8 Things You Might Not Know About Mary Worth

King Features Syndicate
King Features Syndicate

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the debut of Mary Worth, a popular comic strip that dispenses with many of the conventional tropes of the art form. There are no talking animals, no superheroes, and not many jokes. Instead, the titular widow’s power is an ability to analyze mundane relationship issues and dole out advice. Check out some facts about its history, an unlikely crossover with a spandex-clad hero, and the gruesome fate of Mary’s stalker.

1. MARY’S TRUE ORIGINS WERE ONCE SHROUDED IN MYSTERY.

A portrait of comic strip character Mary Worth
King Features Syndicate

When Mary Worth was introduced by writer Allen Saunders in 1938, it took the place of a strip titled Apple Mary by writer Martha Orr. Apple Mary was a laugh-a-minute offering about an applecart proprietor struggling to survive during the Great Depression while caring for her handicapped grandson. According to distributor King Features, Mary Worth is not a continuation of Apple Mary—it just happened to be the replacement for Orr’s strip when she left comics. But Saunders thought differently. In his autobiography, he wrote that he deliberately changed Apple Mary from an economically-challenged food vendor to a more polished suburbanite who helped people with relationship problems.

The smoking gun—or cart—was excavated by Comics Journal contributor R.C. Harvey, who reported on a series of strips published in 1935 that explain Apple Mary’s full name is Mary Worth and that she was an heiress who lost her fortune to unscrupulous lawyers.

2. THE STRIP WAS THE FIRST TO DISCUSS TEEN PREGNANCY.

Never one to shy from hot-button issues of the day, Mary Worth made comics history in 1976 when Mary was called upon to counsel a teenager faced with having an illegitimate child. Saunders, who was still writing the strip, told The New York Times that “we may shock some people,” but he felt the problem was too great to ignore. Some readers may have been taken aback, as Mary did not suggest the fictional teen, Karen Cooper, marry her boyfriend. Instead, the single mother-to-be went on to college.

3. SHE GOT A FACELIFT.

An excerpt from a 'Mary Worth' comic strip
King Features Syndicate

With her silver, bunned hair and mature features, Mary Worth has perennially been a woman in her 60s Though not demonstrably vain, some of her lines and crow’s feet were erased in 1991 by artist Joe Giella. John Saunders, who took over writing duties from father Allen in 1979, said he was surprised by Giella’s rendition of the character, which seemed to take decades off her face. The two compromised and decided to slowly advance Mary’s looks to reflect her age. Asked if she might be undergoing any further cosmetic enhancements, Saunders told press that she’s “flat on all four sides.” In 2006, Giella was finally permitted to enhance Worth’s sex appeal by adding curves and getting rid of her matronly bun.

4. SHE GOT INTO A FEUD WITH LIL’ ABNER.

In order to promote their respective strips, Lil’ Abner creator Al Capp and Saunders orchestrated a “feud” between the two creations in 1957, with Capp’s characters referring to a busybody lookalike as “Mary Worm” and Saunders injecting insults toward Capp in the panels of his own strip. (“Hal Rapp” was a “fatheaded egomaniac.”) It was in good fun, but newspaper editors didn’t get the joke. The Buffalo Evening News threatened to cancel Mary Worth unless it “stopped maligning” Capp’s character.

5. SHE GOT ONE LIVE-ACTION ADAPTATION ... AND IT WAS WEIRD.

Unlike many of its comics contemporaries, Mary Worth has never been hotly pursued as a brand license for animation or other adaptations. The lone exception came in 1988, when some enterprising amateur filmmakers shot a very literal sequence taken from the strip that preserved the original panel’s “camera” angles and stilted dialogue.

6. SHE HAD A STALKER.

Mary Worth fans used to the character’s glacially-paced interventions were taken aback to see the character in a far more dramatic scenario in 2006. That was the year current writer Karen Moy introduced Aldo Kelrast, a swinging senior who had eyes for Mary. Aldo’s wife had died under mysterious circumstances, prompting Mary and her friends to suspect he was a murderer. Complicating matters was Mary’s love for Doctor Jeff Cory, a globe-hopping physician who captured her heart. The love triangle was said to have spiced up the strip for the first time in decades, with readers particularly intrigued by the fact that Aldo bore a strong resemblance to Captain Kangaroo. Kelrast—an anagram of stalker—later got drunk and drove off a cliff.

7. MARY ONCE CROSSED OVER WITH THE PHANTOM.

A 'Mary Worth' comic strip excerpt
King Features Syndicate

Though Mary is nosy by nature, her adventures are usually relegated to her circle of friends and acquaintances. Only once did she get a taste of the danger and excitement faced by her comics page cohorts. In 2015, writer Karen Moy and The Phantom author Tony DePaul got together to present a fleeting glimpse of Mary in the costumed hero’s world. While in New York, Mary shares a cab with Heloise, the Phantom’s daughter. And—well, that’s it, really. But to know Mary Worth exists in the same continuity as a man in purple spandex should be enough.

