Tuesday, June 01, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: John Lehti

John Armas Lehti, Jr. was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 20, 1912, according to the New York, New York, Birth Index (at Ancestry.com), his World War II draft card, his marriage license, and Social Security application. It must be noted that incorrect birth days are at the Department of Veterans Affairs, 29, and the Social Security Death Index, 27. According to his daughter, Sandra Lehti-Culjak, her father was of Finnish descent. A family tree at Ancestry.com said the surname was originally Lehtinen.

On November 24, 1909 Lehti’s father married Christine Wilhelmine Clayton in Brooklyn. They have not yet been found in the 1910 U.S. Federal Census.

The Daily Standard Union (Brooklyn, New York), May 30, 1913, published a death notice for Lehti’s father.

Lehti,—John A., beloved husband of Christine W. (nee Clayton), on May 28, 1913, at Montreal, Canada. Recently of Washington, D. C, formerly of Bay Ridge. Services will be held at 453 Eighty-first st. on Saturday evening, May 31, 1913, at 8 P. M. Interment at the convenience of family.
The Jamestown Post-Journal (New York), March 20, 1954, said Lehti’s father was an architect and art fancier. Editor & Publisher, March 20, 1954, said Lehti “is the grandson of Johann Gustave Lehtinen, chapel designer in Finland and later founder of one of the first Finnish language newspapers in the United States”

In the 1915 New York State Census, Lehti lived with his mother, and maternal grandfather, William Clayton, the head of the household, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn at 453 81st Street.

In the 1920 federal census, Lehti remained in Brooklyn at 453 81st Street, his address for the next twenty years. His mother was a bank clerk, his father was born in Finland, and his grandfather worked for the bridge department.

In the 1930 census, Lehti’s maternal grandmother, Henrietta, was the head of the household. The Brooklyn Eagle, February, 5, 1946, said he graduated from Manual Training School in 1931. The World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976) said

…[he] studied at some of the finest art schools in the nation: the Art Students League (under George Bridgman, Frank Dumond, and Nicholaides), the National Academy, the Beaux Arts Institute, and Grand Central Art School under Harvey Dunn, probably the greatest influence on his art and approach to work.
About his early career, the Evening News (Newburgh, New York), October 26, 1972, said
Lehti started in the 30s as an illustrator and writer of westerns and detective stories. In 1936, he started in the new field of comic books. Among the many ‘union suit’ heroes of that era, his famous Crimson Avenger has long since become a collector’s item.
Lehti’s occupation was artist in the 1940 census. Lehti’s address was the same when he signed his World War II draft card on October 16, 1940. He was described as five feet seven inches, 145 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair. Two months later, December 19, his new address, 230 Central Park South, was written on his draft card. The change of address was due to his December 9 marriage to Pauline Rosalie Lowell in Manhattan.

Commercial artist Lehti enlisted in the army on April 7, 1941.

Comics: Between the Panels (1998) said

Jack Lehti, as he was known in the early days, jumped from the pulps to National Comics such as “Steve Conrad,” “O’Malley of the Red Coat Patrol,” and “Crimson Avenger.” Lehti was in the Army reserves when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor; he quickly told DCs Whit Ellsworth to hire his inker, Charles Paris, then headed to Europe. “Jack Lehti was a dogface,” Paris said. “He told me one time that he jumped into a foxhole in France and there was a copy of Detective Comics, with the Crimson Avenger. It gave him a funny damn feeling. Here he is lying out in the middle of nowhere, he might as well be on another planet with shells falling around and dead people and mud and dirt…and there’s a copy of a DC comic book.
In the European Theater Lehti served with the 750th Tank Battalion, 104th Division, which was known as the Timberwolves. WorthPoint has a description of Lehti’s map of the Timberwolves’s activities. The Brooklyn Eagle said
When war came he joined the 104th Infantry and served in “Terry Allen’s Timberwolves.” He became a sergeant. He won the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and four campaign ribbons. When the war in Europe ended he was shaking hands with Russian soldiers 70 miles southwest of Berlin. Mr. Lehti illustrated a book published by his outfit.
Lehti lived at 183 Montague Street in Brooklyn when he become art director of Picture News in January 1946. A 1946 issue of Editor & Publisher described the origin and contents of Picture News.
Picture News … made its debut in January and is the size of regular comic books. Its publisher and editor ([Emile] Gauvreau is “executive editor”) is Leigh Danenberg, publisher of the Bridgeport (Conn.) Sunday Herald.

