Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Movie Comedy Poster Art of Frank Frazetta

Frank Frazetta's first film poster from 1965
The late Frank Frazetta was the reigning king of fantasy, science fiction and horror illustration. In the mid sixties, he was  working as a freelance illustrator, creating  covers for fantasy paperbacks, covers for the Warren horror comics publications Creepy and Eerie, and occasionally doing work for MAD magazine. One of his MAD illustrations, a portrait of Ringo Starr for a back cover parody ad caught the attention of an an art director at United Artists who hired him to create the poster art for their new comedy What's New Pussycat. For FF, a new (and lucrative), career was born. He later mentioned in an interview that he was paid $5000 for the job, "A whole years pay, earned in one afternoon".

Since the great Jack Davis had set the standard creating the "madcap" poster art for It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963, the illustrated screwball "mob scene" (people/all-star casts running in mad pursuit for some, or no particular reason), illustrated comedy film poster was in vogue, and along with cartoonist/illustrators Davis, Jack Rickard and Sanford Kossin:

 ...Frank Frazetta joined them (almost always uncredited), as one of the most prominent practitioners of the art, and along the way rendering the sexiest females. Aside from Jack Davis,  FF's film poster work was also clearly influenced by the illustrator Pete Hawley's advertising and film poster work dating back to the thirties.  A Hawley film poster from 1963:
art by Pete Hawley
When I posted my Dick Van Dyke film poster blog featuring Frazetta's poster art for Fitzwilly, I was surprised to hear from more than a few folks who had no idea FF had created film posters, let alone film comedy posters. A terrific article by artist William Stout, "The Movie Poster Art of Frank Frazetta" appeared in the Bill Spicer/Mark Evanier edited Fanfare magazine in 1978.

Reading that article in '78 is when I first realized FF had created so many fun, wild, action-packed film comedy posters (all the FF posters in Fanfare were printed in B&W). Here are all of the film comedy posters he created between 1965-74, in full color, as well as a few extra rare pieces. By the seventies, FF basically was creating art for prints, not needing or wanting to take on new assignments aside from every now and then. FF also created poster images for several seventies fantasy/horror films, and later a Clint Eastwood film (The Gauntlet), most have been reprinted numerous times in books, magazines and online.  Only his film comedy artwork appears below:

Leonard Maltin on the Film Comedy Poster art of FF:
back cover parody ad for MAD #90 which led to FF's first film poster assignment. Frazetta didn't do much for MAD, much to publisher Bill Gaines dismay.
A second (cast running) version created by FF 
click to enlarge

British poster

A spanish poster using different art and the FF art across the bottom

the movie tie-in paperback 

also from 1965, FF's second (sexy) film poster, and forgettable film

larger view
the spanish poster with alternate FF artwork

FF art created for the Patty Duke tomboy comedy "Billie" in 1965, but not used on the final poster...

several version's of FF's wonderful, madcap "After the Fox"  poster art, from 1966

detail of FF's art

the French poster

Trailers from Hell on "After The Fox":
"Hotel Paradiso" also from 1966, forgettable film, great FF poster art
"The Busy Body" from 1967 was horror film producer/director William Castle's attempt to recreate the success of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (from a novel by Donald Westlake), even casting one of it's stars, Sid Caesar, in the lead. GREAT cast, but the film still bombed. Still, a great, "Busy" FF poster!
Larger view (click to enlarge)
FF created the cartoon art that runs below the main vampire image (possibly painted by Gray Morrow?) for this 1967 Roman Polanski horror comedy

A Dick Van Dyke caper comedy from 1967 featuring poster art by FF. For some reason, the studio demanded that photos of the actor's heads be pasted on the art, which FF was then asked to retouch. He was not at all happy about that approach.
"Mad Monster Party" from 1967. The screenplay was co-written by Harvey Kurtzman, the characters were designed by Jack Davis, and this poster art is by Frazetta. FF created two B&W watercolor illustrations, and one color watercolor as samples, then was surprised to see upon the film's release that the images were actually used as the posters. He would be fully compensated.

Second watercolor sample used for a poster
color watercolor sample also created for Mad Monster Party
also from 1967, Jack Davis created the poster art for the James Coburn comedy "Waterhole #3", but FF's portrait of singer Roger Miller appears on the soundtrack LP.
from 1968, and FF's most elaborate, complex film poster to date. Just before the film's release, co-star Bert Lahr died, and his face (originally the cop is carrying Lahr into the Paddywagon. See below:) was replaced by FF with fellow co-star Norman Wisdom's face.

detail of Bert Lahr (first version)
closer detail of the finished version. Bert Lahr now lays on the ground.
Incidental FF art created for the film's publicity. This image has been incorrectly ID'd as Bert Lahr on an online auction site, but it clearly isn't (nose too small, no prominent bags under his eyes), it's fellow cast member Denholm Elliot as moral crusader Vance Fowler.

unused FF art created for the spy-spoof "A Man Called Dagger"

the poster the studio wound up using
FF created the poster artwork for this 1968 Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda comedy (which helped spawn... The Brady Bunch)

The Fonda family

Belgian poster with different (photo) Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball faces
The poster for the Roy Orbison comedy/musical/western "The Fastest Guitar Alive" (1968). FF's art can be seen in the oval on the bottom...
... and prominently on the soundtrack LP cover

from 1971, and another incredible, elaborate FF painting

closer look
FF's final comedy film poster artwork was created for this forgettable comedy from 1974.

Grateful acknowledgement to William Stout for first introducing me to FF's film posters.

