Ellie Frazetta, R.I.P.

I learned recently of the passing of Ellie Frazetta, the wife of my friend, acclaimed artist Frank Frazetta.

Like a lot of Frazetta fans, I first met Ellie over the phone. Ellie was Frank’s great protector. She shielded him from the daily onslaught of fans once he had achieved his spectacular world fame.

Years ago I was writing an introduction to a book on Frazetta’s funny animal comic book work. She could answer very few of my questions (I was asking about some pretty obscure stuff; and most of Frank’s funny animal work was drawn before he and Ellie had met), so she had to holler my questions to Frank, who was sitting in the next room. After a few minutes of this she became exasperated and handed the phone over to Frank so that he could answer me directly.

When I first met Ellie face-to-face, we bonded over our mutual interest in business, negotiating and, to a lesser (but related) extent, artists’ rights. Ellie and I shared a lot of business info. Though relatively new to the field, Ellie took to the business end of art like a shark to water.

Ellie Frazetta was extremely important to Frank’s career. She helped to establish record prices for Frank’s work, was involved in the building and establishment of the Frazetta Museum and negotiated unheard-of royalties for Frank in the book publishing world. Not everything she did (or the ways she did them) was wise in my opinion, but Ellie was the primary force behind the protection of Frank and his legacy.

Over the years she grew more protective of Frank. She could make it very difficult to meet the guy. I knew this and approached each possible meeting with Frank pretty philosophically: If it happens, great; if not, well, I tried, and Frank & Ellie deserve their privacy. I tried to make Ellie understand I never had an agenda in spending time with Frank. I wasn’t trying to wheedle sketches or autographs from him, or cut a deal for his art outside her negotiating parameters. My sole goal was to show Frank a good time. I deeply admired Frank and his work. He had been an enormous influence on me, and I just wanted to give something back. Perhaps a lot of Frank’s friends and fans professed the same thing, for I felt that Ellie nevertheless seemed to regard me somewhat suspiciously. I found that amusing, as at a certain point there wasn’t much more I could do to prove my lack of duplicity.

One time I was in Connecticut, visiting my oldest son at Yale. Months prior, I had arranged to see Frank during that trip. As I had promised, I called Ellie the day before to confirm the get together. I wasn’t surprised when she told me our meeting was off. I kind of suspected that might happen. I changed the subject to her family. One of her kids had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was empathetic and knowledgeable. I asked her a lot of questions. In our conversation she revealed a vulnerable side I had never seen before.

After a few minutes she asked, “When were you planning on coming?”

“Tomorrow morning.”

“Tomorrow morning would be bad.”

“When would be good?”

“Tomorrow afternoon.”

“About 4:00?”

“5:00 would be better.”

“You got it. I’ll be there at 5:00, on the dot.”

I visited Frank and Ellie the next evening and the following morning. I talked a little business with her. She told me I should stop messing with black and white books and start publishing my work in full color (I do both now). That Halloween morning was the last time I ever saw Ellie.

I hope this tough Irish gal, this fearless promoter and protector of one of America’s greatest artists and his work, now rests in peace. You did a darn good job, Ellie, of helping to get Frank the recognition, financial and artistic, that he deserved. Thank you from us all.

7 Responses to “Ellie Frazetta, R.I.P.”

  1. Rick Tucker says:

    Bill,
    At least Ellie gave us all the treatment. She was very protective but she let me talk to Frank and met him at the museum once. She originally only gave me a half hour with him but after an hour of us talking she was was very nice about it and only interrupted towards that hour mark. She allowed me some more face time almost a decade later when they finally attended San Diego for the Comic Con. She brought me a stack of three of the Death Dealer prints to sell at the convention’s art show I was heading up to commemorate the Verotik Death Dealer comic. That was a great show with Gary Gianni submitting some of his Shadow pages and James Gurney bringing actual pantings from the second Dinotopia novel (The World Beneath) for displaying.
    The highlight was Frank dropping by the art show (while I was away, of course) and doing that most taboo of things- signing one of those prints for one of the volunteers who had no idea that asking Frank to do that was an issue. Ellie would have had a fit if she knew Frank did that, and I never told her.
    I miss her already.
    What’s Frank going to do without his cheerleader/mother hen?
    I think it’s safe to assume that that’s a phone number I’m not likely to use again.

