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 would be bad.”
“When would be good?”
“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.