Marjorie Henderson Buell, Creator of Little Lulu.
It's Lulu's 70th Anniversary!

February 4, 2005

    Marjorie Henderson Buell signed her cartoons with the unpretentious “Marge”, but behind the familiar name was an astute businesswoman and groundbreaker in female cartooning. The creator of Little Lulu, Marjorie took her captivating comic girl from a one-panel cartoon in 1935 into an international marketing sensation, all the while keeping the rare option of creative control for herself.

   February 2005 signals Little Lulu’s 70th anniversary of cartoon success.

   Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1904, Marjorie Lyman Henderson must have been a natural cartoonist. By age 10, she was drawing and selling paper dolls to her friends and created a Christmas card line that sold rather well. Her first cartoon was published at the tender age of 16 in the Philadelphia Ledger, a single panel of a flower girl tossing banana peels down the aisle rather than flower petals, with the result of the bride and bridesmaids slipping high in the air. *(1) The cartoon was strictly a sight gag with no wording necessary. After completing high school, Marjorie became a professional cartoonist, finding publication for her prolific work in the high-level magazines of Life, Judge, The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

   It was this adeptness at humour that brought The Saturday Evening Post to call on Marjorie a few years later. They asked her to join the prestigious Post to develop a comics panel to replace the outgoing “Henry” comic, drawn by Carl Anderson. Marjorie drew a long-legged little girl, much like the ones in her earlier freelance work, with black corkscrew curls, elongated dots for eyes and an impish personality. (Marjorie thought she looked much like the character when she was a child.) The magazine editors named her distinctive comic character Little Lulu.

Lulu 1

The First "Little Lulu" cartoon, 1935

   The mischievous, fun-loving Little Lulu debuted on the last page of the prestigious Saturday Evening Post on February 23, 1935. Marjorie’s signature became the single name of “Marge”. By that time, Marjorie was 31 years old, married to C. Addison Buell and had two sons, Fred and Larry. She had already been in the cartoon business for years.

Lulu 3

    The early cartooning achievements, Marjorie told The Saturday Evening Post in the February 13, 1937 issue, “convinced me that an artistic career was just the thing for a young girl. Easy money and something you could do in your spare time. Have since found out I was wrong on both counts.” *(2)

   For 10 years, Little Lulu enjoyed its position in the Post pages, the caption- less comic a hit with readers. Since Marjorie had kept rights to her cartoon, she was able to promote and license Little Lulu herself. During the 1940s, the cartoon favourite was abundantly available in merchandise such as greeting cards, games, toys, colouring books, scarves and much more.

   One of Little Lulu’s most prominent advertising gigs was as spokestoon for Kleenex ®. The smiling character promoted the tissue brand for 16 years, from 1944 to 1960, appearing on boxes, displays, in magazine ads and even on buses and giant billboards in downtown New York City. Throughout, Marjorie kept and used her right of approval on Little Lulu ads.

   Marjorie sold the rights for Little Lulu television shows and comic books but, being a sharp businesswoman, she continued to keep creative control at all times. *(3) (Little Lulu appeared in 26 television shows.) The comic book series entitled Marge’s Little Lulu was sketched and written by the skilled cartoonist John Stanley (who later drew the “Nancy and Sluggo” comic books). The final art was completed by the talented Irving Tripp. The comic books were enjoyed around the world. Finnish, Arabic, Japanese, Spanish and Greek fans all delighted in the antics of Little Lulu. *(4) Lulu and her friends Tubby and Alvin, along with other memorable characters, such as Witch Hazel and Itch, continued in popular comic book publication until the 1980s. *(2) Little Lulu merchandise and books are now valued collector’s items.

   In 1947, Marjorie stopped drawing Little Lulu herself and also gave up The Saturday Evening Post slot. Under other artists, the comic still made the leap into newspaper syndication. On June 5, 1950 the Little Lulu comic strip appeared first in the Chicago Tribune and ran in newspapers until 1969. The cartoonist finally sold her creative rights of approval to Lulu in 1960. The lovable, spunky Little Lulu made a comeback to television in 1995 in a series of animated cartoons. With the voice of Tracey Ullman asLulu, the cartoon continues on HBO.

   Marjorie died of lymphoma on May 30, 1993, at age 88.

   Renowned for her business abilities and cartooning skills in what was most certainly a “man’s world”, Marjorie Henderson Buell created an endearing, impish character and molded her into an international triumph. Marjorie was an inspiring role model for cartoonists and entrepreneurs alike. Just look at what a few pencil strokes on a piece of paper and a dash of personality can do.

Lulu 2

   Happy 70th Anniversary, Little Lulu. You’re still lookin’ good!

    In honour of Marjorie Henderson Buell, the non-profit "Friends of Lulu" was established to promote “female readership and participation in the comic book industry.” "Friends of Lulu" presents awards to cartoonists and others involved in the cartooning world, both male and female, each year in several categories. The group also has a busy schedule of presentations and lectures for cartoonists and fans.

   See: http://www.friends-lulu.org/

   See the first cartoon printed in The Saturday Evening Post by Marjorie. Browse around - this is a great fan site with a huge number of pictures and information about Little Lulu.

   *(1) http://michelesworld.net/dmm2/lulu/post.htm

   *(2) The Encyclopedia of American Comics, From 1897 to Present, Edited by Ron Goulart, Published by Promised Land Productions, 1990. Pages 56-57 and 234.

   An interesting biography of Marjorie Henderson Buell:
*(3) jcu (Link now missing)

   An Anniversary article from Sign on San Diego by Linda Rosenkrantz, Aug 1, 2004:

   *(4) http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040801/news_1hs1collect.html

   See one of the Kleenex billboards. Click on 1940s:
http://www.kleenex.com/NA/About/Brand-Story.aspx

© Susanna McLeod 2005
TheCartoonists.ca  
   
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)