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11 things about Lisa Frank that put those teddy bears in a whole new light

Lisa Fogarty

by

Lisa Fogarty

Lisa Fogarty has written numerous articles for USA Today, The Stir, Opposing Views and other publications. She has covered everything from red carpet events to the discovery of toxic PCBs on school windows. She lives on Long Island, N.Y....

Lisa Frank made us love rainbow-colored unicorns, but who the heck is she?

Be still, our '80s/'90s hearts. The queen of unicorns, rainbows and lovable, huggable aliens has just made all of our adult dreams come true: Lisa Frank is creating adult coloring books.

If you were a tween at any point in the late '80s or '90s, there's a solid chance you carried around your Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper or lunchbox, as if the crazy-colorful image on the front was an extension of who you really were on the inside, behind all that preteen angst. Even when you were having a bad day, which probably happened a lot in seventh grade, you could count on Frank's psychedelic, upbeat images of bunnies wearing tutus, butterflies and panda bears to remind you that California was a real place and you could pack up your bags and move there as soon as you turned 18 (anyone else share similar Frank-induced hallucinations)?

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It makes total sense that the artist and businesswoman who spoke to us when we were little girls could continue to hit a nerve with us today — and I can't think of a better alcohol-free way to de-stress than by taking a brand new Crayola to one of Frank's iconic unicorns. Frank's coloring books won't be available until next month (when they will be sold at Dollar General). In the meantime, let's celebrate the woman who got us through middle school by acknowledging that she is a very interesting person, indeed. Here are 11 facts you may not know about Frank.

Her parents were artistic and she enjoyed a privileged childhood

Frank was born in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and attended the elite Kingswood School with fellow famous alum like Mitt and Ann Romney. As a child, both of her parents set an artistic example by collecting and creating art, and she was sent to art classes from the time she was 5. Surprise, surprise: Frank described herself in an interview with Urban Outfitters' blog as a "girly girl," who was super into coloring.

Frank was an art star before she graduated high school

So much for waiting tables after school — Frank was instead making a killing in the '70s by selling her art to bigwigs like Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler. Before she even packed her bags for college, Frank had pulled in $3,000 in sales from her artwork.

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She founded her company before she turned 25

Frank was too busy getting her boss on to suffer a quarter-life crisis. She was just 24 years old in 1979, when she founded Lisa Frank Incorporated. Though she was born and raised in Michigan, Frank moved to Tucson, Arizona, to attend the University of Arizona, and her company's headquarters are still situated in the city.

She knew right away her bears and unicorns were special

It's one thing to be creative and quite another to be both creative and have a nose for business. Frank proved she could hustle when she began selling Native American jewelry she found in Tucson for even more money to folks back home in Michigan. When she realized they were just eating up all of the cute teddy bears and unicorns, she actually started giving the artists advice on what they should create.

Frank's first business idea was for colorful plastic jewelry

Had Shark Tank existed back then, a 20-year-old Frank would have wowed all of the Sharks with her Sticky Fingers plastic jewelry collection, which consisted of the usual Frank suspects like technicolor charm bracelets with plastic fruit. Her line was so popular it was even picked up by Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus.

Those unicorns we love? Frank was totally not into them at first

Frank was a serious abstract artist inspired by masters like Jasper Johns. And even after realizing she had a "commercial sense," as she told Foundations, she had trouble allowing herself to create the unicorns that every girl wanted to buy. "At first I didn’t want to do unicorns," Frank said. "The artist in me said no. Then I thought wait a minute this is commercial art. Let’s do what’s going to sell. So that’s how that happened."

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No, she wasn't on drugs

Here's a tidbit that probably escaped you in middle school: A lot of people assumed Frank was high on psychedelics or some other interesting drug when she created her eccentric art. Sorry, but she addressed the rumors with Foundations and confirmed she was straight: "I think the reason I made what I made is because I’m unconventional," she said. "I am who I am. You read stuff about me; people think it was all influenced by drugs. You couldn’t do what I did if I was on drugs."

Frank's company was huge until she started dating her now ex-husband

In 2005, Frank divorced James Green, who was a CEO and co-shareholder of Lisa Frank Incorporated. But before their split, all hell had started to break loose at Lisa Frank's headquarters, according to interviews given to Jezebel. Green, a former in-house illustrator and designer, apparently moved up the corporate ladder after the couple started dating in 1983 or 1984, and Frank later relinquished control of the company to Green after the two married and had children. One former employee went as far as saying Green "really turned that place into a shit hole. The guy's kind of a dick." Ouch. Green's management style was described as "oppressive" and the corporate culture itself "hostile." There were rumors that he had an affair and did cocaine — and no one was shocked when they announced their divorce in 2005.

Frank may have been into cocaine at that time

Listen, a bad relationship will lead you down some seriously shitty paths and this isn't confirmed by Frank herself, but a former employee named Kyle claimed to Jezebel co-workers found a letter written to Frank by a friend who thanked her for the fun time they had in New York "freebasing" and "whoring around." This made everyone question whether Frank was really working from home as she claimed or into a bit of mischief.

Frank's divorce was brutal

If you think your divorce was hell on Earth, get a load of this: From 2005 until 2009, Frank, Green and his reported lover Rhonda Rowlette were involved in no fewer than nine court battles over company-related matters. All the while, Frank has fought tooth and nail to regain control over her company — and the court finally had her back. Sadly, all of this relationship nonsense took precedence over Frank's plans to expand her company by creating a Fantastic World of Lisa Frank theme park and even TV shows that would compete with Disney.

Frank named two characters after her children

Their marriage wasn't meant to be, but Frank and Green's union produced two sons who inspired Frank to create two characters — a rainbow print tiger and tiger cub — that have since become her favorites, she shared with Urban Outfitters' blog. "Forrest is based on my 13-year-old, and Hunter is a 17-year-old character who was named the day Hunter was born," she said. "We had created both characters before the boys were born, and then when they were born, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, they really do fit their personalities!’”

Frank is so private it's nearly impossible to find a photo of her

She's positively lovely. She has Instagram and Twitter, but when you search for photos of Lisa Frank, you're going to find a lot of rainbows. You'll even find photos of Mila Kunis, who was the star of Lisa Frank commercials, but just two actual photos of the businesswoman — here and here, in case you're dying of curiosity. "You know, I’m not playing hard to get on purpose," Frank told Foundations. "It’s just that I do what I do because I love what I do. I never did it for fame, fortune, or publicity. As a matter of fact I didn’t even take advantage of it at all. Probably stupidly so ... I'm not a big spotlight person."

Before you go, check out our slideshow below:

Lisa Frank made us love rainbow-colored unicorns, but who the heck is she?
Image: Imgur
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