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Little Orphan Annie is a comic strip created by Harold Gray in 1924. The original version ran through 1974 (with everything after Gray's death in 1968 done by other authors); Leonard Starr resurrected it in 1979, when the Broadway play took off.
In the strip, plucky redheaded orphan Annie is taken in by self-made millionaire "Daddy" Warbucks, the world's richest bald person. Since there's only so many ways of doing "Thieves try to steal the Warbucks millions" and "Kidnappers try to steal Annie so they can get their hands on the Warbucks millions", Annie would often be separated from her protector for months at a time, living on the streets again and bringing sunshine into the lives of struggling small-businessmen, honest laborers, and little old ladies with evil bank-managers.
The strip spun off two films: one in 1932 by RKO, starring Mitzi Green as Annie, and the other in 1938 by Paramount, starring Ann Gillis. Both flopped big time at the box office.
A radio show titled Adventure Time with Little Orphan Annie also was spun off from the comic strip. From 1930 to 1943, children were able to join Annie's secret society and encouraged to drink their Ovaltine (even in their Secret Society Decoder Pins!). Shirley Bell did the voice of the popular orphan for most of the show's run, until Janice Gilbert took over the role in the last year or two of the radio shows run.
In 1972, Martin Charnin bought the rights to the comic strip. With Thomas Meehan and Charles Strouse, he created the Broadway musical Annie in 1977. For more about it and its spin-offs (including the 1982 film), see Annie.
The strip ended its 86-year run in June 2010.
The comic strip includes examples of:
- Action Girl: Annie can fight as well as any boy. April 7, 1936, she decks the toughest kid in school with one punch.
- Amoral Attorney: Mr. Busard.
- Anti-Villain: In late February, 1936, a robber seeing Annie walking along the road makes her get into his car. The reason he gives is that he wants to give her a ride, but it's really in order to use her as protection if the police sees him; they wouldn't shoot at him if there's a risk of killing an innocent girl. He's impressed by the way she won't accept the stolen money he tries to give her, and says that he "could have been that way once, maybe... But it's too late now..." In the end, he tells her to leave him even though he knows that it will vastly increase the risk that the police kills him.
The robber: "I'm not going to take any more chances o' letting you get hurt. I'm not that bad. I'm still man enough to meet my finish alone."
- Applied Phlebotinum: Eonite.
- Art Evolution: The reason why Annie no longer sports an afro.
- Artifact Title: She was an orphan at first, but she got adoptive parents quite soon.
- Badass Grandpa: Jack Boot might not look like a fighter, but he can take out a hired killer that's armed with a knife. Using his bare hands. When he's attacked from behind.
- Big Damn Heroes: "Daddy" Warbucks gets one when he saves Annie from the Ghost Gang.
- Big Fancy House: A reliable way of telling how well off "Daddy" Warbucks is at the moment is by if he currently lives in one.
- Blackface: Annie dons it to play an African princess in a movie.
- Blank White Eyes: Annie, constantly and once-famously.
- Blatant Lies: Mr. Updown tells some to make Annie come with her to Hollywood.
- Blind Musician: "Uncle" Dan might not be able to see, but he sure can play that violin!
- Butt Monkey: Trixie Tinkle is the butt of many a joke.
- Call Back: In the Hollywood arc of 1935, Annie's time working in the circus is mentioned several times, even though Gray usually didn't mention old story arcs once they were over.
- Canine Companion: Sandy.
- Comic Book Time: Eighty years on, she's still little. And not in a Miniature Senior Citizens way either. To her credit, she seems to have made it into the late teen years. There is actually a canon explanation for this: Annie was born on leap year day, so she only ages one year for every four years that pass. Though that would still make her at least thirty.
- Conveniently an Orphan: Amazingly enough, subverted. She gets adopted fairly quickly. Sure, she might have no idea where her biological parents are, but she's no more an orphan than any other adopted child. And considering that her "Daddy" Warbucks looking for her is a recurring theme, this trope is definitely subverted hard.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Not Warbucks, but many of the villains. Mr. Slugg is a good example.
- Deserted Island: Annie and Spike Marlin are stuck on one for a number of weeks.
- Diabolus Ex Machina: Pretty much every story line ends with a sudden negative twist that prevents Annie from settling down to live happily ever after, and sets up the next arc: an old stand-by is that Annie is reunited with Warbucks after being kidnapped, but Warbucks loses all his money in the process. The next arc would then deal with him getting his fortune back. One of Harold Gray's mandates to his successors was that no storyline should ever end happily.
