Marjorie Lyman Henderson Buell was born December 11, 1904, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Bertha Brown Henderson and Horace Lyman Henderson. Marjorie had two younger sisters, Martha Elizabeth "Betty" Henderson, born in 1907, and Dorothy Hudson Henderson, born in 1909. The family moved to a farm in Malvern, Pennsylvania, when Marjorie was five; for several years, the children were home-schooled. Beginning in 1913, Marjorie attended the Friends' Graded School in West Chester, Pennsylvania, going on to graduate from high school at Villa Maria Academy in Immaculata, Pennsylvania, in 1921. Marjorie married Clarence Addison Buell, an executive at Bell Telephone, in 1936; they had two sons, Lawrence (born in 1939) and Frederick (born in 1942).
Bertha Henderson was an amateur cartoonist, and the Henderson sisters were encouraged in artistic pursuits. Marjorie created detailed illustrated letters for her family members, wrote and illustrated storybooks, and sold drawings, greeting cards, and paper dolls to her school friends. She drew illustrations for her high school literary magazine and yearbook. Marjorie loved horses, and was involved in riding and showing them for many years. A good number of her later cartoons involve horses and their hapless riders.
After high school, Marjorie studied oil painting and sculpture for a year at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She decided she preferred the comic arts, and began sending one-panel drawings, signed "Marge," to local publications. Ruth Plumly Thompson, editor of the children's page of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, and later author of some of the Wizard of Oz books, was an early mentor. Marge's first published cartoon appeared in the Public Ledger in 1921. The next year, she sold several cartoons about a young flapper, in a series entitled "Dotty Declares," to the humor magazine Judge .
Beginning around 1925, Marge's cartoons began appearing regularly in Life, Country Gentleman, Ladies' Home Journal, Collier's, and the Saturday Evening Post . That year her one-panel cartoon series about flapper courtship, "The Boy Friend," was distributed to newspapers by the Ledger Syndicate. "The Boy Friend" ran until 1927 and was followed by a similar syndicated series, "Steaming Youth." From 1926 to 1929, Marge's illustrations, including cartoons and verse about a flapper named "Dashing Dot," often filled a full-color Sunday page in the Philadelphia Public Ledger .
Marge also wrote humorous columns, often illustrated, for Life and the Saturday Evening Post . "Kids in the Country," illustrated tales about Marge's childhood, ran in the Saturday Evening Post, along with other columns about dating and horse shows, beginning in 1928. "From Me to You," in which Marge detailed her (sometimes fictional) exploits, ran in Life from 1932 to 1934; her writing continued to appear in that magazine until it closed in 1936. Marge's drawings illustrated several books of humor, including Men are Like Street Cars, by Graeme and Sarah Lorimer (Little, Brown & Co., 1932), and My First Baby and Other Ambulance Anecdotes, by the Interne (Macrae-Smith, 1933).
In December 1934, Marge was asked to create a single-panel cartoon with no words, to appear on the back page of the Saturday Evening Post . The first appearance of "Little Lulu," as she was named by the Post 's editors, was on February 23, 1935. Little Lulu was a young girl with corkscrew curls, who was impish and outwitted neighborhood boys and adults. The cartoons often involved simple sight gags, such as Little Lulu wearing a fake mustache to gain admittance to a theater show for "men only," or Lulu borrowing library books in order to stand on them to watch a baseball game over a tall fence. The first color "Little Lulu" cartoon appeared in the issue of August 28, 1937. The cartoon ran weekly through 1944, and Little Lulu became known to a wide audience. Between 1936 and 1944, six books of compilations of the Saturday Evening Post cartoons were published by David McKay. The Post and its parent company, Curtis Publishing, capitalized on Lulu's popularity by featuring her in many of its calls for advertisers and direct advertisements to the public. The first Little Lulu doll was created by Knickerbocker Toys in 1939, and given as a gift to Post subscribers.
While drawing "Little Lulu," Marge continued to draw other cartoons. In 1936, Ruth Plumly Thompson became the editor of King Features, which published monthly magazines of humorous stories and comic illustrations and strips; Marge often illustrated Thompson's stories published therein. A serial entitled "King Kojo," written by Thompson and illustrated by Marge, was first published in King Comics, then published as a book by David McKay in 1938. Thompson regularly wrote a humorous verse entitled "Sis Sez" for the back page of King Comics; Marge illustrated these as well. By 1943, however, Little Lulu's expanding horizons meant that Marge could focus only on her.
Between 1943 and 1947, Paramount Pictures distributed 26 animated short cartoons of Little Lulu and her friends made by Famous Studios. In 1944 Marge signed an agreement with International Cellucotton (later Kimberly-Clark) for Little Lulu to be the mascot of Kleenex Tissue's advertising campaigns. Little Lulu remained with Kleenex until 1960. Marge drew both narrative strips and other art for the advertising campaigns, which were a huge success. In 1949 and 1957, giant neon billboards of Little Lulu and Kleenex were placed in New York City's Times Square, and Little Lulu appeared in several Kleenex television advertisements in 1956 and 1958. The artwork for Kleenex was plenty of work for Marge; when approached about drawing Little Lulu comic books, she decided she could not do the work herself. She created model charts to show how the characters should look, and consulted on story ideas, but other artists drew and wrote the comics, officially titled "Marge's Little Lulu." The first Little Lulu comic book was published in 1945, and became a regular monthly in 1948. In June 1950, a daily syndicated strip of Little Lulu was created and ran until 1969 in newspapers throughout the United States.
Marge continued to license Little Lulu's image for a variety of products, while keeping the copyright to the character in her name and always retaining creative control. From 1944 onward, Little Lulu could be found on greeting cards, posters, candy, gloves, hats, paper dolls, puzzles, crayons, drinking glasses, balloons, sheet music, and a host of other products. "Marge's Little Lulu" comic books were translated into several languages, and two more films, color-animated cartoons, were produced in 1961 and 1962. When the Kleenex advertising campaigns ended in 1960, Marge continued to manage her business empire, with the help of a lawyer and licensing manager.
In 1971, Marge decided to retire, and sold the rights to the Little Lulu character to Western Publishing Company, which had been publishing the comic books and other products for years. In 1974 she and her husband moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where she was the focus of a museum exhibit about Little Lulu in 1982. Marjorie Buell died of lymphoma on May 30, 1993, in Elyria, Ohio.
From the guide to the Papers, 1856-1994, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)
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