Little Orphan Annie

This article is about the 1924 comic strip, Little Orphan Annie. For other uses, see Little Orphan Annie (disambiguation).
Little Orphan Annie

Cupples & Leon collection (1933)
Author(s) Harold Gray
Current status / schedule Ended
Launch date August 5, 1924
End date June 13, 2010
Syndicate(s) Tribune Media Services
Genre(s) Humor, Action, Adventure

Little Orphan Annie was a daily American comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894–1968) and syndicated by the Tribune Media Services. The strip took its name from the 1885 poem "Little Orphant Annie" by James Whitcomb Riley, and made its debut on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News.

The plot follows the wide-ranging adventures of Annie, her dog Sandy and her benefactor Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks. Secondary characters include Punjab, the Asp and Mr. Am. The strip attracted adult readers with political commentary that targeted (among other things) organized labor, the New Deal and communism.

Following Gray's death in 1968, several artists drew the strip and, for a time, "classic" strips were reruns. Little Orphan Annie inspired a radio show in 1930, film adaptations by RKO in 1932 and Paramount in 1938 and a Broadway musical Annie in 1977 (which was adapted into a film of the same name three times, one in 1982, one in 1999 and another in 2014). The strip's popularity declined over the years; it was running in only 20 newspapers when it was cancelled on June 13, 2010. The characters now appear occasionally as supporting ones in Dick Tracy.


Little Orphan Annie displays literary kinship with the picaresque novel in its seemingly endless string of episodic and unrelated adventures in the life of a character who wanders like an innocent vagabond through a corrupt world. In Annie's first year, the picaresque pattern that characterizes her story is set, with the major players – Annie, Sandy and "Daddy" Warbucks – introduced within the strip's first several weeks.

The story opens in a dreary, Dickensian orphanage where Annie is routinely abused by the cold, sarcastic matron, named Miss Asthma (later replaced by an equally mean woman named Miss Treat [a play on the word, "mistreat"]).

One day, the wealthy but mean-spirited Mrs. Warbucks takes Annie into her home "on trial." She makes it clear that she does not like her, and tries to send her back to "the Home", but one of her society friends catches her in the act, and she immediately changes her mind, to her disgust.

Her husband Oliver, who returned from a business trip, develops an instant paternal affection for Annie and instructs her to address him as "Daddy." Originally, the Warbucks had a dog named One-Lung, who liked Annie. Their household staff also takes to Annie and they like her.

However, the staff despises Mrs. Warbucks, the daughter of a nouveau riche plumber's assistant. Cold-hearted Mrs. Warbucks sends Annie back to "the Home" numerous times, and the staff hates her for that. "Daddy" (Oliver) keeps thinking of her as his "daughter". Mrs. Warbucks often argues with Oliver over how much he "mortifies her when company comes" and his affection for Annie. A very status-conscious woman, she feels that Oliver and Annie are ruining her socially. However, Oliver usually is able to put her in her place, especially when she criticizes Annie.

Annie and Daddy vs. Mrs. Warbucks and Count de Tour

In a series of strips from 1926, (copyright, 1926, Cupples & Leon Company, New York; reprinted in book form as Little Orphan Annie and Little Orphan Annie in Cosmic City, 1974, Dover Publications, New York) The snobbish Mrs. Warbucks, returning from a trip to Paris (or as Annie and Oliver call it, "Eu-Rup"), brings home a snobby little boy (who has the same facial features and snobby demeanor as Mrs. Warbucks) named Selby Adelbert Piffleberry. His family was called the Herring Piffleberrys, ostensibly a wealthy European family.

Annie brought her a bouquet of flowers, but her arch-enemy, appalled that she was back in the house after she spitefully sent her back to the "home" the last time, insulted her, mocked her peace offering, and then flung the flowers to the floor in scorn, calling them "cheap weeds". She and Selby walk off haughtily, leaving Annie in tears and Oliver furious at their cruel and vicious behavior.

Later on, Selby would try the daisy routine on Mrs. Warbucks, but she (or perhaps another servant, it was never specified) would spank him because a bee flew out of the flowers and stung her on the nose. For this, Annie laughed at him.

Intent (and hell-bent) on making Annie's life miserable and relishing the opportunity to abuse her once again, in spite of her husband's vehement objections towards it; she blatantly shows her favoritism towards Selby by giving him Annie's old room (demanding viciously that the room be fumigated beforehand) and spiriting the girl to some room in the rear part of the house. While Annie wasn't too upset about being moved, accepting the situation cheerfully as she usually seems to do; Susanne, the maid, was angered that Annie had been moved.

It was clear that among the servants, feelings against Mrs. Warbucks ran high and public opinion was on the side of Annie and Oliver. Earlier on, the butler and the chauffeur voice their displeasure about Mrs. Warbucks and her terrible abuse of Annie, with the latter saying "Commoner nothin'! He (Warbucks) is a prince, see?! But wot a wife! If she were mine, I would bend a wrench over her nut!"

Selby tries to pass himself off as a classy and polished young man, considered by Mrs. Warbucks as a genius with a talent for the piano. His playing and singing annoys Mr. Warbucks to no end who throws a book down in frustration. Annie, however, is not fooled by Selby or his polished manners, far from it. Neither is the staff, as it turns out, when Egbert, the Warbucks' butler, lets fly with his anger about the aggravating interloper driving him mad.

In fact, she refers to Selby as S-A-P, his initials, which she intended as an insult (she called him S-A-P at his formal dinner to Mr. Warbucks' amusement and Mrs. Warbucks' dismay). She also knows full well the hatred that Mrs. Warbucks has always had for her.

