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Jay Maeder, 67; newspaperman who wrote ‘Annie’ strip

NEW YORK — Jay Maeder, a columnist and editor for The Daily News in New York City and The Miami Herald and the last writer of the comic strip “Annie,” died Tuesday at his sister’s home in Houston at 67.

The cause was cancer, his companion, Amanda Hass, said. He lived in Greenwood Lake, N.Y.

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Mr. Maeder wrote the “People” column for The Herald in the 1970s and ’80s and the “Newsreel” and “Lounge Lizard” columns for The News in the 1980s and ’90s.

His irreverent style could test his editors; in one 1982 Herald column, he quoted Mother Teresa as saying she preferred being “with lepers” to dealing with journalists and asked: “Something we said? You don’t like our cologne?”

A Daily News editorial he wrote about Joel B. Steinberg, who was released from prison in 2004 after being convicted of beating his 6-year-old adopted daughter to death, drew wide attention. It appeared in part on the front page, beginning, “Let him feel every New York eye burning straight through his rotten soul.”

Mr. Maeder also edited the News’s Sunday magazine and the newspaper’s Big Town series about New York history.

A historian of the comics pages, Mr. Maeder wrote “Dick Tracy: The Official Biography” (1990) and contributed to “The Encyclopedia of American Comics.” In 2000, he took over writing “Little Orphan Annie,” as the comic strip was known when Harold Gray began writing it in 1924.

Mr. Maeder and artist Andrew Pepoy updated Annie’s red dress and curly hair and added the pilot and former CIA agent Amelia Santiago, but kept the catchphrase “leapin’ lizards!”

“I tell people it’s ‘Indiana Jones’ with chicks,” he told The News.

Jay Edward Maeder Jr. was born in Cleveland and grew up in Fort Myers, Fla. He attended several colleges and served in the Army in Vietnam before taking his first newspaper job, at The Morning Journal in Northern Ohio.

He joined The Miami Herald in 1971 and moved to the News in 1985. After retiring in 2008 he continued to work on “Annie.” He also contributed posts to the City Room blog of The New York Times. They were discontinued after similarities were found between descriptive passages in the posts and those in articles he had written for the News.

His two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his sister, Jane Walsh, and Hass, he leaves two sons from his first marriage, Jordan and Christopher; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Maeder’s updating of “Annie” could not reverse its decline. Tribune Media Services stopped the strip mid-storyline in 2010, when fewer than 20 US newspapers carried it.

“It is no longer a great marketplace for adventure comic strips in the daily newspapers,” Mr. Maeder said in 2010, adding, “I’m going to miss the girl a lot.”

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