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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Frank McCarthy - A Diabolikal Artist

Every fan of the 1968 cult Mario Bava movie "Danger: Diabolik" knows this US-poster version of the movie. Before the Internet as a commercial vehicle, the movie posters, lobby cards and press books were the most important commercial tools to get the movie to the targeted audience. So a lot of attention was put into the creative process of making the poster as attractive as possible to lure the movie buffs into the theatre. During the golden era of the cinema the creation of an attention grabing poster became the speciality of a few master illustrators. One of the most famous artists was Robert McGinnes, known for his ultimate James Bond movie posters like "Diamonds are forever"or Raquel Welch from the movie "The Biggest Bundle Of Them All"
Another as much talented artist working in the field of painted movie posters was Frank McCarthy. Everyone knows his movie posters but very few people know the name of the man behind these posters, even for die-hard "Danger: Diabolik!" fans. Who was the man who created the Diabolik poster? Like many illustrators of his era, young Frank McCarthy was enthralled by the adventurous, courageous exploits of Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon, and the characters N.C. Wyeth brought to life — so much so that the walls of his boyhood tree house were covered with copies he'd drawn of the beloved illustrations. This early fascination with daring, athletic heroes has carried through his dual-career life. McCarthy was not only a prolific illustrator of paperback covers, magazine stories, and major advertising for films from the 1940 's through the late 1960 's, he also became an outstanding fine arts Western painter from the end of the 60's to the present.Born in 1924 in New York City, McCarthy drew pictures throughout his grade school years in Scarsdale, New York. As a teenager, he ventured into Manhattan to study during the summer at the Art Students League under George Bridgman, the author of many anatomy books, who gave him a strong appreciation for the dynamic human form. He was later a student of Reginald Marsh, a well-known painter of the Depression Era. Pratt Institute followed high school, where, McCarthy modestly claims, "I was by far not the best student — but somehow I managed to muddle through." During that time he attended many fascinating and edifying lectures at the Society of Illustrators by great artists such as John Gannam, Al Parker, and Harold Von Schmidt. Soon after graduation, McCarthy worked as an apprentice at Illustrators Incorporated, where he wrapped packages, made deliveries, and assembled mechanicals. Once he became a staff artist he worked on many Saturday Evening Post ads for which he had to retouch his own veloxes.
This task required fastidious attention to pattern, value, and contrast, which was to become a well-respected and sought after hallmark of his work.The artist went freelance in 1946 (his first job earned him $7.50). In the early 50's he joined Fredman Studio, which would later become the Fredman Chaite Studios. His reputation began to grow as that of a talented illustrator of both paperback covers and magazine stories — especially those with Western, action-oriented, or as McCarthy puts it, "shoot 'em up bang bang" themes. While producing for magazines, such as Collier's, Outdoor Life, Redbook, True, and publishers, including Avon, Dell, and Fawcett, McCarthy developed his trademark skills. He possessed an adept control of color values and contrasts which reproduced extremely well. He also had an ability to conceive and execute scenes at the climax of action and drama, whether it be two cowboys with their guns drawn, or Native American warriors charging into battle. And he was not solely concerned with the action. McCarthy enhanced it by placing his figures within the grandeur of stunning American landscapes — red-rocked canyons, sage bush deserts, snow covered mountain ranges. During his busiest periods, McCarthy painted up to four book covers a month.In the 1960s film studios took advantage of the fact that illustrators, rather than photographers, could often better dramatize a story's plot, themes, and characters in one coherent, compelling image. "There was no one better than Frank McCarthy for the action movies," remarks illustration historian Walt Reed. "Anything they couldn't photograph, they'd have me paint," recalls McCarthy. He flourished as an illustrator of advertising imagery (including posters, record cover art and the like) for major movie studios like Paramount, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Brothers. He painted many movie stars — almost always from film stills — including John Wayne in "The Green Berets," Sean Connery in "Thunderball," Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments," and James Garner in "The Great Escape."McCarthy remembers a particularly challenging job during this busy time: creating the recognizable likenesses of Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner as they battled each other with swords while on horseback. "It's hard to do because when two guys are fighting, their faces don't look the same as they do in everyday life. And they were in profile, not head on." Numerous versions later, the image for "Taras Bulba" was completed for United Artists.In 1968 McCarthy began to move away from commercial illustration when Charlie Dorsa, a good friend from his first studio job, proprelled him into the world of Western fine art. Dorsa introduced him to a sales person at a gallery who, upon seeing McCarthy's paperback covers, remarked, "If you can do that for me, I can sell them."McCarthy took him up on the offer and within just a few years he stopped doing commercial work around 1968 and devoted himself exclusively to painting Western art for galleries nationwide. In 1975 he was invited to join the Cowboy Artists of America. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators "Hall of Fame" in 1997. Frank McCarthy died of lung cancer on November 17th 2002.

Gallery of stunning movie posters created by Frank McCarthy

They Came To Rob Las Vegas (1968)
(Notice that he uses the same machine gun as in the Diabolik poster. BTW this poster has a very beautiful rendition of German actress Elke Sommer while on the Diabolik poster Marisa Mell is hardly recognizable!)

The Dirty Dozen (1967)
(Again with the same machine gun which was probably quite populair in that era in movies and on posters!)
The Mercenaries (1968)

A Distant Trumpet (1964)

Kharthoum (1966)

Day of Anger (1967)

Judith (1966)


Keith said...

Hey there. Nice post. I love all of those. We need more art like that these days. I actually did a Bond post over at my Sugar & Spice blog today.

Happy Sunday. Hope you've been enjoying the weekend. Take care. Have a great week ahead. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Wow! His artwork is magnificent! Thank you for sharing!!

Mirko di Wallenberg said...

Sadly the modern posters are nothing more than cheap composites of photo's from a movie! The great art of painted posters or bill boards are long gone! I remember walking with my father as a little child through my home town seeing all these painted action pieces on the bill boards. Going to a movie was an event then!

Anonymous said...

Lucky you! I don't even have the memories. When I was growing up in Germany of the 1980s, this era was already gone. :o((((
You're right, enjoying a movie used to be like a visit of a five-star restaurant -- something special. Nowadays, it's like a little snack at McDonald's which is very sad. But culture in itself has become something way more sleazy and less passion-driven. :o(