Rarity: Mrs Contrary by Marion Farley

It is a rare thing to stumble across a syndicated comic strip that isn’t in Allan Holtz’s book, but that’s what I did the other day. Mrs. Contrary by Marion Farley ran for about 14 months from 1922 to 1923. And Marion Farley is as rare as her comic strip in the history books, not even getting a mention in Trina Robbins’ books on women cartoonists.

above: introduction to readers from the September 11, 1922 edition of The Minneapolis Star

Mrs. Contrary was syndicated by the Herald-Sun Syndicate (or Feature). The Herald Sun seems to be a short-lived effort by Frank Munsey, a famous pulp publisher (magazines and newspapers), in the early 1920s when he, for a time, owned The New York Herald and The New York Sun. Most famously it distributed the Gene Byrnes’ Sunday Reg’lar Fellers page (the daily being syndicated by Bell). From 1922 to 1923 Munsey’s Herald-Sun Syndicate tried a couple daily strips – Stan MacGovern’s Dumbell Dan and Marion Farley’s Mrs. Contrary.

Mrs. Contrary landed in a number of newspapers – The Oklahoma Leader, The Racine Journal Times, The Mount Carmel Daily Republican Register, The Moline Daily Dispatch, and The Champaign Evening Herald among others. The earliest sample samples I find are from September 1922 (Sept. 6 in The Tulare Advance-Register and Sept. 13 in The Minneapolis Star). The latest samples are November 1923 (Nov. 3 in The Buffalo Enquirer and Nov. 6 in The York Daily News-Times).

Unfortunately November 1923 is also the last to be found of Miss Farley. No more cartooning under her maiden name. Did she marry and continue with another name? Did she live a long and happy life? Did she move on to the “finer” arts? I dunno.

14 thoughts on “Rarity: Mrs Contrary by Marion Farley

  1. Ancestry.com shows a “Marion Farley” born in Manhattan Oct/16/1903 to John F. and Lillian C. Farley, both from Ireland. The 1925 New York census shows her living with her parents, occupation “private secretary”. The 1930 U.S. census shows her living with her mother, occupation “secretary”, industry “brokerage”, still living in Manhattan.

    I don’t find anything else for her though.

    1. Correction: both of Marion’s parents were born in New York. It was her grandparents who were born in Ireland.

  2. Bob, thanks for the update. Though it saddens me she left the art field.
    Brett, yeah. Though the longer, unedited piece in The Oklahoma Leader (October 5, 1922) credits the writer as “Miss Mary Watts.” So it wasn’t sexist, just a sign of the times; though she didn’t write the headlines. (The Leader relegated Marion’s description to the subhed: “And She’s Good to Look at Too.”)

  3. I was a little surprised that I couldn’t find much more than that. Her mother’s maiden name was Byrnes (also listed as Burns). And she had one sister, a few years older. I tried to find obituaries and graves for all family members but no luck. I also thought I might find a marriage but again, nothing. The name is common enough that it can be hard to sort through the false positives.

    If she was a private secretary at a Manhattan brokerage in 1930 she likely would have seen first hand the panic that took place the previous autumn.

    P.S. That is quite a find, to find something that ran that long and isn’t in Alan’s book. I’ve found a few things in the past, but nothing of that extent.

  4. In 1922, Thomas L. Masson wrote a book called “Our American humorists” (it may be found on archive.org). Beginning with p. 426, there is a list “of the principal newspaper comic artists of this country”, and no. 4 on the list is Marion Farley. (No additional information on her, though.)

  5. I have found very string evidence that Marion Farley was Gene Byrnes’ niece.

    The 1910 U.S. census shows head-of-household John F Farley living with his wife Lilian C, daughters Harriet and Marion, and brother-in-law Eugene F Bynes (age 21). Recall that I’d earlier found Lilian’s maiden name was Byrnes.

    Eugene F is the right name and age for Gene Byrnes of Reg’lar Fellers fame, and according to wikipedia, he was born in NYC and at one time worked as a shoemaker. The occupation of the man in the census is Shoe Repairing, and he owns his own shop.

    I didn’t put two-and-two together until I looked at the list in the book Hans mentioned, noticed Gene Byrnes, and recalled Lilian’s maiden name.

    1. John Adcock supports your research Bob:
      “Gene Byrnes was born on the Upper East Side of New York City in 1889. He took his first job when he was 14 years old, as an office boy at McClure’s magazine, then went to work for his father, a harness maker. Byrnes started a business for himself, as a horse collar-maker. He changed trades and ran a shoe repair shop in Brooklyn, where he introduced electric shoe repairing to the city, and sold insect exterminator.”

  6. I’m tickled pink that finding a comic strip missed in my book is so noteworthy as to be a news headline. I consider that high praise indeed!

    Mrs. Contrary is actually in the Holtz database along with over 700 additional features documented after the book was put to bed. I consider the start date to most likely be 9/4/1922 (the Tulare paper ran a promo for it on 9/3, and unfortunately newspapers.com is missing 9/4 and 9/5). As for the end date, I’d stick with the Buffalo Enquirer’s 11/3/23, because that York paper you mentioned routinely ran material late and out of order, as proven by the dating on another strip they ran that week.

    Of special interest is that Ms. Farley may be the daughter of Gene Byrnes. That makes the quite uncanny resemblance of the art on her feature to Byrnes art a little suspect. I hate to call attention to the possibility, but it could be that dear old dad thought it would be a great hook for a new strip to be advertised as drawn by a beautiful young lady. Or, of course, the apple might just not fall far from the tree, and that I wrong Farley. Just sayin’.

    1. @Allan Not daughter, niece. Strong evidence in census that Byrnes was brother of her mother. Plus he was only 14 when Marion was born. Is this relationship documented anywhere else that you are aware of?

      The same thought had occurred to me — the possibility that Byrnes drew the strip. I suppose it’s also possible that Byrnes never drew anything and was just a front for Marion.

  7. DD, the new website really is coming, but like molasses in January. I keep finding bugs in the site, mainly problems with the gigantic import from Blogger, and my web programmer works on it strictly on a part time basis. Only once the blog portion of the site is up and running and live can we pivot to the wiki aspect, which will be another big job.

  8. Bob, sorry for my incorrect reading of your comment about her being a neice. *ahem, DD, could these comments not be run in barely discernable grey maybe? Or are my eyes giving out on me?

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