LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mario Armond Zamparelli, an internationally renowned artist who for nearly 20 years created the distinctive, often colorful logos, images and posters for reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes' many companies, has died at age 91.
Zamparelli, who had homes in the Los Angeles suburbs of La Canada-Flintridge and San Marino, died Saturday of heart failure, his family said.
The artist, who worked in numerous styles and forms, was an illustrator for major magazines and movie posters in the early 1950s when Hughes came looking for someone to design posters for his RKO Pictures' movies. He told his aides to find posters done by people they believed were the best in the business.
"He pointed straight at my dad's poster and said, 'Get me that one,'" the artist's daughter Gina Zamparelli said Monday.
What followed was an association between the artist and the increasingly reclusive billionaire that continued until Hughes' death in 1976.
During that time, and for a few years afterward, Zamparelli created numerous logos, images and designs for such companies as TWA, Hughes Helicopters, Hughes Aircraft, the Summa Corporation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Among the most instantly recognizable were the bright yellow, mini-skirted uniforms he designed for the female flight attendants Hughes Airwest employed in the 1970s.
He also created that airline's signature nameplate, which featured bright blue lettering placed against a bright yellow background on every plane.
As a painter, Zamparelli created the only portrait of Hughes that the billionaire is believed to have sat for. Gina Zamparelli said Hughes gave her father just two days to get it done, telling him he would never sit still for a portrait again.
"We still have some of the sketches," she said, adding they contain the words "OK" and "not OK" next to various parts that Hughes did and didn't like.
Although Hughes grew increasingly reclusive over the years, Zamparelli never spoke ill of the billionaire.
"He was a gentleman, a real professional, and he had a marvelous sense of humor," Zamparelli told the Los Angeles Times in a 1981 interview.
He also recalled how Hughes had first recruited him, summoning him through intermediaries to California from his home in New York for a series of small assignments for a mystery client.
It wasn't until two months later that he was finally summoned for a meeting with that client and discovered it was Hughes.
He eventually went from designing posters for films such as "Son of Sinbad" to being Hughes' chief executive designer.
In that latter role, he oversaw the appearance of everything on both the inside and outside of Hughes' fleet of airplanes, as well as his Frontier Hotel, Desert Inn, Sands and Tropicana casinos in Las Vegas.
He also came to be close friends with the billionaire, although he told the Times in that 1981 interview that the last time he saw Hughes face-to-face was in 1958.
Before that, Zamparelli's daughter said, it wasn't unusual for Hughes to drop by her father's house unannounced in the middle of the night, sometimes with a movie star such as Jane Russell in tow, just to talk over ideas or invite the artist to join him for a night on the town.
In addition to working for Hughes, Zamparelli also created images and designs for numerous other companies over the years.
Later in life, he returned to his first love of painting.
Although Zamparelli said he had numerous other interests as a child, including baseball, music and girls, he showed an early aptitude for painting.
When he was just 14 he had an exhibition of his watercolors in London, and he later studied at the Pratt Institute in New York, where he was influenced by the Bauhaus movement.
Also a skilled musician, who played the violin, bass and piano, Zamparelli performed in an Army band during World War II.
At the time of his death he was working on a book about his years with Hughes.
"He always felt there were injustices done to Howard Hughes, and he wanted to tell the story of someone who knew him personally as a friend," his daughter said.
She added that the family hopes to eventually publish the manuscript, titled "Enigma."
In addition to his daughter Gina, Zamparelli is survived by two other children, Marisa Zamparelli and Andrea Zamparelli; his wife, Maureen Hingert-Zamparelli; and brothers Robert and Victor Zamparelli.
Funeral services will be at 9 a.m. Sept. 22 at Holy Redeemer Church in Montrose.