Longtime designer for billionaire recluse dies

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Longtime designer for billionaire recluse dies

LOS ANGELES - Mario Armond Zamparelli, an internationally renowned artist who for nearly 20 years created 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 such as TWA, Hughes Helicopters, Hughes Aircraft, Summa Corporation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Among the most instantly recognizable were the bright yellow, miniskirted uniforms he designed for the Hughes Airwest flight attendants in the 1970s.

He also created that airline’s signature nameplate, which featured bright blue lettering on a bright yellow background on every plane.

As a painter, Zamparelli did the only portrait of Hughes that he ever sat for. Gina Zamparelli said Hughes gave her father 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 that they contain the words “OK’’ and “not OK’’ next to various parts 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 1981.

He also recalled how Hughes 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 finally met 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 interior and exterior 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.

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