Monday, November 21, 2011

Frazetta, Coffee, and the Flying Cannoli










One of the great inside jokes about Frazetta is the many coffee stains that appear on his art. I have reproduced a few examples with this essay. The fact is that Frank Frazetta loves coffee and drinks it constantly. The greatest coffee drinker in history was the great French writer, Balzac, who consumed 50 cups a day. Balzac ultimately died of caffeine poisoning at the young age of 51. Frank had a similar coffee passion. Every visit to the Frazetta home always began with the question: "Want some coffee?" Everything else started after that first pour and first sip.

During a very early trip in the 80s I pulled up to the Frazetta home driving a very low end, entry-level Mazda. Frank greeted me at the door. You fit in that thing? What do you get, about 200 miles per gallon? Frank continued to tease me and my pathetic little car. I responded: Frank, if I didnt spend every penny I have on Frazetta originals, then maybe Id have some cash for a decent car! Frank laughed. Come on in, you need some coffee after being squished into that thing. We walked into the kitchen. We were alone. I sat in the dining room and Frank poured some coffee. He started swearing because he couldnt find any milk. Finally, after much fumbling around Frank reached into the back of the refrigerator and came out with a carton of heavy whipping cream. I was horrified. "Frank! What are you doing? That stuff will kill you. Its pure cholesterol. It'll clog your arteries." Frank listened without looking at me. Then I saw him smirk. He then looked at me, patted me on the back, continued to pour the thick cream into my cup, and simply said: "For Christ's sake, live a little!" That's Frazetta.

That could almost be Franks motto, but wed have to change it a bit to LIVE A LOT!

All of our best discussions and evenings involved some kind of coffee. Many times Ellie would bring us cup after cup of irish coffee. We would sit there, put an oil or drawing on the easel, and then just start talking about what we see. After a few Irish coffees Frank would often loosen up and start to talk about myriad things, i.e. his early girlfriends, his encounter with a UFO over Brooklyn, his real thoughts about God, his thoughts on people in his life, his unguarded thoughts on Ellie, and so many other things. Two friends just contemplating the world. Golden times, to be sure. One night Frank decided to give me his imitations of EVERY Lil Abner character. It was hilarious. Another night we walked into woods and, out of nowhere, Frank would start to sing. Not many people know this but Frank had an extraordinary voice. He often would sing at weddings for relatives and friends.

I have seen Frazetta drip coffee, splash coffee, spill coffee and spit coffee. The worst event happened one day after Ellie brought in some cannoli and put them on the table. We were sitting on Franks zebra skin sofa and looking through a big box of photographs. The box was between us. Frank reached for the plate of cannoli to offer me one. He had a cup of coffee in his right hand. One of the creamy canoli started to roll off the plate. It fell and took on a life of its own. He tried to catch the airborne cannoli. In the meantime the coffee cup in his right hand also took on a life of its own. It also went up in the air. The moment froze in my mind. It was a surrealistic juggling act headed for disaster. I lunged to get out of the way. The coffee explosion missed me but I did get nailed by the cannoli on my ankle and foot. The coffee cup fell into a box of photos we were looking at. The cannoli plate exploded and shattered on the side of the table and much cannoli sugar and cream covered everything. Nothing was spared this cataclysm. There was cannoli cream on top of one of Franks cameras. The photos were destroyed. Every photo had damage. Frank was FURIOUS. Frank jumped up. He burned his leg a bit and started a nonstop string of swearing. He jumped around for a minute. He couldnt believe what he just did. He frantically tried to clean the camera. Everything else, including me, was secondary. Everything was coffee-cannoli stained. I'll never forget it. It was the funniest moment I have shared with Frank. You had to be there to appreciate the complete absurdity of the event. It took just two seconds, but everything just exploded into a cataclysmic Frazetta Frenzy. I ran to the bathroom and tried to clean my shoes. Frank took the box of photos outside and dropped them in his dumpster.

This is why we see many sketch sheets littered with coffee stains of every size and design. I have reproduced a few examples along with an actual picture of Frank pouring coffee in his darkroom. It's best to be far away from Frank when he has coffee in his hand! I sure do miss that man.

©2011 DocDave Winiewicz

And, of course, as always, all art is © by the Frazetta Estate. The pictures are ©2011 by Dave Winiewicz Please do not write to tell me about the correct singular and plural of cannoli. I looked it up. I am using it correctly.


PS: Yes, on the way home that night, I stopped at the dumpster and retrieved the box of photos. I was able to rescue a number of gems.

12 comments:

  1. I wonder if there have ever been any scientific studies done linking the consumption of caffeine to creativity...

    Balzac and Frazetta certainly had both in spades!

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  2. Whenever I saw Frazetta draw or paint, there was ALWAYS a cup of coffee in the vicinity. The music might have been on or off, but the coffee cup was omnipresent!

    DAVE

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  3. I knew from an old COMICS JOURNAL interview that Frazetta liked Frank Sinatra's music, but didn't know that FF had some good pipes himself. Was he a tenor or baritone? I wonder if he ever saw old blue eyes in concert, or if they'd ever met.

    Alec

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  4. Hi DAve,

    On my first trip to see Frank, after talking with Ellie at the first museum and getting a solo personal tour ... it was on a Monday and she came down to let me in ..........she and I were standing on the curb talking when here comes Frank driving down the road and she said " he must be out of coffee "

    A few years back some friends and I all sent around a card that we drew images on for his birthday and I inadvertantly had set my coffee cup down on it after doing my drawing, and it left a coffee ring, and I thought to myself....." now that is appropriate!"

    All the best Dave and thanks

    Tracy

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  5. Thanks Tracy! Yes, Frank would only do a shopping trip if he was out of film or coffee!!

    DAVE

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  6. Speaking of trips, I was surprised that Frazetta didn't travel much at all. With his and Ellie's interest in Africa I would have expected them to have gone on safari to the Serengeti or such like. He told me he went to Puerto Rico once. That's it. I wonder why?

    Alec

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  7. Yes, it is odd, but Frank never had a passion for travel. He was so self-satisfied with his life and passions as they were. Ellie never pushed him to take trips. It really adds another element to his curious mystique. He did a LOT of traveling in his imagination, didn't he?

    DAVE

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  8. Just came back from Mamma Susanna's Ristorante Italiano for my birthday dinner and I remembered your article. So we finished up toasting Frank with a last cup of coffee and split a big cannoli with my wife.

    Have to admit that they do go very well together :)

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  9. these stories are awesome I'm half a Italian and you can see such similarities in many Italians. I think Coffee can create a feeling and give you energy to concentrate, if you eat substantial healthy food, coffee doesn't have to be bad at all for you, I always put cream in it, a little cream is not that bad, because its natural, what is really bad is processed foods, and hydrogenated fats. What I wonder though is did Frank actually paint watercolor on normal sketch book paper, because it seems like he did, but I'm not sure.

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  10. The other thing I don't get about this either, is Frank was like so coordinated, I mean his reflexes and hand eye were almost pro Baseball caliber, you wonder why he would of spilled any thing at all. Perhaps he was always thinking about what he was going to draw.

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  11. Yes, he did. No special papers for Frank, just anything that was around.

    DAVE

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