“Who’s that little chatter box? The one with pretty auburn locks?
Whom do you see? It’s Little Orphan Annie!”
Well, you won’t be seeing her much longer, it seems. After 86 years, the newspaper comic feature will run it’s final Sunday strip on June 13th, 2010, according to Tribune Media Services. (The daily strip is also ending, presumably the 12th.)
The Chicago-based news and features syndication service decided to cancel the iconic comic, which was running in fewer than 20 newspapers — including the ones owned by their parent the Tribune Company, The Chicago Tribune, The LA Times, The Baltimore Sun and others—and papers they were formerly associated with, such as The New York Daily News.
The current creative team of writer Jay Maeder and artist Ted Slampyak are said to have left the strip’s last panel as a cliffhanger, showing Annie caught in a tangle with “the Butcher from the Balkans”.
However, Tribune’s press release indicates Annie’s adventures may not be over.
Steve Tippie, vice president for TMS Licensing and New Market Development said: “Over the years, Annie has generated an enormous amount of international awareness and affection through three generations—children and their parents and grandparents—and now it’s time to go where this new base of Annie fans finds their entertainment.
Our emphasis going forward will be on bringing her more in line with current pop culture and shaping her development as a property that appeals to children and adults on a whole new level. We plan to grow Annie’s popularity by introducing her to new generations of audiences through new media and licensing applications.”
Little Orphan Annie began her run on August 5th, 1924. The character was created by Harold Gray, who drew or was closely involved with the strip until his death in 1968.
The plucky waif was adopted by Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, who was fairly humorous at first—with a wife that didn’t much care for Annie. She soon disappeared, and as the strip shifted from humor and melodrama, readers saw that Warbucks was a self-made man, (though a war profiteer and likely arms dealer), and adventurer— occasionally with a lethal vigilante streak.
The giant Punjab was enlisted to served as bodyguard to both Warbucks and Annie, joined later by the somewhat sinister Asian aide-de-camp, the Asp.
Mild science fiction and fantasy elements appeared over the years, such as the strange character Mister Am, a friendly bearded fellow who was possibly possesed of supernatural powers and immortal.
The comic strip spun off a long-running radio series in 1930 —actually, two or three distinct shows, beginning with Adventure Time with Orphan Annie. The lead character was played by Shirley Bell (on and off for ten years), Floy Hughes (live West Coast version with different cast for the first three years), and Bobbie Dean, generally on NBC’s Blue Network.
Sponsored for years by Ovaltine, Annie and her pal Joe Corntassel got into local scrapes while tended by Mr. & Mrs. Silo. When Daddy Warbucks took her along on trips, the redhead encountered pirates and other exotic dangers all around the world.
After getting dropped by the drink mix in favor of the more exciting Captain Midnight, a new Mutual Network series began in 1940 with Janice Gilbert as Annie, now the sidekick of aviator Captain Sparks — named for the new sponsor, Quaker Puffed Wheat Sparkies.
Little Orphan Annie left the air in 1942.
The first film adaptation of the comic strip was RKO’s LITTLE OPRPHAN ANNIE (1932), with Mitzi Green in the titular role and slow-burn comedian Edgar Kennedy as Daddy Warbucks. Paramount’s hard to find 1938 LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE starred Ann Gillis.
1977 saw the hit Brodway musical ANNIE, starring Andrea McArdle, and later Sarah Jessica Parker, among others. The song Tomorrow, by composers Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin has become a standard.
John Huston (THE MALTESE FALCON) directed the 1982 film adaptation. It starred Alieen Quinn, Albert Finney as Daddy Warbucks, Geoffrey Holder as Punjab, and Carol Burnett.
There has been a TV sequel, ANNIE: A ROYAL ADVENTURE (1995), and a TV re-make of the musical ANNIE (1998).
Perhaps Annie will survive her latest peril, she’s a escaped many a close scrape before.