With that in mind, he declares war against her. He targets Sandy by wrapping him in barbed wire and tying a tin can on his tail, knowing that would infuriate Annie. Annie cleaned up and fixed her pet's wounds, and then, vowing vengeance against the snobby brat for injuring her pet, she put Oil of Tar in his hair tonic; mixed itching powder in with his talcum powder; and poured a half bottle of ink into his shower bath. This left Selby itching and dirty and angry.

This also allows for Mrs. Warbucks to encourage Selby to thrash Annie, believing that Children should be able to settle disputes in their own way. In her case, she was hopeful that her favorite would destroy their mutual enemy. Warbucks, to give his girl an edge, teaches her some boxing moves he learned when he was younger and was stationed in Port Said.

The shower incident leads to him attempting to thrash her with a riding crop, his weapon of choice (he tried to use the same crop on Sandy, but he failed). She whirls on him and punches him squarely in the face. Then, while Oliver cheers her on, she bangs his face and head against the floor saying that she would stop only when he hollered "Enough" (which he does after a time) or until she gave out, (she taunted him by saying "An' I feel real strong yet, see?!"). This sends Mrs. Warbucks in, upset and hovering over Selby (she cries, "My DARLING!", which she also did, after Oliver threatened Selby with a thrashing).

He is injured, and Annie feels guilty for injuring him as badly as she did. She attempts to apologize to him, but Selby calls her a vermin and rebuffs her apology. She apologizes just the same, but she also said that she was sorry that it was stopped before she knocked his head clear off.

Much later, Oliver and Annie realize that they underestimated Selby, as he was revealed to be far more dangerous than even they thought.

He was revealed to be an advance scout (a flunky, really) who was working for a conniving businessman named Count De Tour, who has his eyes on the Warbucks' fortune. Warbucks had De Tour's group blocked in South America over some businesses of his, that de Tour wanted.

It would later be revealed that he was the younger (and less worthy; the black sheep) brother of the true count, who was a very nice guy. The real Count had mysteriously disappeared, an act supposedly engineered (but could not be proven) by his nastier brother, so that he could become the count.

The fraudulent Count maneuvers his way into the house by telling Mrs. Warbucks, whom he met while she was in Europe, what she wants to hear, pouring it on saying that she had charm and in any capital of Europe, she would have been queen; with the ultimate intent of stealing Warbucks' fortune. He tries to achieve this aim by playing cards with Warbucks and cheating (using the cold-deck method). He and Annie team up to stop the cheating.

At one point, the malefactor even has his flunkies try to kill Warbucks with an ambush attack, but with Annie and Sandy's timely help, they would rout the would-be killers.

Proving that he would stoop to any lengths to make Warbucks and Annie look bad, the villain also tries to frame the orphan for theft by taking Mrs. Warbucks' diamonds and hiding them in Annie's dressing table drawer. However, Annie puts the skids on the scheme by hiding the purloined jewelry under the Count's mattress. Annie then explains what happened.

Much later, de Tour stomps on Annie's dog, Sandy's tail. And as such, the dog bites him in the leg.

This leads Mrs. Warbucks to seek revenge against Annie by ordering two of the house's footmen to kill Sandy by placing him in a bag and then taking him out and shooting him. (She did this while her husband was out of town) Mrs. Warbucks tries to silence Annie, ordering her back to bed, when the two footmen attempt to carry out the orders of their heartless mistress.

However, Warbucks comes in unexpectedly (he returned from his trip ahead of time) and puts a stop to the despicable scheme. He angrily scolds Mrs. Warbucks, who feebly attempts to justify her vicious orders. He then summarily fires the footmen who were ordered to kill the dog on the spot.

This leads to Annie scaring Mrs. Warbucks with a Halloween pumpkin on a stick in retaliation for the viciousness she has pulled against her pet.

By this time, Warbucks has had more than enough of de Tour, and had gotten wise to his conniving. He then pulls him into the sitting room and proceeds to confront him about his crimes, his taking over his brother's identity and his attempts to have him robbed and killed. He then tells him to prepare to leave, but not take too much time about doing so.

This makes Mrs. Warbucks furious and she would naturally lose her temper at Annie. Berating her about the count and Warbucks falling out, she throws a lamp at her in rage (she was infuriated that she and de Tour want Annie sent back to the "home", where the two villains believe she belongs, and Oliver nixing that suggestion wrathfully).

Undaunted, and not caring that he is losing against Oliver (whom he had, to his peril, totally and completely underestimated his intelligence), de Tour again tries to goad Warbucks into a fight by slapping him in the face in preparation for a duel. Which was de Tour's biggest mistake.

Warbucks then gives him a "duel", with Annie cheering him on, by summarily knocking the false count into the Grandfather Clock, yelling "Slap me on th' jaw, will yuh?! Duel is it?! I'll give yuh all th' duel you want right now! How d'ye like it?!"

When the Count, much the worse for wear after the so-called "duel", in which Oliver clearly won, called him "a savage. a lout, a yokel and a buffoon", Annie, who was just as angry at de Tour as Warbucks was, defends him by kicking the pseudo-Count in the shin.

The furious Count de Tour threatens to leave the "accursed house and this accursed country" in a fury (Selby had already been removed from the scene earlier on, with no explanation of what had happened to him. It was presumed that he had been sent back to Europe after this scheme failed so miserably).

