Did Mary Have a Nip and Tuck?


They were all there: Elvis, Gloria Steinem, David Duke, Sylvester Stallone, Jane Fonda, Melanie Griffith, Gary Cooper, Angela Lansbury, Betty Ford and others as last week’s “Plastic Surgery of the Stars” issue of People magazine exposed the nipped and tucked.

Even Cher complained that her “breast operations were a nightmare.”

But nowhere to be found was the last person in the world anyone would suspect of going under the knife: Mary Worth, the geriatric landlady who has been dispensing matronly advice on the comic pages of newspapers for nearly 60 years.

For the last few months, the worry lines that once creased her broad forehead have been nowhere to be seen. The crow’s feet and the bags around her eyes have miraculously vanished.


But, despite her national forum and reputation for straight talk, Mary hasn’t even mentioned that she looks decades younger.

Indeed, Mary’s dip in the fountain of youth--making her perhaps the first cartoon character to get a face-lift--even came as a surprise to the man who does her dialogue.

John Saunders, who’s written scripts for the plain-looking, plain-talking Mary since 1978, says he noticed that new cartoonist Joe Giella was making Mary look younger, in strips that began appearing late last summer.

“I called Joe and I said, ‘When did Mary Worth have a face-lift? I don’t recall writing that into the story,’ ” Saunders recalls by phone from his winter home in Naples, Fla.

“Joe was embarrassed. He was trying so hard to do a good job and he is doing a good job. He said to me, ‘You mean she’s too young?’ I said, ‘Yes. By almost half.’ ”

This isn’t Mary’s first make-over.

The comic, created by Martha Orr, first appeared in 1934 as “Apple Mary.” Depression-style Mary was a bag lady, modeled after a character in the 1933 Frank Capra film, “Lady for a Day.”


In 1938, Orr got married and gave up the comic biz. Saunders’ father, Allen, began doing the scripts and cartoonist Ken Ernst created the drawings--and Apple Mary was overhauled.

“They gave Apple Mary a whole set of new clothes, a stock portfolio and surrounded her with beautiful people,” says John Saunders, now 67, who took over writing Mary Worth when his father retired.

“Ken Ernst modeled Mary Worth after my mother. For all intents and purposes, she will always be a matronly lady, someplace below the age of 70--not far below. She’s a senior citizen.”

But what about Mary’s smooth, taut, wrinkle-free look?

Saunders says he didn’t speak to Giella about changing it until about three months ago, mostly because he wanted Giella to get used to drawing Mary before he started criticizing his work:

“It also took me a while to realize Mary didn’t look quite the same. When I spoke to Joe about it he agreed and said, ‘I’m having a problem with Mary. I admit it. We’ll start putting little chicken tracks around the eyes and a couple of laugh lines.’ She will age slowly and eventually get back to where she looks her age.”

“Mary Worth is the last person in the world who would attempt to hide her age. She’s proud of it. In fact, she doesn’t quite understand the younger generation.”

Mary Worth might not appeal to youthful readers who like Doonesbury or The Far Side, but she appears in about 400 newspapers throughout the world. David Aster, an associate editor of Editor & Publisher magazine, ranks Mary Worth 40th in popularity among the estimated 200 comics handled by major syndicates.

But a few of Mary’s fans were not amused when it appeared their heroine had surgically reversed the ravages of time.

“I had a couple of rather irate letters saying, ‘What’s the matter with you jokers? Do you hate us old people?’ ” Saunders says. “I’ve had to write to them and tell them what happened.”

Giella, who Saunders says is in his 60s, could not be reached for comment. North America Syndicate would not give out his telephone number. Nor would Saunders, protesting: “Joe is very new on the job. He still feels like the new kid who is being tested by everyone, including the syndicate which pays his salary.”

Does this mean readers can rest assured that Mary will resist any other, uh, enhancements.

As Saunders insists, “Mary’s flat on all four sides.”