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Starr is born at 6th Street

Laura Rohrman grew up in Sonoma County devoted to her grandmother, so when Rohrman moved to New York in 2000 to become an actress and playwright, it was natural she'd write about her grandma.

What makes the story unusual is that Rohrman's grandmother was Dale Messick, America's first syndicated woman cartoonist and creator of the comic strip "Brenda Starr, Reporter."

The 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa will present a staged reading of Rohrman's play, "Reporter Girl," directed by longtime local actress Brownwen Shears, at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The play is not a straight biography, but a "re-imagining" of Messick's life just before "Brenda Starr" made its debut in 1940.

Messick retired to Santa Rosa's Oakmont community in 1980. Rohrman was 9 years old when grandma moved closer, and they bonded.

"In my family, I was the one everyone said was most like my grandma," Rohrman said in an earlier interview. "When I started writing, she wanted to me to write her biography. When I started writing plays, she wanted me to write a play about Brenda Starr."

"Girl Reporter" got its first public reading in 2003 at American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco, where Rohrman was working that summer. She later rewrote it, and the play was performed several times as part of a workshop production in Brooklyn in 2011.

Messick died in 2005 at age 98 in Penngrove, home of her daughter (Laura Rohrman's mother), Starr Rohrman. Starr was named after Brenda.

"Brenda Starr" made it to screen in a 1945 movie serial and a 1976 TV movie starring Jill St. John. Brooke Shields played the title character in a big-screen version, filmed in 1986 but shelved until 1992, when it opened to bad reviews.

After Messick's retirement, the "Brenda Starr" comic strip continued running, written and drawn by others, until its cancellation in 2011.


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