This throws Mrs. Warbucks into a huge temper tantrum, ranting and raving about her dreams and hopes of being in the Four Hundred and being in the very tip-top of Society (where she has always aspired and wanted to be, but could not due to Oliver and Annie) were dashed after the Count was humiliated by Annie and Oliver.

Oliver had finally told her that he wasn't a real count, but she didn't care (it was clear she never cared about him) and thusly didn't believe her husband's words, believing that he had been called "Count" in Paris, that MADE him the Count, as far as she was concerned.

So furious is she that she cannot see her dreams fulfilled, that she trashes the room she is in. She also plans to leave Oliver because of her irrational hatred of Annie.

This sets Mr. and Mrs. Warbucks to arguing over Annie once again. This makes the orphan feel very guilty about what happened, and in order to keep the peace and to prevent Mrs. Warbucks from leaving Oliver, Annie sadly writes Oliver a letter and she and Sandy both leave the house.

A worried Warbucks finds her letter and determinedly goes out to try to find his "daughter", after he berates Count de Tour (who doesn't leave after all) and his wife over their cruelty; their abuse and their villainy towards Annie.

When the false Count tries to step in and stop him from searching for Annie, this finally makes Warbucks finally lose what is left of his patience with both his wife and the interloping con-artist.

Warbucks angrily kicks him into a vase (leaving an imprint of his shoe on his backside) while berating him again for his brazen interfering, and he storms out the door, smashing the windows. He vows that when he and Annie returned, there would be changes made, and made sure his nasty wife knew that loud and clear.

After what seemed to be a fruitless search for many days, he would eventually find her in the snow; and after a good meal at a restaurant he knew, they go and pay a visit to their old friends, the Silos, where they would celebrate Thanksgiving.

Story formulas

The strip developed a series of formulas that ran over its course to facilitate a wide range of stories. The earlier strips relied on a formula by which Daddy Warbucks is called away on business and through a variety of contrivances, Annie is cast out of the Warbucks mansion, usually by her enemy, the nasty Mrs. Warbucks. Annie then wanders the countryside and has adventures meeting and helping new people in their daily struggles. Early stories dealt with political corruption, criminal gangs and corrupt institutions, which Annie would confront. Annie ultimately would encounter troubles with the villain, who would be vanquished by the returning Daddy Warbucks. Annie and Daddy would then be reunited, at which point, after several weeks, the formula would play out again. In the series, each strip represented a single day in the life of the characters. This device was dropped by the end of the '20s.

By the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the formula was tweaked: Daddy Warbucks lost his fortune due to a corrupt rival and ultimately died from despair at the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Annie remained an orphan, and for several years had adventures that involved more internationally based enemies. The contemporary events taking place in Europe were reflected in the strips during the 1940s and World War II. Daddy Warbucks was reunited with Annie, as his death was changed to coma, from which he woke in 1945.

By this time, the series enlarged its world with the addition of characters such as Asp and Punjab, bodyguards and servants to Annie and Daddy Warbucks. In world -trotting adventures, the characters traveled around the world, with Annie having adventures on her own or with her adopted family.


Annie is a 10-year-old orphan. Her distinguishing physical characteristics are a mop of red, curly hair, a red dress and vacant circles for eyes. Her catchphrases are "Gee whiskers" and "Leapin' lizards!" Annie attributes her lasting youthfulness to her birthday on February 29 in a leap year, and ages only one year in appearance for every four years that pass. Annie is a plucky, generous, compassionate, and optimistic youngster who can hold her own against bullies, and has a strong and intuitive sense of right and wrong.

Sandy enters the story in a January 1925 strip as a puppy of no particular breed which Annie rescues from a gang of abusive boys. The girl is working as a drudge in Mrs. Bottle's grocery store at the time and manages to keep the puppy briefly concealed. She finally gives him to Paddy Lynch, a gentle man who owns a "steak joint" and can give Sandy a good home. Sandy is a mature dog when he suddenly reappears in a May 1925 strip to rescue Annie from gypsy kidnappers. Annie and Sandy remain together thereafter.

Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks first appears in a September 1924 strip and reveals a month later he was formerly a small machine shop owner who acquired his enormous wealth producing munitions during World War I. He is a large, powerfully-built bald man, the idealized capitalist, who typically wears a tuxedo and diamond stickpin in his shirtfront. He likes Annie at once, instructing her to call him "Daddy", but his wife (a plumber's daughter) is a snobbish, gossiping nouveau riche who derides her husband's affection for Annie. When Warbucks is suddenly called to Siberia on business, his wife spitefully sends Annie back to the orphanage.

Other major characters include Warbucks' right-hand men, Punjab, an eight-foot native of India, introduced in 1935, and the Asp, an inscrutably generalized East Asian, who first appeared in 1937. There was also the mysterious Mister Am, a friend of Warbucks' who wore a Santa Claus–like beard and was of a jovial personality. He claimed to have lived for millions of years and even had supernatural powers. Some strips hinted that he may even be God.

