don’t think I ever really believed he would die. Of course I knew he would, but Ed was such a ‘force’, both professionally and personally that it was almost unthinkable that he would not be around forever. Soon someone will write a book about him, his work will be thoroughly studied, and that is all very wonderful and necessary, but today my memories of him are a little more personal.

I first met Ed in the early eighties. I was at Lettering Designs at Mono Lino in Toronto and had recently used a quotation from him for a calendar project. Ed liked what I did with his quote so I decided that I wanted to meet him in person. I gathered the courage to call him and received an enthusiastic invitation to drop by Photo-Lettering Inc. in New York for a tour. I didn’t know it but that visit would be a turning point in my career. From the moment I entered the shop Ed treated me as a colleague and even introduced me to some of the other lettering artists working there including the remarkable Tony Stan (ITC Garamond), Vincent Pacella (ITC Cushing), and a few others I wish I could remember. We just hung around and talked shop for what seemed like a very long time (they weren’t busy that day). Those guys were far more accomplished than I would ever be but they welcomed me with open arms. That afternoon we shared stories about the crazy requests of art directors, only they were talking about people like Herb Lubalin and George Lois! We also talked about the old timers, like the legendary Tommy Thompson, who had helped Ed when he was starting out. When it came time to leave we went back to Ed’s office and he loaded me up with enough ‘stuff’ that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to fit it all into my suitcase.

After I got back to Toronto I soon discovered that my field of awareness had greatly expanded. Lettering artists and type designers that previously I had only read about were now real people, they were no longer just names in books. I was also able to understand their work in ways I hadn’t before. I still had to work just as hard, actually even harder, but now I didn’t feel like I was groping around in the dark. Over the years I stayed in touch with Ed and we would meet at conferences and events. He always remembered me, or at least seemed to, and I always looked forward to seeing him and hearing his wonderful stories. Ed loved telling stories. Unfortunately in recent years, as his health deteriorated, it became quite difficult to watch him as he moved around, but he never lost his love for life.

I wasn’t the only one who was deeply affected by Ed. Some of the leading lettering artists and type designers in the United States, talents like Ken Barber, Michael Doret and James Montalbano, were much closer to Ed and it shows in the caliber of their work. As long as they keep working and helping train new talent then Ed will remain alive.

— Rod McDonald FGDC

Read more about Ed Benguiat in this New York Times tribute. Or watch an interview with Ed Benguiat made available by the TDC here.

Image of Benguiat is taken from the TDC video.