|Dale Conner circa 1939|
Mildred Dale Conner was born January 1, 1904, on a farm near Sulphur Springs, Texas. Her father was William Madison Conner (1870-1936) and her mother was Nellie Nichols (1872-1949). The family moved to Dallas in 1916 where her father became a salesman for Butler Bros., a department store and mail-order firm.
Young Mildred seems to always have drawn. The Dallas Morning News, September 2, 1939, wrote of the small brunette: "Before she was old enough to enter school, the future artist drew sketches of people. Her consuming ambition as a child was to 'write a book and draw all the pictures.'" She finished grade school at John S. Armstrong School in Highland Park, Texas, and spent all four years of High School at Oak Cliff High. She graduated in 1921.
|Mildred Dale Conner at Oak Cliff High (1921).|
Her year book says: "Some one has described Mildred as the little girl with the 'come hither' eyes and it's not such a bad description. Besides being very easy to look at, 'Cricket' can draw almost anything on earth - even a crowd." So little Mildred had the nickname of "Cricket." Oh, the things one can discover online! Cricket spent all four of her high school years on the staff of "The Acorn," the Oak Cliff High newspaper.
|Mildred Dale Conner and the "Art Staff" of THE ACORN.|
She apparently adored her art instructor, Nellie Clement, and according again to The Dallas Morning News, two of her classmates also found art careers: Commercial artist Jewel Brannon of Fort Worth, and Lansing "Lance" Nolley, who went on to have a very full career working for Walt Disney Studios. See the "comments" section below for more information on Lance Nolley.
She spent another year in what the newspaper calls "post-graduate work" at Oak Cliff High studying art and Advanced French; and spent a year at the University of Texas "concentrating on line drawing and technical drawing." She also studied anatomy and life drawing with Vivian Anspaugh. While still studying in Dallas she began work in the art department of the Palace Theater.
Dale must have enjoyed her movie theater art work as she moved to New York (for the next twelve years) where she worked for Hap Hadley's theatrical art studio, handling publicity for many of the major movie studios.
Her earliest cartooning work seems to have begun when she started working for Martha Orr, creator of the comic strip Apple Mary, later renamed Mary Worth's Family. In 1937, Orr married, and turned over all of the drawing chores to Dale.
|One of Dale's "Apple Mary" strips from August 23, 1939 - click to enlarge|
|An original Sunday strip of MARY WORTH'S FAMILY from 1941.|
You can read the entire and fascinating history of the transformation of Apple Mary into Mary Worth, here, in this Comics Journal essay. But Conner's reasons for departing from the strip are best summed up here, in a letter she wrote to fellow cartoonist Milton Caniff: “I’m so heart-sick over what Apple Mary has turned out to be. Working on it has become a chore. There’s no action to draw, only dull and childish conversation, and the plot is so inane that I gag as I try to make something of it. I dread seeing the proofs each week for my feeling shows in them.”
Soon after their marriage, Dale quit Mary Worth's Family and she and Herb developed a new strip called Hugh Striver, relating the adventures of a newspaper boy; it debuted October 5, 1942.
Hugh Striver seems to have been only moderately successful. It came to an end in February 1945. You can see the first strip below:
|HUGH STRIVER, October 5, 1942, by Herb & Dale Ulrey - click to enlarge|
For a time the Ulreys lived in Barrington, Illinois, (on Bateman Road) and in August of 1943 they had a daughter, Dale Caroline Ulrey.
|Herb and Dale Ulrey circa 1943.|
In April 1945 Dale Ulrey launched a new "adventure" comic strip that she both wrote and drew called Ayer Lane, about a young man with an airplane. This strip ran until sometime in 1947.
|Ulrey's AYER LANE strip from August 11, 1945 - click to enlarge|
Compare the cover to one of the interior illustrations shown below. It is lovely, beautifully executed, and thoroughly charming.
|Interior art for JAGLON AND THE TIGER FAIRIES by Ulrey.|
There are a number of drawings by Ulrey for Ozma of Oz. No such edition was ever published, and given the fact that they were executed in varying techniques, I suspect they were work samples. You can see more of these on Bill Campbell's Oz Enthusiast blog. One of the prettiest is seen below.
|Unpublished illustration by Dale Ulrey for L. Frank Baum's OZMA OF OZ.|
While most Oz fans would argue that Neill's original illustrations are inseparable from Baum's text, Ulrey produced a very handsome volume. You can see and read much more about Ulrey's edition of The Tin Woodman of Oz in this previous blog post.
The next year, in 1956, Ulrey got the honor of illustrating the first edition of The Wizard of Oz to be published by Reilly & Lee.
|Ulrey's jacket design for the 1956 edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ.|
Ulrey's illustrations are handsome, though not as successful as those she did for Tin Woodman. They were all printed in two colors.
|Dale Ulrey illustration from the 1956 edition of THE WIZARD OF OZ.|
Herbert Ulrey died on January 29, 1958, of a cerebral hemorrhage. At the time he and Dale were living in Hickory, North Carolina, on 450 3rd Avenue Drive, S. E., though I can not yet find when or why the family had moved to North Carolina, but it was after 1951.
After her 1956 Wizard of Oz, Dale Ulrey may have retired, as I can find no evidence that she did any additional work in either comics or illustration. Dale died October 14, 1989, in Dallas, Texas. It seems an absolute crime that no one ever interviewed her for The Baum Bugle or tried (as far as I know) to get her to a convention. Such missed opportunities! We will take closer looks at Ulrey's edition of The Wizard of Oz in the coming weeks.