If you have seen the Broadway play, watched the movie, or caught the comic strip on a daily basis, it is probably hard to say goodbye to the little red-haired orphan girl named Annie but, after eighty-six years, as of Sunday, June 13, 2010, the comic strip Annie will no longer appear in daily newspapers.
Little Annie has been around a long time, as have her cast of characters that included Daddy Warbucks (so named because he made his bucks during the war- that is World War I), Punjab, the Asp, Mr. Am, Tom Short, and a long list of nefarious guys and gals out to get either Annie or Warbucks.
Initially appearing during the Roaring Twenties, Annie was the poor girl who got a big break: a really big break. She is adopted by Warbucks and gets away from the hard-knock life to live in a palace on Fifth Avenue. She brings along her faithful dog Sandy, who was loyal and could always be counted on for an "Arf" when the situation called for it.
My father remembers when Annie first appeared in the newspaper (the New York Daily News) as Little Orphan Annie when he was a kid. It seemed to become immediately popular, as the story of a little poor girl wandering the streets, living a tough life, and then getting lucky enough to be adopted by a wealthy man struck a chord in the public.
Dad also hit on what I think is the key to Annie's long-term popularity: despite Annie's good fortune, she never loses her down to earth personality and cares about the people and the place from whence she came. As the comic was first geared to little kids, he recalled that sometime during the Depression the story got more serious (no doubt because of the times), and Annie was thrown into a series of perils and long periods of separation from her "Daddy."
As she wandered the roads and towns of America looking for a way home, vagabond Annie survived by using her wits, lots of pluck, and sometimes the kindness of strangers. The comic strip certainly represented what was for many people at that time a real life experience because so many families lost their homes and were out on their own. It also appealed to kids especially as the fantasy that seemed a lot like their own.
In the 1970s Annie became a hit Broadway musical and gave many young actresses a chance to play the part and become famous (including Andrea McArdle and Sarah Jessica Parker). It was a tremendous success and eventually a movie would be made in 1982 starring Albert Finney as Warbucks and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. In 1999 a TV movie with Victor Garber and Kathy Bates in those roles premiered, and that version has become a family favorite (I can't count how many times my daughter has watched it).
Through it all Annie remained the sweet but tough little girl who managed to escape an orphanage, fight her way out of scrapes, stay on the run (whether by train, car, boat, bus, or just walking) and eventually find a way back into the arms of the "Daddy" who loved her.
One of the things I liked about Annie over the years was the adventurous nature of the strip. Usually over breakfast, I read the paper and the comics, while most of them are mildly amusing, they did nothing to satisfy my need for some action. Annie gave me that little adventure everyday, whether she was crossing the roads of America, getting mixed up with gangsters, or trying to help those less fortunate than herself. I looked forward to seeing that comic strip every morning, and now it is gone.
Sadly, Annie ends with a sort of cliffhanger, which I guess is apropos for a comic strip that very well could have been called The Perils of Annie. Annie is in the clutches of The Butcher of the Balkans, and he has escaped with her on a boat and is on the run. As her "Daddy" does everything he can to find her, she is stuck with a killer who will not harm her because she is a child. The strip ends with the words, "And this is where we leave our Annie. For now –"
Well, in a world where we can see last episodes showing Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) fade to black and Jack Bauer of 24 have to go off on the run, it just could be the fitting end the little red-haired heroine of the comics deserved.
Annie will be remembered fondly by children and adults and even senior citizens like my Dad who was a child when he first read the comic strip. Besides the movies and merchandise that will always be available, there is a promise of a new Broadway production of Annie to come our way sometime in the future. Will the show pick up where the strip left off? Will Annie find a way back to the "Daddy" who loves her? "Gee whiskers!" I wish I had the answers, but I have a feeling that we will be seeing her hugging her dog and Warbucks by the time the final curtain falls.