Comic Legends: The Somehow Mysterious Origins of Mary Worth

Welcome to Comic Book Legends Revealed! This is the six hundred and twenty-fourth week where we examine comic book legends and whether they are true or false.

Click here for Part 1 of this week's legends. Click here for Part 2 of this week's legends.


"Mary Worth" was not a continuation of the comic strip, "Apple Mary."



When it comes to "official histories," sometimes you can't necessarily trust companies to tell you the truth about the history of their products (like how the "official" history of Monopoly always glossed over how the game was REALLY created). This is almost always because companies have motivations other than the truth to deal with. Comic book fans are well aware of this when it comes to stuff like "Who created Batman?" For years, Bill Finger's name was left out of it because DC Comics had a deal with Bob Kane where he got sole credit and it really didn't do DC Comics any good to credit Finger. Even now, when they thankfully have given him credit, it's a "with" tag, as in "Batman created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger." That's a huge step up, so it's silly to complain, but it still isn't necessarily completely accurate.

ANYhow, this all comes back to a question that reader Carrie K. wrote in about a while back. She saw the following on the home page of the comic strip, "Mary Worth," a long-running comic strip about an older woman who gives advice to people (particularly romantic advice). It is currently written by Karen Moy and drawn by the great comic book artist, June Brigman (from "Power Pack" Fame). Here's the latest strip...

On the official site for the strip, King Features Syndicate has the following written:

First appearing in 1938, Mary Worth is one of the longest-running continuity strips or "comic-page soap operas" — a genre dedicated to the millions of readers who thrive on continued stories told in brief daily episodes with cliffhanger endings.

Contrary to popular belief, Mary Worth is not a continuation of the Depression Era favorite Apple Mary. The strip was created as a replacement feature offered to newspapers when Martha Orr, who created the dowdy apple peddler, retired. The only thing the new title character had in common with her predecessor was a first name. She appeared as she is today: a well-spoken gentlewoman with a knack for quoting proverbs and surrounding herself with interesting people whose lives reflect the daily concerns of society.

Carrie wanted to know if that was true, and that the strip did not evolve from the story of an older woman who had an apple cart and gave advice to people.

Bizarrely enough, it is not, so I have to assume that there is some sort of contractual issue where King Features Syndicate has to pretend that "Apple Mary" and "Mary Worth" are two distinct strips.

Here's an early "Apple Mary" strip by Martha Orr...

Her name is Mary Worth right there!!

In 1940, the strip (now by Allen Saunders and Dale Connor) was still called "Apple Mary" even though it was sub-titled "Mary Worth's Family"...

(Apologies for how poor the image is - if anyone has a clearer image, please drop me a line with a scan)...

R. C. Harvey actually tackled this topic for "The Comics Journal," and he found the best quote of all, from Allen Saunders, who talked about he took over "Apple Mary" and made it into "Mary Worth"...

Soon after our team took over, we changed the name of the strip to Mary Worth’s Family. Later, it took on its present title, Mary Worth. In her new role, the old street merchant obviously was not usable. So Ken Ernst gave her a beauty treatment, some weight loss and a more appropriate wardrobe.... We put her applecart in storage, where it will remain, even in the event of another economic slump.

The strip became a lot more popular (and even had its own comic book!)....

But it's clearly a case of "Apple Mary" becoming "Mary Worth," despite the owners of "Mary Worth" saying otherwise.

Thanks to R.C. Harvey for the information and thanks to Carrie K. for the question!

Check out my latest Movie Legends Revealed at CBR: Were there almost DINO-MEN in Jurassic World?!?

OK, that's it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week's covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

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See you all next week!

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