Dalia Messick was born April 11, 1906 in South Bend, Indiana.
Her father was a commercial artist and her mother was a seamstress.
She grew up with an interest in drawing and writing and studied briefly at the Ray Commercial Art School in Chicago.
She didn’t like commercial art and left to begin working for a Chicago greeting card company as an artist.
When the Great Depression hit, her boss cut her pay to a level that she could no longer afford to live on.
In 1933, she moved to New York City and found work with another greeting card company that paid her a higher salary, $50 a week, sending $20 of it back to her family in Indiana.
She would later recall:
“I had $30 a week to live it up. You could walk down 42nd Street and have bacon and eggs and toast and coffee and hash brown potatoes and orange juice —the works— for 25 cents.”
Soon Dalia began assembling a portfolio of comic strip samples.
She was not the first female comic strip creator: Nell Brinkley, Gladys Parker and Edwina Dumm had all achieved success in the field, however there was still a bias against women.
Dalia decided to change her first name to Dale so her work would actually be reviewed by editors.
As Dale, she created a variety of comic strips, but still, none were selected for publication.
By 1940, Messick decided to create a comic strip with a red-haired female heroine; she decided a career as a reporter would allow the character to travel and have adventures, adventures more glamorous than those actually experienced by most reporters.
Messick created a character she named Brenda Starr.
She named the character after Brenda Frazier, a glamorous debutante from the 1930s and based the characters appearance on actress Rita Hayworth.
Messick’s break came when another woman, Mollie Slott, who worked as “girl Friday” (à la His Girl Friday) for New York Daily News publisher (and syndicate head) Joseph Medill Patterson.
Patterson, reputedly still biased against female cartoonists, wouldn’t sign Messick for daily publication in his New York Daily News, but he did accept her “Brenda Starr, Reporter” for syndication as a Sunday comic.
Brenda Starr made her debut on June 30, 1940.
Messick’s strip was an immediate success, since her mix of adventure and romance was popular with both male and female readers.
Brenda Starr, at its peak during the 1950s, ran in over 250 newspapers.
Messick would later comment on this in a 1986 article in the San Francisco Chronicle:
“I used to get letters from girl reporters saying that their lives were nowhere near as exciting as Brenda’s. I told them that if I made Brenda’s life like theirs, nobody would read it.”
Messick received the National Cartoonists Society’s Story Comic Book Award in 1975.
She went on to illustrate Brenda Starr for a total of forty years, finally retiring in 1980.
Brenda Starr thanks cartoonist Dale Messick for creating her and getting her into movies. San Francisco Chronicle exclusive photo at Messicks’s Santa Rosa studio (7-30-86).
Over the years Brenda Starr became probably the most famous (and fashionable) female reporter in pop-culture (though Lois Lane might have a different opinion on that).
In 1989 “Starr” was made into a motion picture with Brooke Shields in the starring role.
Ramona Fradon (artist) and Linda Sutter (writer) took over the strip from 1980 to 1995.
June Brigman (artist) and Mary Schmich (writer) have produced the strip since 1995.
In 1995, Brenda Starr was one of 20 comic strips honored by a series of United States postage stamps; Messick was the only living creator.
Then in 1997, Messick was presented with the National Cartoonists Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on Brenda Starr.
Messick apparently wasn’t impressed with her successors’ versions of Brenda Starr, according to a 1998 quote in the Sonoma County Independent:
“Now it doesn’t look like Brenda at all. She looks more like she works at a bank. No glamour, no curves, no fashion — but it’s still going pretty good.”
Following her retirement from Brenda Starr, Messick moved to Oakmont, California, to be near her daughter and grandchildren.
She continued to work and created a new strip, Granny Glamour, which ran in Oakmont Gardens Magazine, a local weekly magazine.
Granny Glamour ended as well after Messick had a stroke in 1998.
Dalia “Dale” Messick died April 5, 2005, one week shy of her 99th birthday.
Messick had said through Brenda Starr that she wanted no funeral services.
In her words: “No fuss, no muss, just dust.”
Now WE know em