Marjorie Henderson Buell (December 11, 1904–May 30, 1993; née Marjorie Lyman Henderson) was an American cartoonist who worked under the pen name Marge. She was best known as the creator of Little Lulu.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Buell was 16 when her first cartoon was published. In 1925, she created her first syndicated comic strip, The Boy Friend, which ran through 1926. Marge was friends with Oz author Ruth Plumly Thompson and illustrated her fantasy novel King Kojo (1933).
Marjorie Lyman Henderson was born in 1904 in Philadelphia. Homeschooled until she was 11 or 12, she and her two sisters had a talent for art, and at 16 she sold her first cartoon to the Public Ledger.
Her work appeared in such humor magazines as Collier’s, Judge, Life. By the late 1920s she worked under the name “Marge” and had a syndicated comic strip with The Boy Friend. This and another strip of hers, Dashing Dot, both featuring female leads.
In 1934 The Saturday Evening Post requested Buell to create a strip to replace Carl Anderson’s Henry. Buell created a little girl character in place of Henry ’s little boy as she believed “a girl could get away with more fresh stunts that in a boy would seem boorish”. The first single-panel instalment ran in the Post on February 23, 1935; in it, Lulu appears as a flower girl at a wedding and strews the aisle with banana peels.
The single-panel strip continued in the Post until the December 30, 1945, issue, and continued from then as a regular comic strip. Buell herself ceased drawing the strip in 1947, and in 1950 Little Lulu became a daily syndicated by Chicago Tribune–New York News Syndicate and ran until 1969. After she stopped drawing the strip, Buell herself only drew Lulu for the lucrative Kleenex advertisements.
The Little Lulu panel continued to run weekly in The Saturday Evening Post until December 30, 1944. Buell retained the rights, unusual for the time. In 1950, Little Lulu became a daily syndicated comic strip. Buell marketed Little Lulu widely throughout the 1940s.
Paramount Pictures approached Buell in 1943 with a proposal to develop a series of animated shorts. She traveled to New York to meet with Paramount executives and tour the animation facilities, and there was introduced to William C. Erskine, who became her business representative.
Thereafter Little Lulu was widely merchandised, and was the first mascot for Kleenex tissues; from 1952 to 1965 the character appeared in an elaborate animated billboard in Times Square in New York City designed by Artkraft Strauss.
The character appeared in comic books, animated cartoons, greeting cards and more. Little Lulu comic books, popular internationally, were translated into Arabic, Dutch, Finnish, French, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish and Greek.
Buell also did illustrations for Country Gentleman, Ladies’ Home Journal and Collier’s. Buell stopped drawing Little Lulu in 1947, and the work was continued by others, while she kept creative control. Sketching and writing of the Little Lulu comic book series was taken on by John Stanley, who later drew Nancy and Sluggo. Buell sold her Little Lulu rights to Western Publishing when she retired in 1971.
Buell married Clarence Addison Buell in 1936, who had a career in the Bell Telephone Company. The two reached a compromise in their career ambitions, in that the husband agreed to turn down promotions that would result in relocation, and the wife would keep her creation enough in check that she would be available for her children. The couple had two sons: Larry, born in 1939; and Fred, born in 1942.
She shied from the spotlight, rarely giving interviews or allowing publication of photos of herself. She also shied away from politics, and resisted requests from her sons to include progressive elements such as a Black playmate for Lulu.
After the sale of the Lulu copyrights in 1971, the Buell couple retired to Ohio, where their son Larry lived. Buell died on May 30, 1993, of lymphoma in Elyria, Ohio. Buell’s son Larry is a professor of American Literature at Harvard, and her son Fred is a professor of English at Queens College.
In July 2006, Buell’s family donated the “Marge Papers” to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. The papers include a collection of fan mail, comic books, scrapbooks of high points in Lulu’s history and a complete set of the newspaper cartoons.
In 2003, an original 1930s watercolor of Little Lulu by Buell brought $584.00 on eBay.