Obituary: Marjorie Buell

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Marjorie Henderson, cartoonist: born Philadelphia 11 December 1904; married Clarence Buell (two sons); died Elyria, Ohio 30 May 1993.

MARJORIE BUELL was known to millions of cartoon fans of both comics and animated films as 'Marge', creator of the world-famous character 'Little Lulu'.

Marge was one of the best-known of all women cartoonists, an art-form normally dominated by the male sex. She was born in Philadelphia in 1905, and at the age of 16 she joined the art staff of her local newspaper, the Philadelphia Ledger, where she concentrated on drawings that would appeal to children.

In 1935 the massive weekly magazine Saturday Evening Post, one of the US's most popular publications, lost its regular cartoon hero, 'Henry'. This single cartoon, starring a bald- headed boy who never spoke, had been created by Carl Anderson, and had run in the Post since March 1932. Suddenly Anderson's hero had taken off, lured into daily newspapers as a strip cartoon by the giant syndicate King Features. Marge, sensing a gap in the market, submitted a 'Henry' in reverse: a curly-locked girl who, like her predecessor, also never spoke. The Post liked the reversal (which, included, of course, the sex of the artist), and 'Little Lulu' made her debut on 23 February 1935.

'Little Lulu', with her dead-pan charm, impassively sauntering through life and getting the better of boys, replaced Henry in Post readers' affections, and she was hired into the world of advertising, appearing in strips that helped Kleenex sell their tissues. Marge also found herself freelancing for King Features, who in 1936 started their own monthly comic book for children, King Comics. Ruth Plumly Thompson edited the comic for the Philadelphia publisher David McKay. Thompson had worked with Marge in her earlier era, and was a highly successful author of stories and novels for children. Indeed, she had been selected as the successor to the late L. Frank Baum in order to continue his popular series of books which had begun years before with his The Wizard of Oz. Thompson wrote serials for King Comics, featuring the mythical King Kojo, and monthly verses about a freckled teenage girl, called Sis Sez. She brought in her friend and former colleague Marge to illustrate them both.

The Forties were the boom years for 'Little Lulu'. Famous Studios, Paramount's animation branch, negotiated the rights to the character and in December 1943 the first 'Little Lulu' animated cartoon in glorious Technicolor was unveiled. Called Eggs Don't Bounce, it was directed by Isadore Sparber and proved charming enough as a contrast to the same studio's knockabout 'Popeye' cartoons. It led to a series of 26 shorts in all before the studio replaced 'Little Lulu' with their own (therefore less expensive) variation, 'Little Audrey', in 1948. Lulu's signature song ('Little Lulu I love you-lu just the same') was written by Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman and Buddy Kaye, and may still be heard most weekends over the cable/satellite Children's Channel in their Cartoon Classics show.

'Little Lulu' had another life, and as it turned out the longest, as a star character in her own comic books. These began in June 1945 as No 74 in Dell Publishing Co's Four Color series. After nine such one-shots, 'Little Lulu' was awarded her own series from January 1948. Marge had little if anything to do with this development of her heroine with scripting and artwork supplied by John Stanley. It was Stanley who both captured and extended Lulu's personality to the delight of young readers who knew not her Saturday Evening Post subtleties. 'Lulu' now spoke, of course, and developed a delicious love-hate relationship with Tubby Tompkins and a gang of boys.

A daily newspaper strip spun off from the comics in 1955 was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune, but once again Marge was happy to take the money: the strip was drawn by Woody Kimbrell. Finally she sold all rights in 'Lulu' to her comic publishers in 1972, retiring in the knowledge that she had created one of the century's most enduring comic heroines.

(Photograph omitted)