Sunday, September 18, 2011

Frazetta's LION QUEEN Story

Here's the background story on the LION QUEEN: Many years ago a collector named Jack Gilbert wandered into ILLUSTRATION HOUSE GALLERY in NYC to see what was coming up for sale in the next auction. He called me and said there was a Frazetta piece in the next auction. He said it was a crappy sketch of an old lady and a panther. I thought Jack was having a little fun with me. I asked him again to describe it. Well, it wasn't an old lady. It was the famous picture of the queen and the lion that was famously pictured on the cover of the FRAZETTA #1 fanzine in 1969. It was published in black and white at the time and never subsequently published in color.

For many years I had asked Frank about the whereabouts of that original. After scores of visits to the house and much looking at art hidden away in drawers, closets, under beds, and in books, this original was no where to be seen. I asked him about it constantly. I asked Ellie what she knew. Frank said he didn't sell it. He said that he'd NEVER sell anything of that quality. He said I was nuts to even ask such a question. He said it was "around" and that Ellie probably hid it in some book. It would turn up. He wasn't too concerned about it. As for me, I just wanted to see the damn thing!

Well, the piece finally emerges in the hands of Roger Reed from ILLUSTRATION HOUSE who is putting it up for auction. I called Roger immediately to ask him about the background story. He said that he had bought it for a substantial price in 1995 from a friend of Frank who was also a good friend of Walt Reed, Roger's father. THey had done a lot of business over the years. It was sold to Roger right after Frank had his first major stroke. Word was out that Frank was near death and completely incoherent. People assumed that this was the end for Frank. I guess the seller assumed this as well. Roger had planned to keep it as "his Frazetta", but now he needed to raise money. I wanted to buy it. Roger said that it had to go in auction. I told him that there might be a potential problem because Frank and Ellie would consider it stolen property. I told Roger what Frank had said about the piece. I told Roger that if I had it, I could get clear title to it from Frank himself.

Ellie soon became aware that the piece was up for auction. Ellie had spies everywhere; people would call her up with info in hopes of getting on her good side. Ellie enjoyed the power. She cobbled together a letter and sent it to the FBI claiming, inaccurately, that the piece was stolen and that she had filed a stolen art claim years before. Of course, she had not filed anything. She was trying to put pressure on Roger to get it back. The FBI stolen art squad in NYC contacted Roger and told him not to sell the piece. Research was done. Cathy Begley of the FBI art squad contacted me for more background information. Frank was then told about the facts and who bought it and when it was sold. When he found out that one of his old friends had taken it, he hit the roof. He was pissed-off beyond belief. He called his ex-friend up and reemed him out. Frank told me that he wished that he had taped the call.

The FBI told Frank that he needed to get a lawyer and pursue the matter. Frank told Ellie to do just that. "Spend any amount of money, do what it takes, I want my art back!"
Frank was furious. He loved the piece. The fact that a friend had taken it just added to his supreme aggravation. This friend, by the way, kept the piece very private while he owned it. It was never shown to anyone. He owned other Frazetta pieces, which he displayed proudly. This one was kept from view. Draw your own conclusions.

Well, a couple of years passed and nothing was done. Frank settled down and Ellie would not spend the money for a lawyer. One day I called Ellie and asked her blessing for me to acquire the piece from Roger. I told her that I would make her a nice 8x10 transparency and she could make a lot of money selling it as a poster or limited lithograph. I said this would be better than having it vanish into some Asian or European collection, never to be seen again. This all seemed reasonable to me. Well, not to Ellie…She exploded and starting swearing me out from every angle. "You have devils in your head. How dare you want to own stolen art. It's mine!! It's STOLEN!! No one should own stolen art. Read the Bible. You can't have it. I'll never talk to you again. It's evil." She went on and on. I calmly listened until she slammed down the phone. Nice try, Dave!

A couple of more years passed…Cathy Begly from the FBI squad contacted Roger to see if Ellie had pursued the piece. Roger told her that nothing was done. Ms. Begly then called Ellie to let her know that she was giving Roger permission to sell the piece to me. Cathy called me last and told me the time period was over and the Frazettas had forfeited their claim rights by inaction. Roger and I worked out a deal. I paid a king's ransom for the piece, but it was a collector's triumph. I called Ellie to confirm the discussions I had with the FBI and Roger. I told her I had purchased the piece. She simply said: "let's talk about something else." She NEVER brought up this topic again. I did give her a nice transparency of the original for her use. I've written about the significance of this original before. There's no need to repeat myself. It is a truly majestic piece and contains all the great Frazetta themes. A masterpiece in every sense of the word held captive for so many years…now released.

©2010 DocDave Winiewicz

3 comments:

Jim S. said...

Beautiful piece...what are the dimensions of it?

docdave said...

It's about 6x10 inches, modest in size.

Anonymous said...

I am a fan of some years and I love to read these stories.
Thanks Doc

Henk

5 comments:

  1. This was always a favorite of mine and I'm glad you have it, Dave! When we ran the piece in LEGACY, we had purchased a transparency from Illustration House—which was good, but not at a level of quality that it deserved considering the medium. Ellie had published her last posters and prints in the early 1990s (not including giclee prints that were done one at a time as ordered), and I always thought "Lion Queen" would make a sweet limited edition. Knowing that you had shot a perfect tranny for them, I looked for it during my last few visits to the Frazettas but came up empty. I finally asked Ellie about it and she said bluntly that she'd thrown it away and didn't want to be reminded of it. I briefly and gently tried to persuade her that, regardless of her feelings, this was an opportunity to make a nice profit with a new release without a lot of work, but...you know. It was a nice idea anyway.

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  2. Thanks for the added information, Arnie! Yes, that piece was a sore point for Ellie. But she had YEARS to pursue it and never did. Foolish of her to toss that transparency away. This is another example of the bad business decisions she would constantly make on a large and small scale. I thought the piece would make a fantastic limited print. Oh well...

    Thanks again, Arnie. You are one of the long survivors of the Frazetta business enterprises Chaos!! The whole story will come out someday.

    DAVE

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  3. Doc!

    I just found your blog and am really enjoying catching up. Thanks for the work you're doing and I hope you're having as much fun doing it as it sounds.

    Best-
    Doug

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  4. Somehow, this intrigue about the piece, is kinda apropos..

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