Lee Holley, cartoonist of Ponytail, a teenage girl, researched real life

Lee Holley was an American cartoonist. His most famous cartoon was Ponytail (1960-1988) about a postwar American teenage girl. He also assisted Hank Ketcham on the Dennis the Menace cartoons (1957-1960). He died in a plane crash in Marina, California, on 26 March 2018 at the age of 85.

Gordon Leroy Holley (1932-2018) was born in Phoenix and grew up with a brother and sister in Watsonville, California. His father, Gordon Virgil Holley, was a machinist; his mother, Vida Marie Canada, was a nurse’s aide.

Lee showed artistic talent in high school. After graduating, he joined the Navy in 1951 and was stationed on an aircraft carrier during the Korean War as a weapons inspector. He spent his free time drawing cartoons and comic strips for Navy publications. He was hired by Warner Bros. Studios in 1955 to work for the animator Friz Freleng. He worked as animator on Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Daffy Duck cartoons.

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His first marriage, to Dorothy Crosetti, ended in divorce in the 1950s.

In 1958, he became Hank Ketcham’s assistant to work on the Dennis the Menace Sunday cartoons.

Holley sold his first Ponytail cartoons to Teen Magazine in August 1960 and became an independent cartoonist.

Ponytail was launched as a daily cartoon strip on 7 November 1960, and a Sunday comic strip was added on 7 January 1962. The character, Ponytail Johnson, lived in a suburbia, attending high school, with a boyfriend called Donald Dawson. The Ponytail cartoon depicted the new teenage culture with its high school life, drive-in cinemas, pop music, dating, and generational frustrations with parents. Holley continued his strip until 16 October 1988.

Newspapers liked the comic strip, Ponytail, because it was authentic and attracted younger readers. Holley wove his own family members into the story lines. “Ponytail’s boyfriend, Donald, was our brother Donald; Ponytail’s father was like our dad,” his sister, Donna Roberts, said in an interview. “He drew on those memories.”

In 1963, he said on the television game show “To Tell the Truth” that he conducted field research by talking to teenagers at pizza parlors. He subscribed to publications Teen Beat and Seventeen and went back to his own high school to sit in on classes, he told Hogan’s Alley, a magazine of the comic arts, in 1999.

Holley enjoyed the freedom the comic strip gave him. He told Hogan’s Alley that there was no one telling him what to do. “I had deadlines, but other than that I was on my own. It really wasn’t work to me.”

Since his retirement in 1989, Holley painted, conducted comics courses at local schools, and attended comics festivals.

His other love was flying his own plane. Holley, an amateur pilot, was flying his single-engine plane when it crashed into a field next to the runway at Marina’s Municipal Airport, about 10 miles north of Monterey, California, shortly after taking off on the morning of 26 March 2018. He was the sole person on the aircraft.

Lee Holley is survived by his wife, Patricia; his brother, Donald; his sister Donna; a daughter Susan to his first wife; daughter Karen; two grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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