- This article is about the comic strip. For the evil spirit that is sometimes known by this name, see Bloody Mary (folklore). For the poet, see Mary Wroth.
Mary Worth is a newspaper comic strip, which has had a seven-decade run since it began in 1938 under the title Mary Worth's Family. Distributed by King Features Syndicate, this pioneering soap opera-style strip had an influence on several realistically drawn continuity strips that followed.
Mary Worth evolved from Apple Mary, a successful comic strip created in 1932 by Martha Orr, about an elderly woman who sells apples around her neighborhood. The earlier Apple Mary was taken over and renamed by artist Dale Conner, who had previously been Martha Orr's assistant. Later, when Allen Saunders signed on as the scripter, the strip appeared under the pseudonym "Dale Allen", a combination of the collaborators' given names. The strip reached its apex under Saunders and artist Ken Ernst. The title was shortened in 1942 when Ernst succeeded Conner. It was also published briefly by Harvey Comics as Love Stories of Mary Worth (1949-50).
Most reference sources state it was a continuation of the Depression-era strip Apple Mary, created by Martha Orr in 1932, centering on an old woman who sold apples on the street and offered humble common sense. King Features denies that Mary Worth was a continuation of the earlier strip, ignoring published comics from the late thirties and forties titled "Apple Mary: Mary Worth's Family" (before the subtitle completely replaced "Apple Mary")  and disregarding Saunders' own detailed account in his interviews (1971) and autobiography (1983-86) of how he was given Apple Mary in 1939 and developed it into Mary Worth with stories he thought women would enjoy more. However, King Features owns Mary Worth, and may have to give compensation to the creators/owners of Apple Mary should it be proven that Mary Worth is derived from it.
Shortly after the creation of Mary Worth, the strip then took off, as according to Saunders, he and Ernst introduced over the years a "parade of dazzling, dreamlined dishes," from ingenues to vixens.
Characters and story
As scripted by Saunders, each story (and its cast) was independent, with little continuity to the next, and Mary generally made only brief appearances to react and give her matronly advice. A former teacher and widow of Wall Street tycoon (Jack Worth), Mary formerly lived in New York and later moved to the Charterstone Condominium Complex in fictional Santa Royale, California. Mary serves as an observer of and adviser to her fellow residents, tackling issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, infidelity and teen pregnancy. Only in recent decades (after Saunders retired) has the strip centered more on the title character, along with a regular cast of her closest friends, most of whom were introduced to the strip after 1980: Professor Ian Cameron and his younger wife Toby, advice columnist Wilbur Weston and his college student daughter Dawn, and Dr. Jeff Cory, Mary's perennial beau, and his son, Dr. Drew Cory. Many stories now begin with new people she meets in her volunteer work at the local hospital or at poolside parties at Charterstone, where she is known for her tuna casserole.
End of Ernst era
Saunders retired in 1979 (and died in 1986), and Ernst died in 1985. Bill Ziegler, who did backgrounds on the strip for many years, took over the strip after Ernst's death, continuing from 1986 to 1990. Other artists and writers who worked on the strip include Saunders' son, John Saunders (1974-2003) and Ernst's son-in-law, Jim Armstrong (1991). Former DC Comics artist Joe Giella took over the art in 1991 with Karen Moy writing the strip since John Saunders' death in 2003.
Giella said in 2010,
When I first took over, the editor asked if I could take a few wrinkles off her face because the previous artist was making her look a little too old. So take a line off here, a line there, you're knocking off about 15, 20 years. She doesn't have the bun, she has a love life, she's going out with a doctor, so I had to streamline her and take a little weight off. The L.A. Times ran a story with the headline, "Who gave Mary Worth a face-lift?"
Under Allen Saunders, the daily strips usually had four panels with multiple exchanges among the characters and several stories per year. Under his son, the norm became two panels, with less dialog and stories stretching as long as 18 months. Moy has sought to reverse that "glacial" pace and to show Worth as not only a "figure of common sense and compassion" but also as "human" in her own flaws and experiencing "jealousy, self-doubt, fear, and anger". (Moy, as quoted by Alfonso)
Moy's handling of the strip during a 2006 plotline in which Mary was stalked by Aldo Kelrast (an anagram of "stalker"), a man rumored to have killed his late wife, drew media attention with a character drawn to resemble Captain Kangaroo. An intervention staged by Mary and her friends drove Aldo to returning to finding comfort in alcohol, which led to his death in a drunk driving accident, in which he drove off a cliff. A subsequent plot development was the arrival of Ella Byrd, another elderly dispenser of advice, who aroused feelings of jealousy and inadequacy in Mary but also, as a psychic, alerted her to Dr. Jeff's danger in Vietnam, where he was volunteering medical care and was seriously ill himself. Mary flew there, brought him back, and is now her old self again with an aphorism for every occasion.
Later storylines introduced an additional foil, the alcoholic hospital administrator Jill whose anti-marriage diatribes (caused by her being jilted at the altar by her fiance) put her into Mary's orbit when she offers to help Jeff's sister plan her wedding. Others include plotlines regarding internet addiction, Mary's refusal to trade in her beloved PC for an iPad, and a lengthy storyline where Mary must confront an old flame, whose meddling with his daughter's love life led to her ex-boyfriend dying months later, alone and unloved.
