Most brilliant ideas are elegantly simple and obvious. Such was Alex Steinweiss' notion back in 1939 to turn plain brown wrappers covering records into works of art. Only 23 then, Steinweiss was the art director of the fledgling Columbia Records. Back then, all record albums languished in the backs of stores, since there was no reason to display them. Steinweiss saw the solution.
He designed a cover for a classical album, Beethoven's Eroica symphony, and sales skyrocketed 800 percent. "We knocked Mr. Victor [Victor Records] off the box," he says with a wicked glee, as if it were only yesterday. From then on, designing album covers was almost as important as the music, and Steinweiss' 1,000 or so covers continue to be the standard. Only last August, the recording industry awarded him a lifetime achievement award, called the "Alex."
A Sarasota resident for 30 years with his wife, Blanche, Steinweiss, now 86, paints seriously, or at least tries to, "but I'm always being interrupted by honors," he sighs.