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.
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.
25 pages/strips Mary Worth Various
21 strips 1943