September 23, 2018

Mell Lazarus, ‘Momma’ and ‘Miss Peach’ cartoonist, 89

Brooklyn-born cartoonist Mell (Melvin) Lazarus, known for his syndicated comic strips “Momma” and “Miss Peach,” died May 24 in his Los Angeles home. He was 89.

According to his wife, Sally Mitchell, the cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, The New York Times reported.

“Miss Peach,” which chronicled a prim schoolteacher and the antics of her wisecracking students, had a 45-year run, from 1957 to 2002. “Momma,” about “an aging widow desperately trying to retain control of her aging children,” as he once described it, launched in 1970 and was inspired by his own Jewish mother, a Russian immigrant. It still runs today.

In all, he produced more than 33,000 strips.

At 16, Lazarus dropped out of James Madison High School, which touts such high-profile graduates as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, to pursue his career as a cartoonist. According to The New York Times, Lazarus sold his first cartoon that same year. But the high school dropout proved himself a literal genius when he, at the urging of his first wife, Eileen, became a member of the high-IQ society Mensa International upon passing its IQ test — a feat reserved for intellectual elite who score in the 98th percentile.

Lazarus, who moved to Southern California in 1975, just this year was awarded the Medal of Honor from the National Cartoonists Society, the premier organization for professional cartoonists, for which he served as president from 1989-1993. In 1981, his “Miss Peach” earned the Reuben Award for cartoonist of the year, the organization’s highest honor.

At the time of his death, Lazarus, who also was an author, was writing his third novel and a screenplay. His first two novels are “The Boss Is Crazy, Too” (1954) and “The Neighborhood Watch” (1986).

In addition to wife Sally, the daughter of comic strip writer Ed Mitchell, Lazarus is survived by three daughters, Marjorie White, Suesan Pawlitski and Cathie Lazarus; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and his brother, Herb.