Monday, May 02, 2011

 

Obscurity of the Day: Little Miss Muffet

Little Orphan Annie was a pop phenomenon in the 1930s the likes of which have seldom been seen. Kids, parents, the intelligentsia, the barely literate -- everybody loved plucky little Annie. And it really seemed to drive the Hearst folks crazy that they couldn't come up with an answer to Harold Gray's moppet.

But oh how they tried. There was Little Annie Rooney, Big Sister and other pretenders to the throne. Although many of the Annie wannabees had long runs, none ever succeeded in grabbing more than a thread from her popular coattail. Which brings us to today's obscurity, Little Miss Muffet.

This moppet shared a similar backdrop -- Millie Muffet started her comic strip life at a prestigious girl's school, where, on the very first day of the strip, she was informed that her parents seemed to have disappeared. Without the steady stream of dough to keep her in pinafores, the schoolmistress was all set to pack Millie off to an orphanage. Instead Muffet high-tailed it. Unlike Annie, though, Muffet had a knack for finding herself dependable benefactors. Rarely did Millie ever lack for pinafores or anything else. Her Shirley Temple looks and beatific personality usually had people practically fighting one another to take care of her.

Little Miss Muffet ended up being sort of a genteel version of Annie. Sure there was drama, but seldom anything that would raise the pulse too far. However, unlike the stupendously dull Big Sister, this strip was a perfectly pleasant read. But the writing wasn't the strip's draw anyway. It was the incredible artwork of Fanny Y. Cory. Cory was a major illustrator around the turn of the century, but a husband, kids, and a Montana ranch to take care of had taken her out of the game. By the mid-20s, though, she was looking for work and got into doing newspaper cartoons. By 1935, when Little Miss Muffet began, she was already with Hearst, doing her Sonnysayings panel.

From the sounds of it, Cory was offered the art chores on the new strip purely as a contract position. King Features staffers provided the scripts. In fact, Cory is on record at having chafed over the gentility of the writing, which is odd considering that her Sonnysayings panel was about as saccharine sweet as they come. Her disdain for the writing didn't slow her down though. The art on Little Miss Muffet is terrific stuff, with incredible attention to detail (for instance, note that Eph's checkered jacket is always hand-drawn, not a screen -- what a task!). 

The strip began on September 2 1935, with only Cory credited. In 1940 a writer named Tecla Scheuring (surely not a pseudonym!) gained a writing credit for about six years. According to Cory's family she never did the writing except perhaps right at the bitter end. The strip ended on June 30 1956.

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A possible match.

Tecla A. Scheuring was born in Wisconsin around 1908 according to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census. She was the only child of Louis and Cecelia; the family lived on Miller Street in Anna, Illinois. Her father was an accountant. In 1920 the Scheurings lived in De Pere, Wisconsin. Scheuring lived at 428 St. James Place in Chicago, Illinois when the 1930 census was recorded. She was an office manager for an aviation corporation, and had a female roommate.
 
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