Publication history

After World War I, cartoonist Harold Gray joined the Chicago Tribune which, at that time, was being reworked by owner Joseph Medill Patterson into an important national journal. As part of his plan, Patterson wanted to publish comic strips that would lend themselves to nationwide syndication and to film and radio adaptations. Gray's strips were consistently rejected by Patterson, but Little Orphan Annie was finally accepted and debuted in a test run on August 5, 1924, in the New York Daily News, a Tribune owned tabloid. Reader response was positive, and Annie began appearing as a Sunday strip in the Tribune on November 2 and as a daily strip on November 10. It was soon offered for syndication and picked up by the Toronto Star and The Atlanta Constitution.[1]

Harold Gray

Gray reported in 1952 that Annie's origin lay in a chance meeting he had with a ragamuffin while wandering the streets of Chicago looking for cartooning ideas. "I talked to this little kid and liked her right away," Gray said, "She had common sense, knew how to take care of herself. She had to. Her name was Annie. At the time some 40 strips were using boys as the main characters; only three were using girls. I chose Annie for mine, and made her an orphan, so she'd have no family, no tangling alliances, but freedom to go where she pleased."[1]

In designing the strip, Gray was influenced by his midwestern farm boyhood, Victorian poetry and novels such as Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, Sidney Smith's wildly popular comic strip The Gumps, and the histrionics of the silent films and melodramas of the period. Initially, there was no continuity between the dailies and the Sunday strips, but by the early 1930s the two had become one.[1] The strip (whose title was borrowed from James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem "Little Orphant Annie") was "conservative and topical", according to the editors of The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia, and "represents the personal vision" of Gray and Riley's "homespun philosophy of hard work, respect for elders, and a cheerful outlook on life". A Fortune popularity poll in 1937 indicated Little Orphan Annie ranked number one and ahead of Popeye, Dick Tracy, Bringing Up Father, The Gumps, Blondie, Moon Mullins, Joe Palooka, Li'l Abner and Tillie the Toiler.[2]

1929 to World War II

Gray was little affected by the stock market crash of 1929. The strip was more popular than ever and brought him a good income, which was only enhanced when the strip became the basis for a radio program in 1930 and two films in 1932 and 1938. Predictably, Gray was reviled by some for preaching in the strip to the poor about hard work, initiative, and motivation while living well on his income.

In 1935 Punjab, a gigantic, sword-wielding, beturbaned Indian, was introduced to the strip and became one of its iconic characters. Whereas Annie's adventures up to the point of Punjab's appearance were realistic and believable, her adventures following his introduction touched upon the supernatural, the cosmic, and the fantastic.[3]

In November 1932 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President and proposed his New Deal. Many, including Gray, saw this and other programs as government interference in private enterprise. Gray railed against Roosevelt and his programs. (Gray even killed Daddy Warbucks off in 1945, believing that Warbucks could not coexist in the world with FDR. But following FDR's death, Gary resurrected Warbucks, who said to Annie, "Somehow I feel that the climate here has changed since I went away."[4]) Annie's life was complicated not only by thugs and gangsters but also by New Deal do-gooders and bureaucrats. Organized labor was feared by businessmen and Gray took their side. Some writers and editors took issue with this strip's criticisms of FDR's New Deal and 1930s labor unionism. The New Republic described Annie as "Hooverism in the Funnies", arguing that Gray's strip was defending utility company bosses then being investigated by the government.[5] The Herald Dispatch of Huntington, West Virginia stopped running Little Orphan Annie, printing a front page editorial rebuking Gray's politics.[6] A subsequent New Republic editorial praised the paper's move,[7] and The Nation likewise voiced its support.[8]

First Little Orphan Annie Sunday page (November 2, 1924)

In the late 1920s, the strip had taken on a more adult and adventurous feel with Annie encountering killers, gangsters, spies, and saboteurs. It was about this time that Gray, whose politics seem to have been broadly conservative and 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. His hostility toward labor unions was dramatized in the 1935 story "Eonite". Other targets were the New Deal, communism, and corrupt businessmen.[9]

Gray was especially critical of the justice system, which he saw as not doing enough to deal with criminals. Thus, some of his storylines featured people taking the law into their own hands. This happened as early as 1927 in an adventure named "The Haunted House". Annie is kidnapped by a gangster called Mister Mack. Warbucks rescues her and takes Mack and his gang into custody. He then contacts a local senator who owes him a favor. Warbucks persuades the politician to use his influence with the judge and make sure that the trial goes their way and that Mack and his men get their just deserts. Annie questions the use of such methods but concludes, "With all th' crooks usin' pull an' money to get off, I guess 'bout th' only way to get 'em punished is for honest police like Daddy to use pull an' money an' gun-men, too, an' beat them at their own game."

Warbucks became much more ruthless in later years. After catching yet another gang of Annie kidnappers he announced that he "wouldn't think of troubling the police with you boys", implying that while he and Annie celebrated their reunion, the Asp and his men took the kidnappers away to be lynched. In another Sunday strip, published during World War II, a war-profiteer expresses the hope that the conflict would last another 20 years. An outraged member of the public physically assaults the man for his opinion, claiming revenge for his two sons who have already been killed in the fighting. When a passing policeman is about to intervene, Annie talks him out of it, suggesting, "It's better some times to let folks settle some questions by what you might call democratic processes."

