When I was a kid in Brownsville, we’d listen to Bob & Ray on WINS before my mother shooed me out the door for school. One of the mainstays of the show was a parody of radio soaps entitled Mary Backstage, Noble Wife, which I never quite got, but she dug.
What does this have to do with Leonard Starr, you ask? Well, my mother, never the sharpest knife in any drawer, thought On Stage–soon to be retitled Mary Perkins on Stage–was an extension of this radio parody–and she introduced the strip to me in the Daily News.
I fell for Starr’s work from word one. Now we’re not talking about from a comic book fan’s perspective. I was still a Gil Kane/Carmine Infantino/Joe Kubert/Alex Toth fan.
But it was as a show business enthusiast, a kid with a fascination with television, movies and live theater, that I engaged with the strip. And as a boy with a desperate need to get the fuck out of Brooklyn, the Manhattan Starr portrayed in On Stage was simultaneously deeply separate and seductive–and yet seemed utterly accessible, with a little work and a bit of growing up.
It wasn’t until my later teens that I was able to dislodge my head from the hyperbolic stuff that filled comic books and truly appreciate how brilliant On Stage was. I had no knowledge of his coming up in the ranks of utility players in the post war comic slump–for me, it was all about the behind the entertainment scenes world he created daily.
On Stage was also that rarity, a beautifully executed strip that was also well written. And finally, although I’m sure no one knew it at the time, it was the last great adventure strip.
I only met Starr once, at the signing of the Superman #400 book–and it was a brief encounter. He’d moved on to other projects—Kelly Green, in collaboration with Stan Drake, and Little Orphan Annie–I’m guessing the syndicate felt they owed him something, so why not use him to keep that long dead franchise propped up for a few more years.
But it was Mary Perkins: On Stage that made this great talent’s bones, and I remain a devotee of this extraordinary run. With his passing, we lose one more link to a soon to be forgotten golden age of craft.
Thanks as ever for your kind attention.
Howard Chaykin–a prince!