“I Wrote Over 800 Comic Book Stories”
The Way We Were Marjorie writes: “The picture of Leon was taken in 1946, age 27, and the one of me in 1945, age 23.” This is how the happy couple looked as they entered married bliss and the postwar world.
“I Was Always Interested In Writing” LEON LAZARUS: I was born in the Bronx, Aug. 22, 1919. Sid was the oldest brother (born March 12, 1912), then Harry came along (Feb. 22, 1917), and I was the youngest. Sid passed away in 1973, I believe. I was always interested in writing. I loved to read, even as a four-yearold child. Sid encouraged me to read. I asked him to help me learn how to read, which he did, before I entered the first grade. In the fifth or sixth grade, I won an essay-writing contest and won a box of hard candy. That was a great incentive and gave me the idea to become a writer. I used to go to the library every day and read books in the reference room where the high schoolers were, even though I was much younger than they were. My brother Sid was working for Parents Magazine [company] on a feature called “Marco Polar Bear.” He also worked for DC. This was before the war. Sid had a family and wasn’t drafted, but I was unmarried and the sole support for my parents, who were already in their 60s. I wanted to get into the service. My friends were in, and I wasn’t patriotic-crazy, but I felt I could serve. I wasn’t there the first day the war started, but I went when I was called. In 1942, I was drafted into the Army. It was there that I decided I was going to make writing my career. I was in the radar department, which was a highly secret department during the Second World War. The Signal Corps wanted to do a film on radar, and I was asked to write about the importance of radar. I was in Italy at the time, training people how to use radar. A Signal Corps colonel told me that they were happy with what I did and would put my name on the film, which I never did get to see. Right after that, I was honorably discharged from the Army; this was 1945. JIM AMASH: What did you do when you came home? MARJORIE LAZARUS: He married me [in May 1946]! [laughter] Not to take away from Leon, but he wrote some articles when he got home, one of which was for The New Yorker.
“Timely Had Trouble With Their Proofreaders” LEON: It was about soldiers returning home from the war. They didn’t publish it, though, because they only wanted factual stories and I had
written fiction. They asked me to write something else, but that didn’t get published, either. As it turned out, I didn’t get into the magazine field until after I left comics. My older brothers were artists and were doing comic books for a living. I had to make a living, and my friend Bob Landers was working at Timely as an inker. I had good penmanship and decided to give lettering a try. I had done some jobs lettering on blueprints, so Bob said, “If you can do that, you can letter comics.” He gave me advice on doing samples, I did them, and got a staff job at $40 a week. Then I starting thinking, “I can write this stuff.”
Dave Berg was an editor there at the time, and he was also a good cartoonist. He was handling the teenage books, and he wrote and drew stories, too. He had a good sense of humor. I was only there about three weeks when I asked if I could submit a writing sample to him. He said, “Okay, kid, but remember, this may look easy, but it isn’t easy.” I wrote a story outline. Dave liked it and said, “Go take a crack at it.” I wrote it and they bought it. I don’t remember the character, but it was a teenage feature. Then they took me out of the lettering department, and made me the associate editor to Don Rico. I was making $60 a week now, not including my writing, so I was making about a $100 a week total. That was good money then. All the freelance writers, no matter who they were, got the same page rate. I know this for sure because I made out the vouchers when I was an associate editor. The rate was about $7 a page. JA: Who hired you to be a letterer? LEON: Gary Keller. He was in charge of the production department; gray haired... he was an old guy. Timely had trouble with their proofreaders, so I was made an associate editor in order to look over their shoulders and check out their work. Don Rico was working with Stan Lee and Ernie Hart. Rico had drawn features like “The Sub-Mariner.” He may have written some of it, too; I can’t be sure now. Ernie Hart had done a book on German police dogs, and could draw as well as write. He was a nice guy, very slick-looking, with a good sense of humor. He was smart. We were on the 14th floor of the Empire State Building. The letterers were gathered together in the production room, away from the artists. In that room with me were many people, most of whom I don’t remember now. Mario Aquaviva was in charge of the letterers, but Artie Simek was over him. Artie was a tall, skinny guy, very nice and quiet, with a big Adam’s apple. He never pushed anyone around. He didn’t letter stories; he did logos. Don Rico and Ernie Hart divided up a number of titles. Ernie edited the crime books and Rico did the “Sub-Mariner.” I knew Rico because he was a friend of my brother Sid. They had worked on WPA art projects together. I was like a kid brother to Rico, who talked to Stan Lee about putting me in charge of the women who were proofreading. When I started writing, Dave Berg and Ernie Hart were my editors. But right after I became a writer, Dave Berg stopped editing. I think Al Jaffee replaced Dave Berg. Jim Miele was an editor there, too, but I don’t remember what books he did. There was a time when super-heroes fell out of favor with the buying public and more “realistic” comics became popular. Westerns and romance comics were big by this time. [A/E