John Hjaelmhof Sorensen (1924–1969)

John Hjaelmhof Sorensen was a cartoonist, artist, and advertising executive. A native of Denmark, he lived in Arkansas from 1950 to his death in 1969. He published cartoons in a wide array of magazines, from Playboy to the Saturday Evening Post, achieving wide acclaim for his work.

John Sorensen was born on November 22, 1924, in Copenhagen, Denmark, the son of Paul Sorensen and Elly Hjelmhof Sorensen. His parents divorced when he was three, and he was then raised by his maternal grandmother. During the World War II occupation of Copenhagen, he was in the Danish underground, working as a courier since his job as an accountant for hotels and restaurants involved travel. After the war, he came to the United States, sponsored by his aunt and uncle, Valdemar and Edith Kaave; his uncle was a wealthy building entrepreneur in Brooklyn, New York.

Sorensen soon contracted tuberculosis from riding the subways in New York; his native Denmark had virtually eradicated the disease, and so he had no immunity to it. As a patient at Triborough Sanatorium on Long Island, he met a young occupational therapy student, Betty Hunter, an Arkansan who had come recently from Virginia. After seemingly being cured by streptomycin, he courted Hunter, who was working in Richmond at the time. They were married on June 15, 1949. They had three children.

Medication proved to be no cure for Sorensen’s disease. In 1950, the couple packed up their few possessions in a 1941 Buick and started across the country to New Mexico but got no farther than Little Rock (Pulaski County). Sorensen was hospitalized at the Arkansas State Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Booneville (Logan County) for three years.

Recuperating at home in Little Rock, Sorensen started cartooning, sending out selections of fifteen cartoons in 300 various mailings before he sold his first. A gifted artist, he had been selected for an art scholarship in Denmark but he had needed to work instead. With his wife working as an occupational therapist, he was able to exercise his talents while recuperating.

After successfully selling to most of the major American magazines and some overseas, including the New Yorker, Playboy, and the Saturday Evening Post, Sorensen started his own advertising agency, John H. Sorensen and Associates Inc., in 1960 with offices in Little Rock and Fort Smith (Sebastian County). He handled Pulaski Federal Savings and Loan, Commercial Bank and Trust, J. B. Hunt trucking, and others, as well as successful campaigns for Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt and Governor Winthrop Rockefeller; nationally, he worked on the Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon campaigns. Even while working as an advertising executive, he continued cartooning and won many Clio awards for cartoons in advertisements.

Sorensen’s health failed him, as he had been living at a thirty-eight-percent breathing capacity for some time, and he died on April 6, 1969, of heart failure. He is buried at Pine Crest Memorial Cemetery in Little Rock.

For additional information:
“Ad Executive, Cartoonist Dies.” Arkansas Gazette. April 7, 1969, pp. 1A–2A.

Who’s Who in the South and Southwest. Chicago: Marquis Who’s Who, 1969.

Betty Sorensen Adams
Little Rock, Arkansas


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