8. SHE WAS VOTED OFF ONE LOUISIANA NEWSPAPER.

In 2007, Louisiana's Shreveport Times decided to shuffle their selection of strips and solicited readers on which title they’d like to see removed permanently. Among the options—Sally Forth, Mary Worth, Beetle Bailey, Marvin, Hagar the Horrible, For Better or Worse, and CurtisMary Worth was nominated for the axe.

This App Lets You Download Free E-Books, Magazines, Comic Books, and Audiobooks From Your Library

boggy22, iStock via Getty Images
boggy22, iStock via Getty Images

Even if your local library is closed during the novel coronavirus outbreak, you can still use your library card in quarantine. As Thrillist reports, Libby is an app that works with local libraries to give you free access to audiobooks, e-books, comic books, and magazines wherever you are.

Libby, an app from the digital reading company Overdrive, is connected to 90 percent of public libraries in North America. To use the app, just enter the information from your library card and start browsing digital titles available through your local branches. If you don't have a library card yet, some participating libraries will allow you to sign up for a digital card in the app. That way, you don't have to leave home to start reading.

As more people are looking for e-books and audiobooks to pass the time at home, Overdrive has made it possible for multiple users to check out the same title at once. That means as more libraries shift to a 100 percent online loan system for the time being, it will be easier to meet their patrons' needs.

No matter what your current literary mood may be, you should have no trouble finding something to read on Libby. Downloadable titles from the New York Public Library currently available through the app include the e-book of Becoming by Michelle Obama, the e-book of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and the audiobook of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After you download a book, you can send it to your Kindle device, and all items are automatically returned on their due date. Download the free app today to start browsing.

[h/t Thrillist]

How Did Casper the Friendly Ghost Die?

Universal Pictures
Universal Pictures

The star of dozens of animated shorts and specials, hundreds of comics, and one big-screen feature (which spawned a couple of straight-to-video follow-ups), Casper the Friendly Ghost has enjoyed a great deal of spooky success since he debuted in 1945. An affable spirit, the seemingly pre-adolescent blob of ectoplasm only wants to make friends. Unfortunately, people are consistently wary of his ethereal qualities. In the earliest shorts, he preferred to hang out by himself near a tombstone.

Does the tombstone belong to him? By virtue of being a ghost, doesn’t that mean Casper was once a real, live boy who suffered a tragic fate at a young age?

The Ghost With No Name

When Casper was created back in 1940 by Seymour Reit and Joe Oriolo, the question apparently didn’t come up. Reit and Oriolo planned to have Casper—who did not yet have a name—be the star of an illustrated children’s book, with Reit writing and Oriolo illustrating it. They never got the chance. The two, who worked at Fleischer Studios on animated shorts, were both drafted to serve in World War II. When they returned, Fleischer Studios had been purchased by Paramount, renamed Famous Studios, and wanted complete control over the intellectual property of work created by employees. The two sold Casper and other characters for a total of $200 to Paramount.

When Casper made his animated debut in the 1945 Famous Studios short “The Friendly Ghost,” he finally got a name, but no mention was made of his origins. The short references his “brothers and sisters” who enjoy scaring people but offers no other details of his private life.

A second short, 1948’s “There’s Good Boos To-Night,” shows Casper leaning on a tombstone while reading a book, with a “Love Thy Neighbor” sign hanging nearby. The ghosts in the cemetery are referred to as his “neighbors” and appear to rise from their respective resting places when it’s time to go haunting. This would imply Casper is relaxing at his own gravesite, though his name doesn’t appear on the tombstone. If so, it would support the idea he once occupied the land of the living.

As Casper moved into another medium, however, a case began to be made for his existence as something other than human. In 1949, St. John Publishing produced five Casper comics. In 1952, Harvey Comics took over the license. In an effort to expand Casper’s world, Harvey gave him a ghost family, including a mom and three uncles. None of them were named until 1955, when the uncles were dubbed Fatso, Fusso, and Lazo. What wasn’t clear, however, was whether Casper’s relatives were all deceased as well or whether the Casper mythology implies ghosts are simply "born" ghosts.

The Pneumonia Theory

When the Casper feature film starring Christina Ricci was released in 1995, producers apparently thought moviegoers would be confused by a lack of explanation, and so the Casper of that film was portrayed as a boy named Casper McFadden. He was said to have died of pneumonia at the age of 12 after staying out in cold weather for too long playing with a sled he had just received as a gift.

There is one alternative, and slightly darker, theory that was purportedly first floated by The Simpsons. In the 1991 episode “Three Men and a Comic Book,” Bart and Lisa speculate that Casper is the ghost of Richie Rich, another Harvey Comics icon. (The two bear a resemblance.) Lisa believes that his realization of “how hollow the pursuit of money really is” caused Richie to take his own life. Other observers have speculated that perhaps Richie’s parents killed their son for the insurance money.

This is, of course, virtually impossible, as Richie Rich wasn’t created until 1953, 13 years after Reit and Oriolo conceived of Casper.

So what is Casper—former boy or forever ghost? Given his comfort hanging around a tombstone and his pleasant nature preventing him from besmirching the grave of another, it seems likely he was once human. To date, only the 1995 feature has attempted to detail what led him to the afterlife. Considering Casper's appeal as a children's property, that's probably for the best.

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