MARY WORTHMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Publishers Syndicate
First Appeared: 1934 (or 1938)
Creator: Martha Orr (or Allen Saunders)
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materials from King Features Syndicate, which currently distributes the strip, say the two are separate — Mary Worth's Family, as Mary Worth was called at the time, was started in 1938 as a replacement for the earlier strip, which folded. The only thing the protagonists have in common, King Features says, is their first name.
If the series were the subject of a great deal of critical fan interest, there would be no discrepancy, as its history would long since have been charted with precision bordering on obsession. But the strip's many long-time readers include few of the comics scholars who research such matters — all they're interested in is engaging stories. Mary Worth has been meeting their needs for decades, but they aren't the kind of folks who give comic strips detailed write-ups in reference works.
Other than the first name and the fact that the stop/start dates line up, there isn't much reason to consider Apple Mary and Mary Worth the same character. Apple Mary was a dumpy old lady who made ends meet by selling apples on the street, whereas Mary Worth is a svelte suburbanite who has a much more reliable and less strenuous (albeit less well-defined) source of income. Apple Mary's most prominent character motivation was to protect and provide for her crippled grandson, Dennie, whereas if Mary Worth has a crippled grandson named Dennie, he's long since drifted out of her life.
Another difference is that the Apple Mary strip was about Apple Mary, whereas Mary Worth is about the chance acquaintances who come and go in Mary's life. That way, her strip has been able to tackle teen pregnancy, drug abuse, dysfunctional families, and a host of other fascinating issues, without requiring any drastic changes in her lifestyle.
For many years, starting in the 1940s, Mary Worth was handled by the writer/artist team of Allen Saunders (who also wrote Steve Roper and Kerry Drake) and Ken Ernst (Don Winslow of the Navy). They set a tone for the strip that was vastly different from its pre-war style. Mary's world became one of affluence, gentle and refined, full of professional people and sophisticated lifestyles. Ernst drew the strip in a realistic style that had seldom been used in comics before. Mary Worth became the prototype for a new style of soap opera strip, later displayed in The Heart of Juliet Jones, Friday Foster, Apartment 3-G and others.
Mary never got into movies or TV (tho her stories were reprinted in a 1943 Major Hoople comic book, a 1949-50 series from Harvey Comics and a 1960s paperback book), but her strip is still running. For years, it was written by John Saunders (Allen's son), but he died in 2003. The current writer is Karen Moy, a relative newcomer to comics. The artist is Joe Giella, who has assistant credits on Flash Gordon, The Phantom and other newspaper strips, but is best known for his inking on many DC Comics features of the 1950s and '60s.
And interesting characters, whose stories a great many people enjoy reading, continue to pass through Mary's life on a regular basis.