Frank Kelly Freas was born Francis Sylvester Kelly on August 27, 1922 in Hornell, New York. His father, Francis Kelly, was born 1901 in New York of Irish ancestry. His mother, Miriam Sylvester, was born 1902 in New York. They married in 1922. He was their only child.
He lived with his mother, a twenty-year-old grocery cashier, and her parents, Walter and Harriet "Hattie" Sylvester, at 70 East Washington Street. His father lived eight blocks away with his widowed mother, Ellen R. Kelly, and two sisters at 34 Franklin Street. His father was a twenty-one year-old unemployed unskilled laborer with a grammar school education.
In 1930 Walter Sylvester died. Widowed Hattie Sylvester decided to move to Canada with her daughter and grandson. They settled in Crystal Beach, a resort town near Fort Erie, in the Niagara region of Ontario, Canada.
Crystal Beach is about twenty miles west of Buffalo, NY. After the 1901 World's Columbian Exposition in Buffalo the Crystal Beach area had become a popular tourist destination with amusement park, boardwalk, and resort hotels. By 1930 the area attracted around 20,000 daily visitors throughout the summer months. Most people traveled from Buffalo on the S.S. Canadianna or the S.S. Americanna, historic pleasure craft that disembarked at the splendid Crystal Beach Pier. Each ship carried 3,000 passengers, each of which paid 30 cents for the three-hour boat ride.
Advertisements for Crystal Beach boasted of 100 midway side-shows. One of these was a novelty photography shop operated by James Conoley, born 1882 in Montreal. Hattie Sylvester, who was also born in 1882, married him. Her daughter worked as a cashier, while her grandson spent his formative years absorbing the carnival atmosphere and crowd-pleasing antics of the garish midway.
He soon discovered his natural drawing talent and interest in a career as a commercial artist.
In 1939 his mother married Keith L. Freas (pronounced "Freeze"), a visitor from Buffalo, NY. He was thirty-years-old and lived at home with his parents, and worked as a machinist at the Curtis Aeroplane factory in Buffalo.
Until that time Francis had attended public school in Ridgeway, Ontario, where he was a high school senior. In December 1939 he lived in Buffalo with Keith's married sister, Gwendolyn LaFlamme, at 153 Massachusetts Avenue. This is only four blocks from the Peace bridge, which straddles the USA/CAN border, as well as the Niagara River. That address is also fifteen blocks from Lafayette High School, which entitled Francis to attend Lafayette as a local resident from January until June of 1940. That was the second semester of the 1939-40 school year. While at Lafayette High School he joined the sketch club and studied with the renowned art teacher, Elizabeth Weiffenbach, several of whose former students pursued careers in art, such as newspaper cartoonist Bruce Shanks and architect Gordon Bunshaft.
Francis Freas returned to Lafayette High School in the fall semester of the 1940-41 school year, but he did not return after December 1940. He did not graduate from the school but his enrollment in the 1941 senior class entitled him to appear in the yearbook.
After high school he worked with his step-father at the Curtis-Wright Aircraft Company. He applied for a job in the art department and was hired to work at their factory in Columbus, Ohio.
On October 27, 1942 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps under the name Francis Sylvester Kelly. He served two years at the Aviation Mechanics School at Keesler Army Airfield in Biloxi, Mississippi. In his spare time he amused fellow servicemen by painting a mural in the club for enlisted men. In late 1944 He was reassigned to the South Pacific as a reconnaissance flight photographer, where he served until his discharge as Staff Sergeant in early 1946.
After WWII he returned to live with his mother and step-father at 3197 Roosevelt Drive in Massillon, Ohio, where they had moved in 1944 after his grandmother Hattie Conoley was committed to the Massillon State Hospital for the Insane. Miriam and Keith Freas worked at the hospital in the psycho therapy department, where Keith ran a shop class and Miriam was the choir-master as well as the librarian.
After struggling to find work as a commercial artist in Ohio he decided to attend college on the G.I. Bill at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
In 1950, while still an art student, he won first prize in a design contest sponsored by the Lane Bryant Store of Pittsburgh. It is noteworthy that he signed this work "Frank Freas" instead of "Frank Sylvester Kelly."
That same year he sent unsolicited cover illustrations to the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where his work was accepted for publication.
In June 1951 he graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He soon sold cover illustrations to other pulp magazines, such as Astounding Science Fiction, Planet Stories, Science Fiction Quarterly, and Super Science Stories. These works were often signed "Kelly Freas."
His illustrations also appeared in digest magazines, such as Analog, Fact, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
In 1952 he married Pauline "Polly" Brussard. They moved to Yonkers, NY, where they raised two children, Jeremy and Jacqueline.
On May 13, 1953 his step-father Keith L. Freas died at the age of forty-four.
In 1957 he painted his first cover illustration for Mad Magazine featuring Alfred E. Newman. He went on to paint many subsequent covers for Mad Magazine.
He also painted covers for paperback books published by Signet, Ballantine, Avon, and Ace Books.
In 1960 he moved to 4216 Blackwater Road in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
On August 16, 1961 his grandmother Hattie Conoley died at the age of seventy-eight in Massillon State Hospital for the Insane. Her body was buried in Ridgeway, Onatario, beside her second husband James Conoley.
In 1968 his thrice-widowed mother, Miriam Sylvester Kelly Freas Alkire, retired from the psycho therapy department of Massillon State Hospital for the Insane and moved to Richmond, Virginia, to be near her son.
In 1973 he was commissioned to create the insignia design for the NASA Skylab program.
In 1977 he was commissioned by rock band Queen to paint their album cover for the News Of The World, for which he recreated an altered version of his earlier cover painting for Astounding.
In January 1987 his wife Pauline died of cancer.
In 1989 he married his second wife, Dr. Laura Brodian.
On September 8, 1991 his mother died in Virginia at the age or eighty-nine.
In 1996 he moved to the West Hills section of suburban Los Angeles, where his wife worked as a radio host of a classical music station.
In 2004 he painted the portrait of a werewolf that appeared in the third Harry Potter movie.
Frank Kelly Freas died at the age of eighty-two at his home in suburban Los Angeles, CA, on January 2, 2005.
© David Saunders 2011