Danenberg conceived the idea of presenting news in comic strip technique, with sketches and balloons, and about six months ago he persuaded Gauvreau to join him in introducing the idea.

They assembled a staff that includes John Armas Lehti as art director, Henry J. Cordes and John Milligan, artists; Jane Brower Wyckoff, editorial research assistant, and Judson Lahaye, Jr., promotion manager.

The first issue of Picture News, which is printed at at Bridgeport by the Lafayette Color Press and sells for 10 cents per copy, featured a story on the atom bomb, containing George Bernard Shaw’s observations on the subject; reviewed Henry Wallace's “Sixty Million Jobs” and had personality features on Barbara Hutton and Hoagy Carmichael, among others. … Books, plays and movies will be reviewed regularly in Picture News. … and other regular features will be “Laughs by Milt Gross” and beauty hints and advice.

Increasing the book’s new coverage, Colonel Bob Allen, who with Drew Pearson established the “Washington Merry-Go-Round,” will supply the artists with regular Washington news to illustrate. ...
The Evening News said “Following World War II, he became a magazine editor, an advertising artist and finally a syndicated cartoonist, with a daily strip on the life in the circus, ‘Tommy of the Big Top.’ ” Tommy of the Big Top, was syndicated by King Features, from October 28, 1946 to 1950. According to the Wilton Bulletin (Connecticut), November 11, 1970, Ray Burns’ “…first strip job was doing lettering and background for John Lehti’s ‘Tommy of the Big Top’ comic…”

Lehti’s second marriage was to Genevieve Ellen Tighe. They obtained a license on April 20, 1948 in Manhattan. The 1949 Manhattan city directory listed Lehti at 270 West End Avenue. The Jamestown Post-Journal said

His marriage to Jean Tighe, radio and TV singer who has appeared on the Kate Smith Show, the Carnation Hour, and starred on Mutual Broadcasting System’s “Jazz Nocturne”. The Lehtis live in Syosset, Long Island. They have a ten-year-old daughter, Sandra.
Ghosting for Dan Barry, Lehti drew the daily Tarzan from November 22, 1948 to February 5, 1949. Alberto Becattini said Lehti assisted on Secret Agent X-9, Captain Yank, and Terry and the Pirates. Lehti also scripted Buck Rogers in the early 1960s.

After Tommy, Lehti returned to comic books until Publishers Syndicate bought his Tales from the Great Book, which ran from March 21, 1954 to 1972. The genesis of the Great Book was told in Sunday Herald Magazine (Bridgeport Connecticut), February 19, 1956.

The coloring of the Tales From The Great Book, November 22, 1959, was criticized in the Afro-American (Baltimore, Maryland), December 5, 1959.

Following the Great Book was Facts About the Bible, which continues today. 

Some of Lehti’s comic book credits are here.

According to Who’s Who in American Comic Books 1928–1999, did animation for Trans-Lux from 1962 to 1970. The Evening News said he storyboarded the TV cartoon series, Mighty Hercules, and “...he also created and supervised the entire production of an animated cartoon film, series, based on his Sunday newspaper feature, ‘Tales from the Great Book.’ ” A photo of Lehti was published in the Evening News, November 3, 1972.

Lehti’s mother passed away August 21, 1968. She was a resident of Durlandville, New York.

Lehti passed away January 5, 1991, according to the Social Security Death Index. At the time he was a resident of Goshen, New York.

Further Reading and Viewing
Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists
Getty Images

—Alex Jay


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