Making His Mark Harry Marks’ life highlighted by creation of TED

By Kathryn McKenzie
Photo by Nina Marks

The Emmy Award-winning television innovator who launched the first TED conference from the Monterey Conference Center died April 21 at his home in Pebble Beach.

Harry Marks started TED in Monterey County because he always wanted to live there. He may best be known for TED, but that program was just one of a string of achievements in a remarkable life. He was 88.

The Emmy-winning broadcast design artist was a pioneer in the use of imaging technologies that made show titles and network promos swoop, swirl and move — something truly mind-blowing at the time. Marks, who born in England on March 11, 1931, had already worked as a typographer and publications designer at Oxford University Press before moving to the United States. In the mid-1960s he landed at ABC-TV in Los Angeles to improve its onscreen graphics.

Marks would work for ABC, NBC and CBS for three decades, winning an Emmy for the opening title sequence for “Entertainment Tonight,” and earning nearly every award offered in broadcast design and promotion, including the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Broadcast Design Association. Among his memorable achievements were the opening sequence for ABC’s Movie of the Week and the network’s “Still The One” promo for its 1977-1978 season.

Marks was the co-producer of the early 1970s rock documentaries “Joe Cocker: Mad Dogs and Englishmen” and “Elvis on Tour.” 

Working with artists, designers and engineers in the entertainment world sparked Mark’s plan for TED.

“I was sitting there one day and I thought, it would be really interesting to bring these guys who had all worked on the same project together, because they’d never met, they never talked, they didn’t know each other,” Marks reminisced in a 2009 video for Lynda.com, now part of LinkedIn Learning.

“I have this idea for a conference that’s technology, entertainment and design, and how they relate to each other, hence TED,” he recalled telling Richard Saul Wurman, who would become co-founder of TED. “Because I think that’s the thing I could do that would keep me interested and busy and let me live in Monterey, because that’s what I want.”

Together they put on the first TED Conference in 1984 at the Monterey Conference Center’s Steinbeck Forum. According to a 2015 TED blog post, the venue looked like a college lecture hall, complete with swivel desks at each seat.

But those who attended that first event got to experience numerous firsts. Seeing the first Apple Macintosh computer. Being given the first CDs — and hearing Steely Dan played on a CD player. “That was a show-stopper,” said Marks in the video.

TED conferences continued there until 2008, when demand became so great that its organizers decided it was time to move to a larger facility in Vancouver. What Marks and Wurman started continues to inspire millions of people today as TED videos are widely available online.

Marks retired in 2005 and continued to enjoy computers, cameras and cooking. He is survived by his daughter, Nina Marks of Pebble Beach and his son, Ian Marks of Los Angeles.

Marks’ work will live on through the Internet, where it can be viewed via YouTube and other sites, as in this compilation of TV titles and promos from several decades ago.

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Kathryn McKenzie

About Kathryn McKenzie

Kathryn McKenzie grew up in Santa Cruz, worked for the Monterey Herald for 10 years, and now freelances for a variety of publications and websites.