World War II and Annie's Junior Commandos

As war clouds gathered, both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News advocated neutrality; "Daddy" Warbucks, however, was gleefully manufacturing tanks, planes, and munitions. Journalist James Edward Vlamos deplored the loss of fantasy, innocence, and humor in the "funnies", and took to task one of Gray's sequences about espionage, noting that the "fate of the nation" rested on "Annie's frail shoulders". Vlamos advised readers to "Stick to the saner world of war and horror on the front pages."[10]

When the US entered World War II, Annie not only played her part by blowing up a German submarine but organized and led groups of children called the Junior Commandos in the collection of newspapers, scrap metal, and other recyclable materials for the war effort. Annie herself wore an armband emblazoned with "JC" and called herself "Colonel Annie". In real life, the idea caught on, and schools and parents were encouraged to organize similar groups. Twenty thousand Junior Commandos were reportedly registered in Boston.[10]

Gray was praised far and wide for his war effort brainchild. Editor & Publisher wrote,

"Harold Gray, Little Orphan Annie creator, has done one of the biggest jobs to date for the scrap drive. His 'Junior Commando' project, which he inaugurated some months ago, has caught on all around the country, and tons of scrap have been collected and contributed to the campaign. The kids sell the scrap, and the proceeds are turned into stamps and bonds."[11]

Not all was rosy for Gray however. He applied for extra gas coupons, reasoning that he would need them to drive about the countryside collecting plot material for the strip. But an Office of Price Administration clerk named Flack refused to give Gray the coupons, explaining that cartoons were not vital to the war effort. Gray requested a hearing and the original decision was upheld. Gray was furious and vented in the strip, with especial venom directed at Flack, government price controls, and other concerns. Gray had his supporters, but his neighbors defended Flack in the local newspaper and tongue-lashed Gray. Flack threatened to sue for libel, and some papers cancelled the strip. Gray showed no remorse, but did discontinue the sequence.[10]

Gray was criticized by a Southern newspaper for including a black youngster among the white children in the Junior Commandos. Gray made it clear he was not a reformer, did not believe in breaking down the color line, and was no relation to Eleanor Roosevelt, an ardent supporter of civil rights. He pointed out that Annie was a friend to all, and that most cities in the North had "large dark towns". The inclusion of a black character in the Junior Commandos, he explained, was "merely a casual gesture toward a very large block of readers." African American readers wrote letters to Gray thanking him for the incorporation of a black child in the strip.[10]

In the summer of 1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt was nominated for a fourth term as President of the United States, and Gray (who had little love for Roosevelt) killed off Warbucks in a month-long sequence of sentimental pathos. Readers were generally unhappy with Gray's decision, but some liberals advocated the same fate for Annie and her "stale philosophy". By the following November however, Annie was working as a maid in a Mrs. Bleating-Hart's home and suffering all sorts of torments from her mistress. The public begged Gray to have mercy on Annie, and he had her framed for her mistress's murder. She was exonerated. Following Roosevelt's death in April 1945, Gray resurrected Warbucks (who was only playing dead to thwart his enemies) and once again the billionaire began expounding the joys of capitalism.[10]

Post-war years

In the post-war years, Annie took on The Bomb, communism, teenage rebellion and a host of other social and political concerns, often provoking the enmity of clergymen, union leaders and others. For example, Gray believed children should be allowed to work. "A little work never hurt any kid," Gray affirmed, "One of the reasons we have so much juvenile delinquency is that kids are forced by law to loaf around on street corners and get into trouble." His belief brought upon him the wrath of the labor movement, which staunchly supported the child labor laws.[10]

A London newspaper columnist thought some of Gray's sequences a threat to world peace, but a Detroit newspaper supported Gray on his "shoot first, ask questions later" foreign policy. Gray was criticized for the gruesome violence in the strips, particularly a sequence in which Annie and Sandy were run over by a car. Gray responded to the criticism by giving Annie a year-long bout with amnesia that allowed her to trip through several adventures without Daddy. In 1956, a sequence about juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, switchblades, prostitutes, crooked cops, and the ties between teens and adult gangsters unleashed a firestorm of criticism from unions, the clergy and intellectuals with 30 newspapers cancelling the strip. The syndicate ordered Gray to drop the sequence and develop another adventure.[10]

Gray's death

Leonard Starr's Little Orphan Annie

Gray died in May 1968 of cancer, and the strip was continued under other cartoonists. Gray's cousin Robert Leffingwell was the first on the job but proved inadequate and the strip was handed over to Tribune staff artist Henry Arnold and general manager Henry Raduta as the search continued for a permanent replacement. Tex Blaisdell, an experienced comics artist, got the job with Elliot Caplin as writer. Caplin avoided political themes and concentrated instead on character stories. The two worked together six years on the strip, but subscriptions fell off and both left at the end of 1973. The strip was passed to others and during this time complaints were registered regarding Annie's appearance, her conservative politics, and her lack of spunk. Early in 1974, David Lettick took the strip, but he left after three months. In April 1974, the decision was made to reprint Gray's classic strips, beginning in 1936. Subscriptions increased.[10]

Following the success of the Broadway musical Annie, the strip was resurrected in 1979 as Annie, written and drawn by Leonard Starr. Starr, the creator of Mary Perkins, On Stage, was the only one besides Gray to achieve notable success with the strip.

Upon Starr's retirement in 2000, he was succeeded by Daily News writer Jay Maeder and artist Andrew Pepoy, beginning Monday, June 5, 2000. Pepoy was eventually succeeded by Alan Kupperberg (2001–2004) and Ted Slampyak (2004–2010). The new creators updated the strip's settings and characters for a modern audience, giving Annie a new hairdo and jeans rather than her trademark dress. However, Maeder's new stories never managed to live up to the pathos and emotional engagement of the stories by Gray and Starr. Annie herself was often reduced to a supporting role and was a far less complex character than the girl readers had known for seven decades. Maeder's writing style tended to make the stories feel like tongue-in-cheek adventures compared to the serious, heartfelt tales Gray and Starr favored. Annie gradually lost subscribers during the 2000s, and by 2010, it was running in fewer than 20 U.S. newspapers.


