CHICAGO. Dick, one of the main characters in the Zerna Sharp basal readers who introduced young readers to complicated words such as “here” and “come,” died yesterday. He was 93.
“We shall not see his like again,” said Opal Sturgis, who at the age of six mastered her first Elson-Gray Reader in which Dick and his little sisters Jane and Sally appeared as fictional characters. “There were the movie stars like Clark Gable and the crooners like Frankie Avalon, but Dick was my heart throb.”
Dick and his sister Jane had a three-decade run as fictional characters beginning in 1930 and continuing until a final edition appeared in 1965. “Those were the ‘go-go’ years when people demanded ‘relevance,’ said Donald Orthwort, a retired assistant principal. “Dick and Jane moved out of their unnamed home town when the first Black family moved in. Their father–whose name was coincidentally ‘Father’–decided the time had come to sell before the neighborhood went to hell.”
As Dick and his sister Jane grew up they lived as man and wife and never told friends and acquaintances that they were brother and sister. “Theirs was a secret love, known only to their younger sister Sally,” said educational historian Zora Reilly. “They never had children for fear of genetic abnormalities, and gradually disappeared from school curricula.”
Many of Dick and Jane’s adventures began with the mischief of their pets, “Spot” a dog and “Puff” a cat. “I tell you, ‘See Spot Run’ was to our generation what ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was to The Lost Generation,” said Michael Horganheimer, a professor of elementary literature. “‘Spot runs fast!’,” he added, recalling one of the phrases that became a shibboleth to boys and girls who started elementary school in the late 50s.
In 1977 Dick and Jane had a late chance to recover their faded celebrity fortunes when they were featured in the film “Fun With Dick and Jane” starring George Segal and Jane Fonda. “Total box office was $13.6 million,” said Variety Phonics Reporter Aaron Belson. “It was one of the most successful video rentals of all time, but Blockbuster is out of business and most VCRs are in garbage dumps today.”
Dick is survived by Jane, Sally, and Spot XIV. Puff XIX died in 2019 after firemen were unable to rescue her from a tree she had climbed. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Zaner-Bloser Institute of Penmanship in Kankakee, Illinois, where Dick’s papers–in his now-obsolete cursive handwriting–will be preserved.