- Downer Ending:
- The comic strip ends with Annie, having survived being fed to sharks by drug dealers, being taken in by a war criminal on the run from The Hague. He tells her that her "new life" with him will consist of hiding from the authorities in a South American slum. Her beloved "Daddy" Warbucks meanwhile, has had a Heroic BSOD upon learning of Annie's apparent demise with it implied that he truly believes that she's dead.
- The eonite arc can't be said to end all that happily either, although it could have been worse.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Whoo boy, where to start?
- "Daddy" Warbucks had a slightly pointier head, and was an old man with a big nose, once he did appear which didn't happen right away.
- Annie was more innocent and naïve.
- Sandy wasn't even there to start with.
- Annie had a beloved doll named Emily Marie. Later on, she wasn't exactly the kind of girl who'd cherish a doll, though she didn't dislike them exactly.
- Easy Evangelism: If you're not convinced by Annie after hearing her speak about something, you're not a good person.
- Embarrassing First Name: Cuthbert Jones.
- Enemy Mine: Annie decides that while she might not like the corrupt Phil O. Bluster, she needs to work with him to help "Daddy" Warbucks.
- Evil Debt Collector: Mr. Pinchpenny, who has his sights set on the Futiles.
- Extra! Extra! Read All About It!: Annie says this kind of thing during the period when she works as a newspaper salesperson.
- Fall Guy: When Z.Z. Hare steals Warbucks' money that was going to be used to pay off Warbucks' debts, people assume that Warbucks had Hare hide the money, even though poor old Warbucks is really the Fall Guy chosen by Hare's partner in crime, who knew Warbucks would be blamed.
- Fiery Redhead
- Funny Foreigner
- The Great Depression: It hits "Daddy" Warbucks as hard as anyone.
- Gold Digger: Trixie Tinkle.
- Happily Adopted
- Heartwarming Orphan: Come on. Take a guess at who it is.
- Informed Ability: Z.Z. Hare's reliability. He betrays people in the strip several times, but never shows any signs of being reliable. And we're told that he's stood by Warbucks in good times and bad, but we've seen Warbucks be in a lot of trouble over the years, and Hare was nowhere to be seen.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ma Green.
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: The only way you can read most of the Leonard Starr strips. One book of them was published over 20 years ago, but it only contained two arcs (less than a year's worth of strips) from the very beginning.
- Kick the Dog: Trixie Tinkle does it literally. Poor Sandy.
- Kid Detective: She's dabbled in it.
- Limited Wardrobe: Warbucks in his tuxedo, Annie in her red dress.
- Lampshaded in a strip in which Annie, in direct address to the readers, informs them that she wears that dress because she likes red, that she has a lot of dresses, and they're all red.
- Averted in both movies based on the play, where she wears other clothes, although in the 1982 version, there are two red dresses.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: There's Annie, "Daddy" Warbucks, Sandy, Mrs. Warbucks, Miss Asthma, "Uncle" Dan, Flophouse Bill, Wun Wey, Mr. Kolossal, Janey Spangles, Trixie Tinkle, Charles C. Chizzler, Mr. Slugg, Claude Claptrap, Eli Eon, Punjab, the Ghost Gang, Jack Boot, Doc Lens, Jake, Pee Wee the elephant, Mr. Silo, Mrs. Silo, Tony, Spike Marlin, Ma Green, Pat, Fred Free, George Chiselopolis, Z.Z. Hare, Phineas Pinchpenny, Tom Take, Libby Bleek, Boris Bleek, Tootsie Snoots, Mr. Snoots, Mrs. Snoots, "Gold Brick" Jack, Mr. Updown, Cuthbert Jones, Henry Morgan, Phil O. Bluster, Mr. Futile, Mrs. Futile, George Gamble.... Should we go on? Because we've only just begun. There are far more characters that have appeared than these ones.
- Loyal Animal Companion: Sandy, of course.
- Meaningful Name: There were lots of them. Here are a few examples:
- Mr. Busard, that vulture of a lawyer.
- "Daddy" Warbucks, who's got bucks earned in the war.
- Mr. Futile, who considers effort pointless since you're sure to fail anyway.
- The stingy Mr. Pinchpenny.