On May 13, 2010, Tribune Media Services announced that the strip's final installment would appear on Sunday June 13, 2010, ending after 86 years.[12] At the time of the cancellation announcement, it was running in fewer than 20 newspapers, some of which, such as the New York Daily News, had carried the strip for its entire life. The final cartoonist, Ted Slampyak, said, "It's kind of painful. It's almost like mourning the loss of a friend."[13]

The last strip was the culmination of a story arc where Annie was kidnapped from her hotel by a wanted war criminal from eastern Europe who checked in under a phony name with a fake passport. Although Warbucks enlists the help of the FBI and Interpol to find her, by the end of the final strip he has begun to resign himself to the very strong possibility that Annie most likely will not be found alive. Unfortunately Warbucks is unaware that Annie is still alive and has made her way to Guatemala with her captor, known simply as the "Butcher of the Balkans". Although Annie wants to be let go, the Butcher tells her that he neither will let her go nor kill her — for fear of being captured and because he will not kill a child despite his many political killings — and adds that she has a new life now with him. The final panel of the strip reads "And this is where we leave our Annie. For Now—".

Since the cancellation, rerun strips have been running on the GoComics site.

Final resolution: Warbucks calls on Dick Tracy

In 2013, the team behind Dick Tracy began a story line that would permanently resolve the fate of Annie. The week of June 10, 2013, featured several Annie characters in extended cameos complete with dialogue, including Warbucks, the Asp and Punjab. On June 16, Warbucks implies that Annie is still missing and that he might even enlist Tracy's help in finding her.[14] Asp and Punjab appeared again in March 26, 2014. The caption says that these events will soon impact on the detective.[15]

The storyline resumed on June 8, 2014, with Warbucks asking for Tracy's assistance in finding Annie.[16] In the course of the story, Tracy receives a letter from Annie and determines her location. Meanwhile, the name of the kidnapper is revealed as Henrik Wilemse, and he has been tracked to the city where he is found and made to disappear. Tracy and Warbucks rescued Annie, and the storyline wrapped up on October 12.[17]

Annie again visited 'Dick Tracy', visiting his granddaughter Honeymoon Tracy, starting June 6, 2015.[18] This arc concluded Sept. 26 2015 with Dick Tracy sending the girls home from a crime scene to keep them out of the news.



Little Orphan Annie was adapted to a 15-minute radio show that debuted on WGN Chicago in 1930 and went national on NBC's Blue Network beginning April 6, 1931.[19][20] The show was one of the first comic strips adapted to radio, attracted about 6 million fans, and left the air in 1942.[19][20] Radio historian Jim Harmon attributes the show's popularity in The Great Radio Heroes to the fact that it was the only radio show to deal with and appeal to young children.[19]

1930s films based on the comic strip

Two film adaptations were released at the height of Annie's popularity in the 1930s. Little Orphan Annie, the first adaptation, was produced by David O. Selznick for RKO in 1932 and starred Mitzi Green as Annie. The plot was simple: Warbucks leaves on business and Annie finds herself in the orphanage again. She pals around with a little boy named Mickey, and when he is adopted by a wealthy woman, she visits him in his new home. Warbucks returns and holds a Christmas party for all. The film opened on Christmas Eve 1932. Variety panned it, and the New York Daily News was "slightly disappointed" with the film, thinking Green too "big and buxom" for the role.[10] Paramount brought Ann Gillis to the role of Annie in their 1938 film adaptation, but this version was panned as well. One reviewer thought it "stupid and thoroughly boresome" and was uncomfortable with the "sugar-coated Pollyanna characterization" given Annie.[10]

Three years after the RKO release, Gray wrote a sequence for the strip that sent Annie to Hollywood. She is hired at low wages to play the stand-in and stunt double for the bratty child star Tootsie McSnoots. Young starlet Janey Spangles tips off Annie to the corrupt practices in Hollywood. Annie handles the information with maturity and has a good time with Janey while doing her job on the set. Annie doesn't become a star. As Bruce Smith remarks in The History of Little Orphan Annie, "Gray was smart enough never to let [Annie] get too successful."[10]


In 1977, Little Orphan Annie was adapted to the Broadway stage as 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. The work has been staged internationally. The musical took considerable liberties with the original comic strip plot.

The Broadway Annies were Andrea McArdle, Shelly Bruce, Sarah Jessica Parker, Allison Smith and Alyson Kirk. Actresses who portrayed Miss Hannigan are Dorothy Loudon, Alice Ghostley, Betty Hutton, Ruth Kobart, Marcia Lewis, June Havoc, Nell Carter and Sally Struthers. Songs from the musical include "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard Knock Life". There is also a children's version of Annie called Annie Junior. Two sequels to the musical, Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge (1989) and Annie Warbucks (1992-93), were written by the same creative team; neither show opened on Broadway. There were many "bus & truck" tours of LIttle Orphan Annie throughout the United States during the success of the Broadway Shows one such Annie was red-headed Texan Shari Barker.

Film adaptations of the Broadway musical

In addition to the two Annie films of the 1930s, there have been three film adaptations of the Broadway play. All have the same title. They are Annie (1982); a made-for-television adaptation, Annie (1999); and Annie (2014).

The 1982 version was directed by John Huston and starred Aileen Quinn as Annie, Albert Finney as Warbucks, Ann Reinking as his secretary Grace Farrell, and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. The film departed from the Broadway production in several respects, most notably changing the climax of the story from Christmas to the Fourth of July. It also featured five new songs, "Dumb Dog", "Sandy", "Let's Go to the Movies", "Sign", and "We Got Annie", while cutting "We'd like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover", "N.Y.C", "You Won't Be an Orphan for Long", "Something Was Missing", "Annie", and "New Deal for Christmas". It received mixed critical reviews and, while becoming the 10th highest-grossing film of 1982, barely recouped its $50 million budget.

