Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins on Stage Book 5

I kept reading this series after my earlier comments, and I’m just astounded by how engrossing I found the soap opera.

Leonard Starrs Mary Perkins on Stage Book 5 cover
Leonard Starr’s Mary Perkins on Stage Book 5
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This volume reprints strips from the fall of 1961 through early 1963, beginning with a story where a weirdo theater backer offers to fund a play if the producer plays word games with him. The reader can even play along, with puzzles being given in one strip and the answer coming in the next. It’s an unusual way to build readership and interest. The portrayal of someone using his money to buy attention and the right to feel superior, when he’s really a boor, is well-done, so much so that the character quickly becomes as annoying to the reader as to the characters. Thankfully, this story is only 16 pages, leading into a more gothic tale.

That one features the return of Maximus, an actor known for his genius with horror makeup. In between, there’s a single strip that comes out of nowhere (p29), where the producer rants about how much Broadway plays cost to launch (in November 1961, $80,000, according to him) and how the number of new launches has proportionally decreased. Most theater productions are money losers, and you have to be crazy to stay in the field. It’s universal, I guess, the conflict between financial backing and commercial art; I thought about how comic publishers could make similar complaints today.

Anyway, back to Maximus. He’s making an historical “chiller” in America for the first time. Mary’s one of the only people who know his secret, about how his makeup really works. She thus becomes essential when a jealous competitor steals Maximus’ special makeup blend, and they follow the thief to a ski resort Christmas party. After that’s taken care of, Mary gets a brief chance to reconcile with her husband before starting a new play.

The faces are more beautiful than ever, with plenty of mood shading, a skill that works especially well for the makeup story. It’s also an important factor in making the next piece, the longest story in the book, involving. The glossy adventure combines a writer with a split personality, a crazy ex who wanders around the set like a goth ghost, a director hitting on Mary, and a rich adventuress who sets her cap for Mary’s husband. It’s a doozy! I was turning pages as fast as I could. Especially once the perceptive theater critic with a secret appeared.

After that, it’s off to the Caribbean for a movie shoot, where Mary mentors a young actor with a big case of stage fright and a socialite mother. This volume shows how this strip ran for so many years — the stories stopped being about Mary. She’s become a working actress, relatively well-known, and her various jobs are excuses to introduce new characters with new stories to tell. That allows Leonard Starr to tackle different conflicts without shoving them all onto the lead. Instead, she’s the comforting core, the nice girl made good who’s become almost a mother figure. Plus, gorgeous 60s fashion and upscale living. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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