I have to say, I’ve never been all that into Annie. I never read the comic, lumping it together with Prince Valiant and other boring pseudo-historical bits. Never heard the radio show, except for following Ralphie’s slight obsession in A Christmas Story. Never entirely saw the musical/movie, finding the incessant, nasal optimism to stray a bit too far from my own sarcastic cynicism in the Vast Spectrum of Positivity. All in all, I found her irritating, and just plain unrealistic. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, it is damn near impossible to be that f!@#$%& happy all the time.
(Okay, so maybe my disgruntled behavior is fueled by the fact that some schmuck of a director passed up on casting me as Annie (or any orphan for that matter) in our 6th grade adaptation of Annie, Jr. Whatever. You still can’t deny the fact that the damn song makes you want to strangle orphans every time you hear it. Don’t lie.)
In any case, I still can’t help but find myself mourning the final run of Little Orphan Annie after 85 adventurous years. Annie, forever a beam of sunshine and hope, was even touted in 1943 by the now-defunct Coronet Magazine as “more of a heroine than Joan of Arc, more tragic and appealing than Helen of Troy, and far more real than the current glamour girl to 50,000 people of assorted sizes and shapes and of all ages.” Wow.
Harold Gray created the strip in 1924 originally as “Little Orphan Otto,” but was eventually informed by the Chicago Tribune’s (or New York Daily News’s, depending on what you read) Joseph Patterson that “he looks like a pansy. Put skirts on the kid.” So apparently skirts it had to be, and she was named for Joseph Whitcomb Riley’s poem of the same name.
Gray, a staunch conservative, began the strip as fun and games for kids, taking Annie to see the circus and other such amusements until a few years in when Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, Annie’s supposed caretaker, started to resemble and even represent Gray himself. The pair, but mostly just Annie and her dear dog friend Sandy, had multitudinous adventures with and against crooks, politicians and even Nazis. “Daddy” and Annie both aided the WWII effort by (respectively) disappearing for random missions, and joining the local Junior Commandos, or JCs, and reforming the nearest group each time she moved around, dubbing herself a Colonel. (The strip was so influential that it was even said that so many as 20,000 kids in the Boston area joined the JCs during Annie’s “service!”)
Gray truly let his colors show when in 1944, in the event of FDR’s 3rd reelection, he killed off “Daddy” Warbucks, claiming he could no longer live in the current climate. However, at the passing of Roosevelt, Warbucks was magically revived like a character from As The World Turns because things had finally changed. Many papers and people boycotted the strip over the years, even going so far as to call it “fascism in the funnies.” Contrast this with the 1945 newspaper strike, when NYC mayor Fiorello La Guardia even read the strip over the radio, so as to keep the city from missing out on Annie’s adventures, and all in all you have a very tempestuous love affair between Annie and America.
Throughout all of this, though it may look a bit one-sided, there still seems to be a healthy balance between this chunk of Conservativism and a fairly legitimate brand of Conserva-Feminism. Annie fights for her country the best that she can (being a perpetual 12-year-old girl and all) and gets/finds herself in all sorts of trouble, and somehow manages to always find her way out. As writer Susan Houston has put it, “Annie was, and always shall be, one of the quintessential American heroes: a seemingly weak little girl, who had the ability to endure hardship and uncertainty with hope and hard work and strength of character.”
I really can’t help but realize now that what I know of Annie as a perky little biatch is really starting to transform into more of a beacon of positivity in all adverse conditions, and really just a pretty decent personal hero and role model. I mean, being a lowly intern moving to NYC from various tiny towns in Pennsylvania, I can’t help but project myself a little into Houston’s comment about Annie “arriv[ing] in a small town/big city… without resources/money/strength/friends.” Hello, ladies and gentlemen; welcome to my life.
I don’t know, even if the most current writer Jay Maeder claims that he “like[s] to think of Annie as the Fox News Channel of the funny papers” (yep, I totally threw that out there) I still can’t help but feel some sort of kinship, even if it is a poor ginger-to-pseudo-ginger kind of thing. Regardless I still realize that there are plenty of particulars up for debate when it comes to the content of the strip as a whole. Somehow I still find myself able to separate and distinguish between content and the very basic message of the thing. She’s a fighter, and so am I; so are we.
What do you think? How do you feel about Annie? Do Gray’s, and potentially the other writers/illustrators, views deter you from the loveable, wide-eyed (or empty-eyed, depending on how you want to see it) redhead’s stories? Are you also still a bit bitter about missing the boat on being beloved by all, slapping on a matted Halloween clown wig and donning a little red dress and Mary Janes on the weekends? Or furthermore, did you just completely forget the strip existed? Let us know in the comments below.
[photo: idwpublishing.com, info: Susan Houston's article, Little Orphan Annie: The War Years 1939-1945, Little Orphan Annie Wiki, FOX News, NPR]