By Rusty Kern
Francis X. Rice, the Chief Designer of Marx playsets, passed away at 7 A.M. EST
December 30th, 2006, at the age of 86 of natural causes. A World War Two veteran
and former Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus, he was the architect of many
of the Marx playsets we honor here on these pages. His fans came to know and love
him through his humor and insight into the creation of the line we cherish as children and
adults. He fell ill at the beginning of December, and while we all thought he would
recover; only his beloved wife Rusty and Frank himself knew the end was coming.
"He was a man who lived for toys and for Christmas, and he has passed," she said.
Frank would never have allowed a tribute to him, not while he lived. He always said the Marx playset was a team effort, the result of a collaboration of talent that started with Louis Marx' love of figures, and Ed "Click" Hjelte, the merchandiser whose success in marketing toys brought him to Marx. It was Ed who hired Frank into the research and development room at Marx headquarters, 200 Fifth Avenue in New York City. But it was Frank who maintained and fully developed the playset line, and we are publishing some of his story in the next issue.

Frank elevated the playset line from ranch houses and rodeo sets to Fort Apache and D-Day with a honed and clear-cut philosophy that rings true even today.

Frank is shown here in a detail of a pre-1962 photo of Louis Marx and others at a victory celebration following Toy Fair

He said that the playset needed to centered around something -- a fort or headquarters, and
barring that, vehicles and massed troops, to carry clear-cut conflict between opposing forces.
It was what he called "the good guys and the bad guys."

He was the designer of Davy Crockett at the Alamo, Zorro, Battleground, Ben-Hur, The
Flintstones and many other playsets of the 50's and 60's. Later, Frank designed The Guns of
Navarone, Comanche Pass and other vertical sets which were huge international hits and among
his greatest designs.

He'd never admit it but he was also important to his church. No less than five priests presided at
his funeral mass, three of whom were monsignors; all men he had helped and served to the
betterment of his church and fellow man. A man of towering spiritual beliefs, a rich past of fulfilling
the dreams of children throughout the world, Frank Rice rests tonight, his work done.

But he was a historian and storyteller at heart, and as you see his figures and settings, the playsets
with sweep and scope, details and history, you are once again living his tales of the Wild West, of
distant places and times; produced in a competitive atmosphere of the world toy market. We will continue to enjoy them as always, for their own sake and on their own terms. But we will always remember the man who designed them.

God speed Frank.