The redheaded star of long-running comic strip “Brenda Starr, Reporter”
will file her last story on Jan. 2. The news follows the departure of
another redheaded comic star, Little Orphan Annie, who one reporter
notes “ran out of tomorrows six months ago.”
Brenda Starr was created before World War 2 by Dale Messick, a greeting card artist who changed her name from Dalia on the advice that editors and readers would prefer the story of an enterprising female reporter to be written by a man.
“Starr, meanwhile, was all-woman,” writes Chicago Tribune‘s Phil Rosenthal. “She started out slender, but Messick’s four younger brothers successfully campaigned for curves.” She became a pinup for men serving overseas during the second World War. “She was the definition of a career-woman even before that term came into vogue.”
At its peak in the 50s, the strip appeared in 250 newspapers in the US and abroad. For the last 65 years, it has run as a seven-day-a-week strip. Today, it is published in three dozen newspapers globally, including the Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and The Star of Malaysia.
The story was taken up 25 years ago by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich (and for the past 15 years has been illustrated by June Brigman).
“Through ‘Brenda Starr,'” Rosenthal writes, “Schmich found herself able to say things she wouldn’t have been comfortable expressing in her Tribune column about life, love and media. Characters like Rat Sludge, an internet star bearing a resemblance to Matt Drudge, would appear. Star or not, Brenda was not immune to the economic stresses of the newspaper biz.”
Brenda’s legacy lives on (barely) in an under watched 1989 feature film staring Brooke Shields, a 70s TV serial with Jill St. John and an even more obscure 1945 serial starring Joan Woodbury.
“That’s not to say Brenda was without her fans, especially in her day,” Rosenthal writes. “When she finally married the mysterious, handsome eye-patch-wearing Brazilian inventor Basil St. John after three decades in January 1976, President Gerald Ford and first lady Betty Ford sent congratulations. But like Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” the panels and papers got small.”
Schmich decided to leave the strip after the recent death of her mother, Rosenthal reports:
“Something like that … makes you aware of time,” she said. “I’ve done this for 25 years and a comic strip like this is a very funny form to write in. It’s very difficult to advance the character, to advance the story. My life has advanced so much in 25 years. It just felt weird to me to continue to write a story and a character that could not.”
Starr is set to star in her own graphic novel — a collection of old strips — published by Hermes Press in June, but this is one reporter who probably won’t work in newspapers again.
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