Little Orphan Annie was a daily American comic strip, created by Harold Gray (1894–1968), that first appeared on August 5, 1924. The title, suggested by an editor at the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, was inspired by James Whitcomb Riley's popular 1885 poem "Little Orphant Annie" which begins:
Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away . . .
It was eight years after Riley's death when Gray created his comic strip Little Orphan Otto (1924), and the Chicago Tribune's Joseph Patterson changed the title to Little Orphan Annie. Three years later, King Features came up with their own waif, Little Annie Rooney.
By the 1930s, the strip had taken on a more adult and adventurous feel with Annie coming across killers, gangsters, spies and saboteurs.
It was also about this time that Gray, whose politics seem to have been either conservative or libertarian with a decided populist streak, introduced some of his more controversial storylines. He would look into the darker aspects of human nature, such as greed and treachery. The gap between rich and poor was an important theme. The strip (and Gray, in interviews) glorified the American business ethic of an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. His hatred of labor unions was dramatized in the 1935 story "Eonite". Other targets were the New Deal and communism. Despite the strip's pro-capitalist slant, corrupt businessmen often appeared as villains.
Beginning when she was ten years old, Chicago actress Shirley Bell Cole (born 1920) starred on radio's Little Orphan Annie from 1930 to 1940. In 2007, she continued to make personal appearances talking about her experiences on the radio show. Her memoir, Acting Her Age: My Ten Years as a Ten-Year-Old (2005), won two awards at the Chicago Book Clinic's Book and Media Show.
From 1931 to 1933, the radio show had two different casts, one in Chicago and one in San Francisco, daily performing the same scripts, many written by Ferrin Fraser. Floy Hughes portrayed Annie in the West Coast version.
Little Orphan Annie began in 1930 in Chicago on WGN (720), and on April 6, 1931, with Ovaltine as the sponsor, the 15-minute series graduated to the Blue Network. Airing six days a week at 5:45 pm, it was the first late-afternoon children's radio serial, and as such, it created a sensation with its youthful listeners, continuing until October 30, 1936. During a contract dispute with Shirley Bell, Annie was briefly played by Bobbe Dean in 1934–35. Pierre Andre (1899–1962) was the show's announcer. Other actors on the series were Finney Briggs (1891–1978) and Andrew Stanton. Allan Baruck (and later Mel Torme) portrayed Joe Corntassel. The program's organist was Leonard Salvo (1898–1985), who also provided the music for The Cisco Kid and The Billie Burke Show.
The show opened with a theme song sung by Pierre Andre (as Uncle Andy). This song took on a popularity of its own with its oft-quoted lyrics:
In this posed publicity photo for radio's Little Orphan Annie, Joe Corntassel (Allan Baruck) watches as Annie (Shirley Bell) embraces her dog Sandy.
Who's that little chatter box?
The one with pretty auburn locks?
Whom do you see?
It's Little Orphan Annie.
She and Sandy make a pair,
They never seem to have a care!
Cute little she,
It's Little Orphan Annie.
Bright eyes, cheeks a rosy glow,
There's a store of healthiness handy.
Mite-size, always on the go,
If you want to know - "Arf", says Sandy.
Always wears a sunny smile,
Now, wouldn't it be worth a while,
If you could be,
Like Little Orphan Annie?
The song led to the catch phrase, "Arf says Sandy," sometimes given as "Arf goes Sandy." With Ovaltine still on board as sponsor, NBC carried the show from November 2, 1936 until January 19, 1940, and concurrent broadcasts were also carried at 5:30 pm on Mutual in 1937-38. In 1940, Ovaltine dropped sponsorship of the show to pick up Captain Midnight, an aviation oriented show more in tune with the increasing international tensions as World War II started in Europe and the Orient. The announcer Pierre Andre had a strong identification with the sponsor's product and thus continued as the announcer of Captain Midnight.
Sponsored by Quaker Puffed Wheat Sparkies, the show moved to Mutual for its final run from January 22, 1940 to April 26, 1942. Janice Gilbert portrayed Annie from 1940 to 1942. A new character, dashing aviator Captain Sparks, was introduced, and Annie became his sidekick. Despite the program's popularity, few episodes have survived.
The radio program and the Ovaltine sponsorship were directly referenced in Jean Shepherd's novel In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and companion movie A Christmas Story, which used an actual 1940 Orphan Annie decoder badge as a prop.
Little Orphan Annie was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 1990.
Producer David O. Selznick made the first film adaptation of the strip with RKO's Little Orphan Annie (1932), starring Mitzi Green as Annie and Edgar Kennedy as Warbucks. Ann Gillis had the title role in Paramount's Little Orphan Annie (1938), scripted by Budd Schulberg and others.
In 1977, Little Orphan Annie became a Broadway musical, Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and book by Thomas Meehan. The original production ran from April 21, 1977 to January 2, 1983. There have been other international productions, and the musical has been filmed several times, notably the 1982 version directed by John Huston and starring Albert Finney as Warbucks, Aileen Quinn as Annie, Ann Reinking as Grace Farrell (Warbucks's secretary) and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan, matron of the orphanage. The story took considerable liberties from the strips, such as having Oliver Warbucks visit Franklin D. Roosevelt (and wife Eleanor, in the 1982 film) at the White House and reluctantly support his New Deal. Harold Gray deeply loathed Roosevelt and at one point killed the Warbucks character, declaring that he could not live in the current climate. Upon Roosevelt's death he suddenly brought Warbucks back, proclaiming that the air had changed. In 1999, Annie was turned into a made-for-television musical-comedy film for The Wonderful World of Disney.
The Broadway Annies were Andrea McArdle, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith and Alyson Kirk. Notable actresses who portrayed Miss Hannigan are Dorothy Loudon, Alice Ghostley, Betty Hutton, Ruth Kobart, Marcia Lewis, June Havoc, Nell Carter and Sally Struthers. Famous songs from the musical include "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life."
Life After Tomorrow
The award-winning documentary "Life after Tomorrow" by former Annie orphan Julie Stevens and Co-Director, Gil Cates Jr., reunites more than 40 women who played orphans in the original Broadway production of Annie and reveals the highs and lows of their experiences as child actresses in a cultural phenomenon. "Life After Tomorrow" is a true behind-the-scenes look at the Annie experience..