Thanks also to Ed Edo Dennis, Adrian Olivera and Leonard Maltin


  1. These are fantastic...what an artist...

  2. I mainly remember he drew women with fabulous tits.

  3. My absolute fave of all these is The Fearless Vampire Killers one-sheet. It's unknown who did the top illustration but the best part is FF contribution. Thank you Drew!

  4. He also did a Hermans Hermits album cover in this style.

  5. Ever since I was a kid I've been obsessed with Bert Lahr. I remember his Lays Potato Chips ads, running concurrently with Jack Gilford's Cracker Jack commercials of the late '60s.

    This late career move to TV advertising was a "last hurrah" of sorts for aging vaudeville & burlesque comics, including geniuses like Buster Keaton and Harpo Marx. It was parodied in both The COMIC and The SUNSHINE BOYS. I suppose it was demeaning on some level, but I cherished them as a kid, sandwiched between segments of DIVER DAN and The SOUPY SALES SHOW. How the world has changed...

    These posters are breathtakingly beautiful, but painting Bert Lahr out of any illustration should be a criminal offense.

  6. Mike, I couldn't agree more, but Bert does appear in the final poster, laying on the ground about to be dragged into the paddywagon.

  7. Great stuff!

    This side of Frazetta is often overshadowed by his swords and barbarians work, but he had a wonderful comic touch. Of course, he drew Li'l Abner for years so he had plenty of experience with humor and sexy gals.

    The Minsky's poster is framed and hanging on my wall.

  8. Just wonderful work! I remember a number of them encased in glass adorning many a movie theater, inside and out. Bert Lahr died during production, as you mentioned, Drew, and a double was seen from the back in several shots.

  9. When "The Night They Raided Minsky's" premiered in Hollywood, the theater showing it had set up all these (nearly life size ) cardboard standees of all the characters from Franks poster. Each character was a separate, free standing figure. I bicycled from Tarzana to Hollywood 2 or 3 times a week for the whole time it was there, each time trying to schmooze a different manager or employee into cutting loose with at least one figure. No dice. Then, one day, they were gone.
    -I'll bet Bill Stout snagged a couple....

  10. Leonard Maltin on "The Film Comedy Posters of frank Frazetta:

    Frazetta On Film


    Frank Frazetta is revered as one of the great illustrators of the 20th century; his comics, magazine and paperback covers, especially in the realm of science-fiction and fantasy, are highly collectible. But fewer people seem to know about his mostly-anonymous freelance assignments creating artwork for movie posters in the 1960s and 70s like What’s New Pussycat?, After the Fox, and The Night They Raided Minsky’s. My pal Drew Friedman remedies this oversight in his latest blog post at, where you’ll not only find reproductions of his major work in this field but some original art and running commentary by Drew.
    This comes on the heels of Drew’s tribute to the great Jack Davis, one of the most prolific artists of our time, who’s still going strong in his 80s. His work for E.C. Comics and Mad paved the way for a long and varied career drawing covers for record albums and major magazines, and much, much more. He, too, was frequently called upon to create movie posters; perhaps his most memorable were It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Woody Allen’s Bananas. You can read highlights of Drew Friedman’s recent interview with Davis, and see some of his work, HERE. Many big-name artists, from Norman Rockwell to Al Hirschfeld, dabbled in movie posters over the decades, but Frazetta and Davis created a niche all their own. What’s more, many of their posters are still available—and affordable.

  11. The poster work just adds another dimension to this very gifted artist. His range was incredible, and his scope , the bounderes of his imagination.
    There is also a film documentary dedicated to FF for those who want to pursue more. Just a great talent, that we are fortunate to share...

  12. it's "GRAY" Morrow.
    And thanks for this great piece.

  13. Corrected. And is that his painting?

  14. I love these, particularly the ink and watercolor comps.

  15. These are absolutely stunning posters. I like the combination of colors especially the poster entitled "Yours, mine, ours". This serves as a refreshment to my eyes because I'm so tired of seeing typical federal posters everyday since I'm working in a poster company.

  16. Who is this Peter Hawley I never heard of? more, please! More!

  17. I haven't checked in here for a while as I thought it was getting boring, but the last several posts are good quality so I guess I'll add you back to my everyday bloglist. You deserve it my friend :)
    Florida Printed Sheet Set Full -Solid - Florida Gators

  18. Thank you Janice, happy I didn't lose you.

    Ger, Peter Hawley worked mostly as a print advertising illustrator for decades, specializing in women and children. He only did 5 film posters, and each one is great. You can Google image samples of his work.

  19. Franks stuff just bounds of the page, i really love how many people seem to be running in his posters, and its a funny madcap cartoon run too (-:
    I think its made me want to get up and run around my desk!

  20. Regarding the upper portion of the 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' poster, I've found one reference to Macario 'Mac' Gomez as the illustrator. Still checking, though.

  21. YOURS, MINE & OURS was in development hell since 1961, when Desilu Productions bought the rights to the real-life family's story...during the seven years it took to get it to the screen, Sherwood Schwartz developed THE BRADY BUNCH independently (his inspiration was a newspaper article stating 30% of marriages involved people with children from previous relationships)


  22. I'm not sure I've ever seen all of these despite the books, etc. and actual LP's I have. Thank you for compiling them!!

  23. The "Papa's Delicate Condition" poster is not by Frank. It looks like it was done by Jack Rickard (1922-1983). His work gets mistaken for Frazetta's quite a bit --- even fooling the Frazetta family on occasion ("Who's Minding the Mint?" is not by Frazetta).
    --- William Stout

  24. Bill, It's by Pete Hawley, as I point out on the blog.

  25. Thanks, Drew! Like any idiot artist, I overlooked your blog entry and just looked at the pictures...

  26. Bill, occupational hazard, happens to me too often.