In popular culture
The Carol Burnett Show presented a satire, Mary Worthless, in which the title character helped people, "whether they liked it or not". At the beginning of the sketch, Carol Burnett sat inside a comic panel and introduced herself: "Oh, hello. I'm Mary Worthless, and I'm a do-gooder." Her schemes were intended to do more harm than good, but the bloopers that occurred during the on-air performance were actually funnier than some of the jokes. At the conclusion, Carol partially broke character when she said, "Don't be surprised if you see me in your neighborhood, someday... Better yet, be surprised, because I'm not going through this again!", prompting her and Harvey Korman to laugh hysterically as they went to a commercial.
In a run of Li'l Abner Sunday strips in 1957, Al Capp lampooned Mary Worth as "Mary Worm". The title character was depicted as a nosy, interfering busybody, with a caricature of Allen Saunders portraying her put-upon, long-suffering son-in-law. Saunders returned Capp's fire with the introduction of the character "Hal Rapp," a foul-tempered, ill-mannered, and (ironically) inebriated cartoonist (Capp was a teetotaler). Later, the feud was revealed to be a collaborative hoax that Capp and his longtime pal Saunders had cooked up together. The Capp-Saunders "feud" fooled both editors and readers, generating plenty of free publicity for both strips—and Capp and Saunders had a good laugh when all was revealed.
An episode of The Simpsons, "Bart Sells His Soul", features Comic Book Guy displaying "a very rare Mary Worth in which she has advised a friend to commit suicide." In another episode, "Lady Bouvier's Lover", he trades a Mary Worth telephone to Bart Simpson for an Itchy and Scratchy animation cel. In the episode "Guess Who's Coming to Criticize Dinner?", the tour of the Springfield Shopper leads them to the comic department which is headed by the author of Mary Worth. The guide asks "Who reads Mary Worth?" to which the group remains silent, and the guide says "Let's move on." In the Futurama episode "The Why of Fry" Fry remarks, "There are guys in the background of Mary Worth comics that are more important than me" upon finding out that Leela, his love interest, is about to go on a date with an important mayor's aide. The Family Guy episode "Family Guy Viewer Mail 1" features Chris making a print of a Mary Worth strip on Peter's belly fat and stretching it out, Silly Putty-style, saying "Look what I can do to Mary Worth's smug sense of self-satisfaction." To which Peter responds, "That's right son, take her down a peg."
In a FoxTrot strip, the characters are discussing how many comic strips that day have jokes based on golf. Jason comments, "I loved Mary Worth's line about sand traps." There is another FoxTrot strip in which, after being bombarded by Jason's suggestions, the newspapers give Mary Worth vampire fangs. In a Pearls Before Swine strip, Rat, on steroids, decides he "will kick Mary Worth's &#$*%!" In a Far Side strip, two characters styled like Mary Worth characters are seen at the door of a typical Far Side character (with a pet cow and snake), who remarks that they must be looking for "Apartment 3-G or Mary Worth or one of those other serious cartoons." In an Over the Hedge Sunday strip, Verne ends with "Maybe Mary Worth needs a pet turtle" (signifying his frustration with his co-characters' disconnection from reality) after RJ and Hammy discusses rather surrealistically around the life of missing socks, as if the socks were individual life forms on their own.
In response to readers of a newspaper in Shreveport, Louisiana, voting to drop Mary Worth, the New Adventures of Queen Victoria strip spent a week in September 2007 with Victoria planning Mary's funeral.
Young girl: "That Mrs. Worth is a very sweet person, Miss Cutler!"
Middle-aged spinster: "Sweetness is a counter-productive quality in a dynamic society, Elizabeth! It has never eliminated an injustice, inspired a work of art, led to a scientific discovery, or given leadership to a nation!" -- July 3, 1971
- Most notable among them is the Allen and John Saunders Collection itself at the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies, Bowling Green State University
- King Features
- Saunders, Allen. 1983-86 (in 16 installments). Autobiography: "Playwright for Paper Actors," in Nemo, the Classic Comics Library, no. 4-7, 9, 10, 14, 18-19.
- "Next Page: A Mary Q&A with Karen Moy; A glimpse behind the veil of creating the Mary Worth saga". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. King Features Syndicate. March 4, 2007. Retrieved June 30, 2010.
- Bubbeo, Daniel (May 5, 2010). "LI cartoonists, animators drawn to evolving industry". Newsday (Long Island). Retrieved August 18, 2012.
- The Palm Beach Post
- "Rap for Capp," Time
- Gardner, Alan (August 31, 2007). "Cartoon Island Contest Votes off Mary Worth". The Daily Cartoonist. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
- The New Adventures of Queen Victoria
- Alfonso, Barry (March 24, 2007). "The Case for Mary Worth". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Ridgeway, Ann N. (interviewer) 1971. Allen Saunders. The Journal of Popular Culture 5 (2), pp.385-420.
- Strickler, Dave (1995). Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, California: Comics Access. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.
- Harvey, R.C. (January 30, 2012). "One Good Apple Proves a Barrel’s Worth". The Comics Journal. Retrieved February 5, 2012.
- King Features: Mary Worth
- Mary Worth at Comics Curmudgeon
- Apple Mary at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 4, 2012.
- Apple Mary - 1937