Growing old isn't on Mary Worth's agenda

Pop Culture

October 27, 2002|By Hartford Courant

She's a senior citizen untouched by the typical effects of aging - her health is stable, her portfolio comfortably covers her expenses in spite of the market's downward spiral, her social calendar is packed with interesting activities and her wrinkles are decreasing, without the aid of cosmetic surgery.

She's Mary Worth, the lead character in the comic strip of the same name, a spry sixtysomething with a knack for dispensing sage advice, quoting proverbs and surrounding herself with an ever-changing mix of people dealing with the current concerns of society.

The strip, which first appeared in 1938, is one of the longest-running comic-page soap operas - or continuity strips, as they're known - on newspaper funny pages.

For writer John Saunders, chronicling the adventures of Mary Worth is a family tradition. His father, Allen Saunders, created the strip with artist Ken Ernst more than 60 years ago. When the elder Saunders retired in 1979, John was chosen as his replacement - and started making changes almost immediately.

Story lines in the strip, drawn by artist Joe Giella, have confronted such social issues as juvenile delinquency, single parenting, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, infidelity and generational attitudes and differences.

The evolution, says Brian Walker, author of The Comics Since 1945, has successfully reflected changes in society and the growing sophistication of readers.

"By including contemporary issues into the plot lines, these story strips ... develop a very loyal fan base who follow the characters for years," says Walker, a Connecticut resident who writes the popular "Hi and Lois" comic strip. "Most comics now are gag-a-day strips, but these particular serialized soap opera strips have managed to hang on."

Claudia Smith, a spokeswoman for King Features, which syndicates the strip, says that "Mary Worth" appears in more than 200 papers with a combined readership of about 26 million.

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