Little Orphan Annie: From Comic Strip to Radio, Broadway, Television, and Two Movies

Posted on December 18, 2014 at 8:00 am

Copyright Harold Gray and Tribune Syndicate
Copyright Harold Gray and Tribune Syndicate

The spunky little girl with the curly red hair and a dog named Sandy began as Little Orphan Annie in 1924, created by Harold Gray.  Her pluck, self-sufficiency, and resilience caught the imagination of the Depression-era audience in the 30’s, and soon she was everywhere. You could buy books, dolls, jewelry, even dishes showing Annie with her iconic red dress and pupil-free eyes. There was a popular radio program (remember Ralphie and his Little Orphan Annie decoder disappointment in A Christmas Story. After Gray’s death, the strip was continued by the brilliant Leonard Starr (Mary Perkins On Stage).

In 1977, the Broadway musical version became one of the biggest hits in history. Here is the original star, Andrea McArdle, singing “Tomorrow.”

Dozens of young girls appeared in the play, including Sarah Jessica Parker. The documentary Life After Tomorrow has interviews with many of them about the stress of auditions and performing and how it affected their feelings about growing up.  And in 2013, PBS aired another documentary about the casting of a revival of the stage show.

The 1982 movie musical version starred Albert Finney, Aileen Quinn, Carol Burnett, and Bernadette Peters and was directed by John Houston.

In 1999, a version made for television starred Alan Cumming, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Kathy Bates, Victor Garber, and Alicia Morton.

All of those versions kept the 1930’s setting — they even feature a rousing musical number with Franklin Roosevelt and his Cabinet.  But this week’s release, produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Jay-Z, updates the story to the era of Instagram and Twitter.  It stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, and, as Annie, “Beast of the Southern Wild’s” Oscar-nominated Quvenzhané Wallis.

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