When Bill Frank first started copying comic strips in his adolescent years, little did he know his talent for art would lead to such an interesting life.
The 81-year-old Surprise resident helped open Disney World with his art creations, contributed to the Apollo program at NASA and made toys that possibly many of us have played with over the years.
His work has been used by companies such as McDonald’s and Petsmart.
Now, he wants to share his life of memorabilia with others.
Frank is hoping to auction off several dozen boxes of photos, scrapbooks, mementos and other items he has collected in his decade’s-long art career.
“I’ve had a good life,” Frank said recently from his West Point home, surrounded by mountains of memorabilia.
It took Frank four months to gather about six decades worth of vintage items from around his house.
“I love sculpting,” Frank said. “I have a knack for knowing how things should look.”
When Frank’s mother saw his talent for copying comic strips, she encouraged her son to go further with his talent.
Frank’s first formal training came from the Maryland Institute School of Art in the 1950s while he was also still in high school.
He was able to begin making money with his art when a Baltimore company hired him to make signs for their business before he was even 20.
In the late 1950s, Frank enlisted in the Air Force, where he started as a B-52 jet mechanic.
“The reason I was a mechanic is when you take the test to find out what you’re good at I was good with my hands,” Frank said.
After leaving the military in the early 1960s, Frank began completing window displays for Montgomery Ward, where he became its display director.
He then started a business called Spancraft Productions where he sculpted wall plaques.
His first big break came in 1968 when NASA hired him to illustrate the Apollo program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
He worked during the next couple years in NASA’s golden age of moon missions.
Among his work with NASA, he designed the patch the Apollo 11 mission, which was the first to put a man on the moon for the first time.
“It was an exciting time,” Frank said.
However, the crew at NASA was let go once the Apollo program had ended. But he had a big opportunity waiting for him when the Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida, needed help opening its park in late 1971.
Frank was one of the first 65 employees hired and its first artist. While there he had the opportunity to have lunch with Roy Disney, co-founder of the Walt Disney Company.
He worked in the design and development department where among other duties he designed and built animated windows. His first was for “Mary Poppins.”
But Frank ultimately decided he wanted to accomplish more than what he was doing for Disney.
“I’ve always been ambitious,” Frank said. “And I didn’t want to be the just guy who built animated windows. I wanted to go somewhere in the company.”
He decided to leave Disney after the higher-ups told him to be more patient. Instead, he went to work for a Florida company called Fun Stuff, where he started designing toys for kids.
After a few years there, Frank and his wife made a cross-country move to California in the 1980s when he took a job with a company called Top Banana, where he sculpted pop-up alarm clocks, among other things.
He eventually found his way back to theme parks to help with displays for the opening of Universal Studios in 1990. Among noted franchises he worked on were displays for “Back to the Future” and “King Kong.”
After getting that theme park off the ground, Frank and his wife moved to Mesa to be near her parents, who had moved there from Wisconsin. After living in the East Valley for about four years, they learned about a new growing city on the west side of town.
The Franks purchased the sixth house built in the West Point neighborhood for around $135,000 in 1997. The in-laws moved in right next door to them.
“You could see straight to the mountains when we moved in,” Frank said. “There was nothing else here.”
The couple lived in an RV park for six months while their home was being built. Their only shopping options at the time was the long drive down Bell Road to the Arrowhead area.
Frank is now semi-retired as he freelances his art talents for several companies.
The avid golfer now is busy figuring out what to do with his memorabilia.
Has already been in contact with a pair of auction firms, including one in Texas that traveled to Frank’s home to inspect his collection.
For those who would like to purchase any of Frank’s collection, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 623-332-1475.
Jason Stone can be reached at email@example.com. Visit yourvalley.net.