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Humor the Hallmark of Greeting Card Pioneer

December 22, 1986

OLD MISSION, Mich. (AP) _ Corny rhymes and cute cartoons, but definitely no curses; if that describes your greeting card, you may have read her verses.

″I was just out of school when Hallmark recruited me,″ says Mary Dorman Lardie. ″I didn’t know what I was getting into.″

That was 52 years and, by her count, 8,000 greeting cards ago. Now 71, she was the first official staff writer of Hallmark Cards Inc.

″When I came in, you had to know how to rhyme. I still think of rhymes all the time.″ she says at her home on the Old Mission Peninsula, which bisects Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay.

Mrs. Lardie created Christmas cards that reflected the hard times of the Depression and New Year’s cards that wished well to the troops during World War II. One of her early ones, from 1937, went like this:

″I’m sort of bruised and battered, from the mobs in all the stores,

″You’d think I was a veteran, of half a dozen wars.

″My toes feel kind of stepped on, for the going sure was hard,

″But I came and saw and conquered, ’cause I got your Christmas card.″

Bill Harsh, a former Hallmark executive vice president, said Mrs. Lardie initially was recruited as an artist, then became the first staff writer of the newly created editorial department in 1935.

Harsh says she was one of the first practitioners of a greeting card style characterized by humorous rhymes with a punchline. She also was part of a small group that developed the first three-dimensional cards, with scenes and figures that pop up when the card is opened, he said.

″There’s a couple of bricks in this place with her name on it,″ Harsh said from Hallmark’s Kansas City, Mo., headquarters.

Mrs. Lardie quit working full-time for the company in 1952 to free-lance. Now she’s writing a book containing 400 of her cards that she says will reflect the history of her era.

Contemporary cards, she said, are using more gags than rhymes, and she dislikes off-color cards. Santa Claus isn’t featured nearly as much on Christmas cards because fewer youngsters believe in him, she said.

About a half-dozen of Mrs. Lardie’s card concepts remain on the racks, said Hallmark spokeswoman Meg Owens. But Mrs. Lardie says her influence went beyond her own work.

″I helped lay the foundation for humor in cards,″ she said.

Her cards also occasionally took on a hard edge, though, such as this somber, Depression-era plaint from 1935:

″There’s no relief proposed for Dad, not even on his day.

″The only bills affecting him are those he has to pay.

″So please set up a ways and means to really start things humming,

″And give relief to dear old Dad,

″He sure has got it coming.″

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