A direct-to-video film, Annie: A Royal Adventure! was released in 1996 as a sequel to the 1982 film. It features Ashley Johnson as Annie and focuses on the adventures of Annie and her friends Hannah and Molly. It is set in England during 1943, about 10 years after the first film, when Annie and her friends Hannah and Molly sail to England after Daddy Warbucks is invited to receive a knighthood. None of the original 1982 cast appear and the film features no musical numbers apart from a reprise of "Tomorrow".

The 1999 television film was produced for The Wonderful World of Disney. It starred Victor Garber, Alan Cumming, Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth, with Oscar winner Kathy Bates as Miss Hannigan and newcomer Alicia Morton as Annie. While its plot stuck closer to the original Broadway production, it also omitted "We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover", "Annie", "New Deal for Christmas", and a reprise of "Tomorrow." Generally favorably received, the production earned two Emmy Awards and George Foster Peabody Award.

Annie is a film was produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith. It stars Quvenzhané Wallis in the title role and Jamie Foxx in the role of Will Stacks (an update of Daddy Warbucks). It was released on December 19, 2014.

Parodies, imitations and cultural citations

Between 1936 and October 17, 1959, the comic strip Belinda Blue-Eyes (later shortened to Belinda) ran in the United Kingdom in the Daily Mirror. Writers Bill Connor and Don Freeman and artists Stephen Dowling and Tony Royle all worked on the strip over the years. In The Penguin Book of Comics Belinda is described as "a perpetual waif, a British counterpart to the transatlantic Little Orphan Annie."[21][22]

The strip also influenced Little Annie Rooney (Jan. 10, 1927-1966) and Frankie Doodle (1934-1938).

In 1995, Little Orphan Annie was one of 20 American comic strips included in the Comic Strip Classics series of commemorative U.S. postage stamps.

Little Orphan Annie lent itself easily to parody, which was taken up by both Walt Kelly in Pogo (as "Little Arf 'n Nonnie" and later "Lulu Arfin' Nanny") and by Al Capp in Li'l Abner, where Punjab became Punjbag, an oleaginous slob.

Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood satirized the strip in Mad #9 as "Little Orphan Melvin", and later Kurtzman produced a long-running series for Playboy, Little Annie Fanny, in which the lead character is a busty, voluptuous waif who continually loses her clothes and falls into strange sexual situations.

In The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Gilbert Shelton satirized the strip as "Little Orphan Amphetamine", who is a 1960s teenager who runs away from home, and after being scarred by a series of sexual experiences, returns only to tell "Daddy" that he is a "capitalist pig" who should "drop acid".

Children's television host Chuck McCann became well known in the New York/New Jersey market for his imitations of newspaper comic characters; McCann put blank white circles over his eyes during his over-the-top impression of Annie.

Little Orphan Annie was also parodied in an episode of the stop-motion television series Robot Chicken in which Little Orphan Annie fails to grasp the true meaning of a hard knock life when a fellow orphan shows that their lives are relatively decent compared to orphans around the world. Annie reappears in another episode as a vulgar, demanding, and spoiled teenager featured in a parodic documentary chronicling her preparations for her ostentatious upcoming sixteenth birthday celebration in a sketch lampooning reality programs based on the same concept. She quickly tires of her gift from Daddy Warbucks— the planet Mars— and soon winds up suffocating to death after losing her helmet while exploring the planet.

The 1980s children's television program You Can't Do That on Television in its later banned "Adoption" episode, parodied the character as "Little Orphan Andrea". Andrea, like Annie, sported curly red hair and a red dress but unlike her, was a very naughty orphan who had a habit of beating up other kids. A less well-known (or rather, notorious) example was the 'Daddy Fleshbucks' side-story from American Flagg!. The title was parodied in The Simpsons' episode Little Orphan Millie. In the early 1970s, a flavored ice treat for children called Otter Pops (with cartoon otters as flavored mascots such as "Alexander the Grape") featured a character dubbed "Little Orphan Orange."

In the 1983 film A Christmas Story, the main character Ralph is a fan of the Little Orphan Annie radio drama, listening to the show religiously while waiting for his Ovaltine decoder pin. Once he receives the pin, he anxiously copies the show's secret code, but is frustrated upon decoding it to Ovaltine's slogan "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine".

Rapper Jay-Z has referenced Little Orphan Annie in at least two of his songs,[23][24] as well as sampled "It's the Hard Knock Life" for "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)".

In the film Bad Teacher, Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) wears a "Little Orphan Annie's wig" when, pretending she is a journalist, she meets the state professor who is in charge of creating and distributing the exams forms, to seduce and put him to sleep. Her short tousled girlish hair-cut, along with the strict tailor-suit she dons, enhances her air of hidden perversion and makes it easy for her (with the help of a big glass of chardonnay mixed with two roofies) to put the professor on his knees. The wig is afterward missing from the school props box, and was much sought, before being retrieved in Elizabeth's drawer.

In medicine, "Orphan Annie eye" (empty or "ground glass") nuclei are a characteristic histological finding in papillary carcinoma of the thyroid gland.


