A talented child, Jack Leynnwood acted in small parts in Hollywood movies. He also toured the mid-west as a child wonder saxophone player. He learned to fly as a teenager and during War World II he trained Army Air Force fighter pilots at Luke Field in Arizona.
After the war, Leynnwood studied commercial illustration at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles on the GI Bill.
Although his first clients were Northrup and movie studios he eventually painted hundreds of box wraps for Revell Model Kits in the following three decades.
Jack was famous not only for the quality of his paintings, but the speed with which he painted them. Once I did a storyboard for a movie-poster agency. A gorgeous little gouache on the wall caught my eye. It depicted an aircraft carrier at sea. I immediately recognized it as Jack's work. The art director told me Jack had done the painting for a presentation (I think it was for The Philadelphia Experiment, but I no longer remember). The art director liked it so much he asked Jack if he could keep it and Jack of course said yes. The a.d. told me a great story.
Jack had painted the finished poster art for Airport '77. In the movie a jetliner crashes and sinks to the bottom of the sea. The poster showed the airplane balanced at the lip of an underwater crevasse. The client loved the painting, but suggested that Jack add more rocks and rubble around the nose to emphasize the force with which the plane had hit the ground. Jack agreed and took the painting home to retouch.
Jack’s artwork is an understated part of American culture. Most people have been exposed to his artwork at some point in their lives and never knew it. Leynnwood did kit illustrations of everything from military aircraft to rigged ships, Rat Finks, Flash Gordon, space ships and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth custom cars. The veteran illustrator has a personal background as captivating as his artwork.
Jack was born in Los Angeles, California. His mother was a Chinese antique dealer and his father was a Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroad engineer. Jack was fortunate to grow up in a doubly-spectacular period in American culture: The Golden Era of Aviation and the Hollywood Silver Screen. Jack was interested in music, acting and all things mechanical. As a youngster in the 1930s, he pursued his areas of interest with more vigor and persistence than the average child.
The Leynnwood family lived in the then-country community of Culver City. This was practically next door to the MGM and Hal Roach movie studios. Because of this proximity, Jack periodically found himself hired as an extra in the ‘Our Gang’ comedy serials. Though he was only paid $18 a day, he remembers “That was a lot of money then!” When he was only about 8 or 10 years old, he toured the Midwest and the Great Plains as a solo saxophone player.
Along with his interest in music and acting, the early aviation industry fascinated Leynnwood. Like most kids, he built balsa wood airplane kits, but also drew aircraft. Jack frequently spent time watching aircraft take off and land at the Culver City Municipal Airport nearby. He also remembers hanging out by the airport to watch parts of the filming of the 1931 movie ‘Helldivers’, which stared the legendary actors Wallace Berry and Clark Gable.
Young Jack had hopes of becoming an airline pilot or a professional musician. The early 1930s proved financially hard for most everyone, but Jack was resourceful in the pursuit of his goals. By working odd jobs and washing airplanes, the precocious fourteen year old was able to earn enough money to obtain two dollar-an-hour flying lessons. He quickly completed his 8-10 hours of training in an American Eaglet (a high wing parasol) and soled in an Aeronca C-2. “The owner of the plane, Pete Leaman, wouldn’t trust me in anything more than that” according to Jack. “It was the happiest day of my life!”