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A visit to a cousin last week stirred up childhood memories when I saw her daughter reading a book of Little Lulu comics. The Dutchess of Kensington (she spells it with a T because she is Pennsylvania Dutch) came along for the visit, reminding everyone that Little Lulu has always been, and still is, her favorite cartoon character. As a ten-year-old at camp in the 1950, I read zillions of comics passed around by the other boys. Although we boys preferred more violent, adventurous stuff, there was plenty of Lulu, the girl in the short red dress, who had her own mind and followed it.
Created in 1935 by Marjorie Henderson Buell as a one-panel cartoon for the Saturday Evening Post (Lulu, apparently no fan of weddings, spreading banana peels at the feet of a bridal procession), the comic strip became a worldwide phenomenon and a merchandising gold mine. As a kid I remember Lulu doing ads for Kleenex. Marge herself reportedly never drew a multipanel strip, but retained the rights to Lulu until 1971. A workhorse of the comics industry named John Stanley wrote and sketched a lion's share of the Lulu episodes. Both Marge and John Stanley died in 1993. Dark Horse Comics currently publishes Lulu reprints and sells vinyl Lulu figures made in China.
Lulu was translated into many languages and became the subject of many movie-house cartoons. Marge's son, Lawrence became a professor of American literature at Harvard. That university later became the repository of Marjorie Henderson Buell's papers. Lawrence's father C. Addison Buell was a telecommunications executive who protected Marge and their two sons from the frequent relocations typical of high-ranking businessmen. The family remained near Philadelphia.
Given that the Little Lulu character was independent to the point of arrogance and mischief, and that the cartoon and its spin-offs were a capitalistic merchandising bonanza, for better or worse, Lulu was quintessentially American. Lawrence Buell reportedly tells the story of how he and his brother had implored their mother to permit Little Lulu media to contain a more explicitly political and feminist message. Marge reportedly replied by quoting movie mogul Sam Goldwyn: "If you want to send a message, try Western Union." But in the spirit of Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan, the medium is indeed Little Lulu's message, as exemplified in this Arabic introduction to a Little Lulu cartoon.Permanent Link to This Entry | | | Technorati Tag: LittleLulu blog comments powered by Disqus Comments (View)
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