Harold Gray's work is in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University. The Gray collection includes artwork, printed material, correspondence, manuscripts and photographs. Gray’s original pen and ink drawings for Little Orphan Annie daily strips date from 1924 to 1968. The Sunday strips date from 1924 to 1964. Printed material in the collection includes numerous proofs of Little Orphan Annie daily and Sunday strips (1925–68). Most of these are in bound volumes. There are proofsheets of Little Orphan Annie daily strips from the Chicago Tribune-New York Times Syndicate, Inc. for the dates 1943, 1959–61 and 1965–68, as well as originals and photocopies of the printed versions of Little Orphan Annie, both daily and Sunday strips.[25]

Episode guide


  1. Little Orphan Annie (1925 strips, reprinted by Dover and Pacific Comics Club)
  2. In the Circus (1926 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  3. Haunted House (1927 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  4. Bucking the World (1928 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club and in Nemo # 8)
  5. Never Say Die (1929 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  6. Shipwrecked (1930 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  7. A Willing Helper (1931 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  8. In Cosmic City (1932 strips, reprinted by Dover)
  9. Uncle Dan (1933 strips, reprinted by Pacific Comics Club)
  1. The Sentence, 1925 strips
  2. The Dreamer, strips from January 22, 1926 to April 30, 1926
  3. Daddy, strips from September 6, 1926 to December 4, 1926.
  4. The Hobo, strips from December 6, 1926 to March 5, 1927.
  5. Rich Man, Poor Man, strips from March 7, 1927 to May 7, 1927.
  6. The Little Worker, strips from October 8, 1927 to December 21, 1927.
  7. The Business of Giving, strips from November 23, 1928 to March 2, 1929.
  8. This Surprising World, strips from March 4, 1929 to June 11, 1929.
  9. The Pro and the Con, strips from June 12, 1929 to September 19, 1929.
  10. The Man of Mystery, strips from September 20, 1929 to December 31, 1929.

Considering both Cupples & Leon and Pacific Comics Club, the biggest gap is in 1928.

  1. Will Tomorrow Ever Come? (daily strips, August 1924 – October 1927)
  2. Darkest Hour is Just before the Dawn (daily strips, October 1927 – December 1929; Sundays 1928)
  3. And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them (daily strips, December 1929 – December 1931; Sundays April, 1930 – December 1931)
  4. A House Divided (or Does Fate Trick Trixie?) (dailies and Sundays, January 1932 – July 1933)
  5. The One-way Road to Justice (dailies and Sundays, July 1933 – February 1935)
  6. Punjab the Wizard (dailies and Sundays, February 1935 – September 1936)
  7. The Omnipotent Mr. Am (dailies and Sundays, October 1936 – June 1938)
  8. The Last Port of Call (dailies and Sundays, June 1938 – February 1940)
  9. Saints and Cynics (dailies and Sundays, March 1940 – November 1941)
  10. Junior Commandos (dailies and Sundays, November 1941 - August 1943)
  11. Death Be Thy Name (dailies and Sundays, August 1943 - April 1945)
  12. It's Only a Paper Moon (dailies and Sundays, April 1945 - January 1947)
  13. Spies and Counter Spies (dailies and Sundays, January 1947 - August 1948)

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Gray Harold (2008). The Complete Little Orphan Annie Volume One: Will Tomorrow Ever Come? Daily Comics 1924–1927. IDW Publishing. pp. 23–7. ISBN 978-1-60010-140-3.
  2. Young, William H. & Nancy K. (2007). The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Greenwood. pp. 107, 297–8.
  3. Gray, Harold; Heer, Jeet (2010). Punjab and Politics. The complete Little Orphan Annie Volume Six: Punjab the Wizard Daily and Sunday Comics 1935–1936. IDW Publishing. pp. 5–13. ISBN 978-1-60010-792-4.
  4. "Big Deals: Comics’ Highest-Profile Moments," Hogan's Alley #7, 1999
  5. Neuberger, Richard L. (July 11, 1934). The New Republic: 23. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. Clendenin, James. Herald Dispatch: 1. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. "Fascism in the Funnies". The New Republic: 147. September 18, 1935.
  8. "Little Orphan Annie". The Nation. October 23, 1935.
  9. Cagle, Daryl. "The New Deal Kills Daddy Warbucks".
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Smith, Bruce (1982). The History of Little Orphan Annie. Ballantine Books. pp. 43–63. ISBN 0-345-30546-9.
  11. Monchak, S. J. (September 19, 1942). "War Work of the Cartoonists: Cartoonists Important Factor In Keeping Nation's Morale". Editor & Publisher.
  12. Rosenthal, Phil (May 13, 2010). "Annie left a homeless orphan in newspaper world". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  13. McShane, Larry (May 13, 2010). "'Little Orphan Annie' comic canceled by Tribune Media Services". Daily News. Retrieved February 9, 2011.
  19. 1 2 3 Harmon, Jim (2001). The Great Radio Heroes. McFarland. pp. 82–5. ISBN 978-0-7864-0850-4.
  20. 1 2 Mitchell, Claudia A., and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh (Eds.) (2007). Girl Culture: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood. p. 402.
  21. Perry, George; Aldridge, Alan (1967). The Penguin Book of Comics. Penguin.
  22. Lambiek
  23. "Brooklyn (Go Hard)"
  24. "Dirt off Your Shoulder"
  25. "Boston University: Howard Gotlieb Archive Research Center: Harold Gray Collection".
  26. "IDW's The Complete Little Orphan Annie Begins in February", IDW Publishing press release via, June 25, 2007

Further reading

External links

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