  2. Aaron says:

    Dear Mr. Stout,
    This is Aaron, formerly of Tokyo, now back in the States. I have a picture of myself and Ellie posed on either side of Masai Lion Hunt from about 8 years ago. I bought a couple of sketches from the museum store over the years. I told Ellie I was with the Lutheran mission in Japan, and she always commented on her Bible reading, and last summer she was even pointing out Biblical images that were in Frank’s work. Frank laughed at the idea, but she insisted God was working on him subconciously. What really rocked my world was when I brought my wife and daughters to the museum last summer, and she sent us over to the studio for a quick hello and a photo with Frank. When we got back to the museum she took my girls into the store and gave them each an art book. I was looking forward to seeing her again this summer, to pointing out some art in the store and hearing her say, “I can help you out on that one.” Yes, she was quite a buisnesswoman. I miss her. Heaven is a livelier place these days, I feel sure. I keep the Frazetta family in my prayers. It’s hard to imagine what their lives must be like without her.
    Blessings,
    Aaron

  3. James Latta says:

    Thanks for the journal entry Bill. I’m glad I heard about Ellie’s passing here.

    An early fond memory I have relating to her, was writing Elllie as a 15 or 16 year old teenager in 1978, when I thought becoming a “convention dealer” was a good way to make extra money and own my own business. I wrote to the address on a poster and Ellie wrote me back a hand-written letter with prices for those small posters they so wisely produced. I was just showing this letter to my friend a month or so ago.

    I only met Frank once at his one appearance at that Comic Con. He was standing turned away at the Christie’s auction booth display and turned around and faced me and I about fell on the floor, Ellie was no where near. I kept it brief, but it is an important and fond memory of meeting the great master.

    I wonder about the mercenary people who may have visited Frank and Ellie in the early years, and thier run-in’s with greedy corporations and publishers that may have lead to her demeanor.

    Lord knows I have often thought…”if that artist only had an Ellie Frazetta.” Heck…all of us good use one probably in our careers.

    Never thought Ellie would go first. RIP Ellie….from me and that dream-filled Teenager I once was.

    With respect,
    James L.

  4. Over my fireplace is a copy of one of the Jesus paintings Frank did for Ellie, which I had been planning to take up and donate to the museum.

    may the souls of the faithfully departed rest in His peace

  5. James Latta says:

    Goodness gracious, I am the king of typos! Sorry about that Bill and everyone else !

  6. David A. Ullery says:

    It is September and I just found out about the passing of Mrs. Frazetta. May she rest in peace, and I know she will be there waiting to greet Frank and give him her classic smile and a hug when he decides to join her.

    I spoke to Ellie a few times on the phone while attempting to get their permission to use some of his Tarzan art for my book “The Tarzan Novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs: An Illustrated Readers Guide”. I was lucky the first time, although it was due to unfortunate circumstances, because after she answered the phone and the official chit-chat was over she opened up to me and informed me that Frank had just suffered another stroke the day before. I was then about to make a hasty and courteous goodbye and leave her to her thoughts, but she stopped me and continued to talk to me. I appreciated that. She wanted to unload some of her feelings and hear someone else’s thoughts about her husband, as well as do a little introspective thinking out loud. Fortunately (?) I had just gone through a trying and emotional time with my own father’s declining health and death and could totally understand her situation to a good degree.

    We chatted amicably for a little while longer and I could feel her tension lessen. She also asked my opinion on a potential biography idea which I believe was the third volume of the great Underwood Book editions called “Testament”. Then we ended the conversation with her telling me to pick any painting I wanted to be used for my cover, because she said a Frazetta painting would sell more books. I knew that all too well.

    Unfortunately, When I called back a few days later with my choices she was in a more business-like mood and even though every piece of art I used in my book was gratis, she would not allow me to use any of the paintings I had chosen because according to her nothing of her husbands was for free. Alas, it was as I had feared. I wish I had the money to use a Frazetta. Still, she was very nice to me even then, and remembered me from the time before.

    Thanks for saving and sharing your husband and his works with us Ellie. From what I could tell he loved you fiercely.

  7. Fritz Koepke says:

    Thanks Bill, for a beautiful summary of the great person behind (and in front of) the most important and influential fantasy artist the world has known.

    I had the lucky fortune of spending the afternoon with Ellie at the first museum many years ago- She was a wonderful hostess and so easy to talk to.

    Let’s all wish Ellie and the Family the peace she deserves and has earned by working so hard to guard and guide the Frazetta legacy over the years- Fate matched Frank and Ellie together for a very good reason.

    Respectfully, Fritz

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