- Miss Treat, who does that to all the children in the reformatory where she works.
- Chizzler, who cheats Annie and Dan of their earnings.
- The Messiah: Anybody who wasn't inspired to be a better person after five minutes with Annie was probably completely irredeemable.
- No Ending: The final strip ends on a cliffhanger, with the last panel saying this is where we leave Annie ... 'for now'. Meaning that the story might be continued in another medium. (There are rumors that they're going to continue it on the Internet.)
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- Mr. Trance, who ruins what would have been Annie's big movie and break-through as an actress, is based on David O. Selznick, a director who Gray felt ruined the RKO Little Orphan Annie movie. And to be fair, it was Selznick who slashed the movie's budget.
- Claude Claptrap, the orator and rabble-rouser from the eonite arc, was based on George Norris, a senator who often worked with the Roosevelt administration.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Annie's way of keeping Mr. Bleek from the fact that she knows that he's the leader of the Ghost Gang.
- Obfuscating Insanity: Eli Eon isn't mentally ill, but he doesn't mind it if people assume that he is.
- Orphan's Ordeal: The aforementioned scenes of Annie separated from "Daddy" Warbucks, living on the streets.
- The Pollyanna: Averted with Annie, who's generally positive but still fells down when things go badly.
- Put on a Bus:
- Warbucks, very frequently. Always brought back.
- When Annie first went to live with "Daddy" Warbucks, he had a wife, but after a while she was in a boat accident with him. Having woken up alone after the accident he went to search for her, leaving Annie behind, and when he returned to the strip he spent all his energy on finding Annie, and his wife was never mentioned again.
- Trixie Tinkle.
- Remember the New Guy?: After several years with many trials and tribulations for Annie and "Daddy" Warbucks, we're introduced to Z.Z. Hare, who apparently has always stood by Warbucks, in good times and hard. Even though Warbucks had been in a lot of trouble several times by then, and Hare hadn't been around.
- Scary Black Man: Warbucks' bodyguard, Punjab.
- Spin-Off: Ma Green got her own comic strip after a while.
- Socialite: Trixie Tinkle certainly wants to be one.
- Spoiled Brat: Tootsie Snoots.
- Street Musician: Annie and "Uncle" Dan work as this for a while in the summer of 1933.
- Take That: Gray was fond of them.
- One particularly interesting one is the several times that people who are cheating "Daddy" Warbucks sing "Happy Days Are Here Again," which was FDR's signature song from the 1932 election. It was a subtle jab at the New Deal, of which Gray was no fan.
- In one strip, Annie's reading a letter to the editor in a newspaper. It's a complaint about how comic strips should stick to being funny. (There had been real-life complaints about how Little Oprhan Annie was too serious.) Annie comments that there's nothing wrong with a comic that doesn't just try to deliver another stale gag every day.
- Uncle Pennybags: Warbucks.
- Unexpected Inheritance: A welcome economic break for "Uncle" Dan.
- Wealthy Ever After
- What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous?: When Annie and an Italian-American immigrant friend of hers named Tony are watching a parade, Tony asks a man next to him to take his hat off when the American flag is passing by. The man in the hat refuses, so Tony hits him in the head. For wearing a hat.
- Wham! Episode: The strip for January 17, 1934.
- Wham! Line: "Is it kidnaping for a man and wife to speak to their own daughter? from January 17, 1934.
- Writer on Board : Gray had strong right-wing political and economic opinions that were frequently visible in the strip. To the point where Annie is happy to stay out of the government-sponsored orphanages and suffer on the streets, so she doesn't "sponge off taxpayer money". Somewhat ironically, the musical is something of a Homage to the New Deal-as-period-set-dressing.
- Yellow Peril: Averted with Wun Wey, who's a good friend of Warbucks.
- You Just Told Me: Annie wants to find out if Jack Boot is the one who gave the Jones family the money they needed to keep their farm. This is how she does it:
Annie: It sure was nice of you, "Uncle" Jack, helping the Joneses save their farm.
"Uncle" Jack: Eh? Hm-m... Well, they're deserving people. They don't seem to figure the world owes them anything they don't work for.
Annie: Then you did do it. I knew it! I knew it!
The radio series includes examples of:
- Merchandise-Driven: The radio show was an early example of the trope, as anyone who's seen the lengthy Shout-Out / Take That in A Christmas Story should know.
- Product Placement: Drink your Ovaltine!