Eternally 23 years old, the zaftig, saucer-eyed girl reporter for the Flash has spent three decades solving murders, capturing jewel thieves, hunting polar bears and foiling spies. “Now,” says Brenda Starr’s creator and alter ego, Dale Messick, “Brenda faces the biggest challenge of her life—she’s getting married.” The bridegroom is mysterious Basil St. John, an eye-patched scientist who would die from a baffling disease without regular injections of “black orchid serum,” whatever that is.
For many of the seven-and-a-half million Americans who follow the Brenda exploits in some 100 daily newspapers, her marriage is a family affair. (It will occur in the January 15 strip.) Fans have submitted hundreds of designs for the wedding gown, and two caterers have offered to handle the reception.
Is Brenda Starr really Dale Messick? Demurs Messick, 69: “Brenda is everything I’m not. Her eyes are big and mine are small and squinty. She is tall and I’m 5’2″. She has a fantastic figure [Brenda’s looks are modeled after Rita Hayworth’s] and I don’t even have a waist.” Still, both Brenda and Dale have green eyes and flaming red hair. “Well,” the cartoonist shrugs, “maybe I could be her grandmother.”
Years ago Messick changed her name from Dalia to Dale so people wouldn’t know whether she was male or female. She shares with Brenda a remarkable indomitability. At the age of 28, Dale left her hometown of Hobart, Ind. and struck out for New York and a career in the comics. Her qualifications: one year at Chicago’s Art Institute and a summer spent painting bathing beauties on oilcloth tire covers. During her first few months in New York, Messick survived by designing greeting cards. Finally, the Chicago Tribune-New York News syndicate asked her for a trial comic strip. Messick first considered drawing a girl bandit, then decided that a reporter would be just as exciting. “I’ve had a steady gig ever since.”
Brenda’s excursion into marriage will be based on Messick’s own considerable firsthand experience. Married twice—for a total of 36 years—she is now separated from her second husband, Chicago trial lawyer Oscar Strom. Messick’s only child is christened—no, not Brenda, but Starr.
“It’s very hard to keep a long-term relationship with someone, especially when you both have busy careers,” says Messick. “But women still want to try it, and Brenda’s no exception. Her fans, most of them young women, have been begging me to marry her off for years.”
As for Brenda’s future, there is, according to Messick, “no end to the possibilities. I may let her have a baby. I know something about combining a career with children too. Two hours after Starr was born I was sitting up in the hospital room drawing my strip.”