“Gee whiskers!” – How Annie Got Her Groove Back and Became a Pop Culture Icon

We all know that Annie has become so embedded in our pop culture that we can’t imagine a world without her, but how did she get there? We were curious, too, so we’ve put together some Annie pop cultural history to get you all caught up before your Thanksgiving outing with her. (Don’t worry, there’s no quiz.)

1. Annie as a classic comic, 1924 – 2010

Annie the Musical | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

Harold Gray’s beloved orange-headed, white-eyed Little Orphan . . .Otto?? That was Annie’s original incarnation. Long story short, Otto became Annie, became famous, and became Gray’s vehicle for pointed social and political commentary for decades. Quite a bit more hard-hitting and to the point than her Broadway persona, the rest of Little Orphan Annie: A Comic Strip Story is worth a read to get the true gist of Gray’s critical work.

2. Annie as a radio serial, 1930 – 1942

Annie the Musical | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

A spin-off of Gray’s comic strip, the Little Orphan Annie radio drama was a hit when it moved to the NBC airwaves in the early ’30s. Because there were no coast-to-coast networks yet, the drama had two separate casts—Chicago and San Francisco.

And! It had a theme song. . .

Who’s that little chatter box?
The one with pretty auburn locks?
Whom do you see?
It’s Little Orphan Annie.

She and Sandy make a pair,
They never seem to have a care!
Cute little she,
It’s Little Orphan Annie.

Bright eyes, cheeks a healthy glow,
There’s a store of healthiness handy.
Mite-size, always on the go,
If you want to know – “Arf,” goes Sandy.

Always wears a sunny smile,
Now, wouldn’t it be worth a while,
If you could be,
Like Little Orphan Annie?

Inevitably, this leads us to . . .

3. “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!” – A Christmas Story, 1983

“For you  members of the secret circle. . .” Little Orphan Annie’s radio drama did feature a secret circle decoder ring, but the ciphered messages were usually hints about the next episode, not plugs from Ovaltine, the show’s sponsor. During this period, Annie merchandise exploded to anything and everything you could think of.

4. Annie on Broadway, 1977

This original production is what we have to thank for “Tomorrow” and “It’s a Hard Knock Life” worming their way into our heads and hearts. With Andrea McArdle as Annie, this production was nominated for eleven Tony awards of which it won seven, including Best Musical, Best Score, and Best Book. Not to mention all of the revivals and international productions it sparked.

5. Annie “The Movie of Tomorrow,” 1982

Annie the Musical | The Long center for the Performing Arts

Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, Bernadette Peters, Aileen Quinn, and the list goes on. . .Whatever your opinion of Annie, this rendition remains a big one.

6. Adventure Annie, 2000s

Annie the Musical | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

Yes—this is a real thing. With changing interests (among other things) comic Annie began to dwindle as the newspaper syndicate tried to modernize it. Not a hit, but we appreciate that she got to wear a pair of jeans, for once.

7. Annie, Redux 2014

Annie the Musical | The Long Center for the Performing Arts

This Annie launched the orphan story into the digital age with new songs, new beats, and new twists, but to mixed reviews. Quvenzhané Wallace, breakout firecracker of Beasts of the Southern Wild, was still nominated for a Golden Globe, though.

8. “Little Orphan Millie” and other Annie tales.

Annie the Musical | The Long center for the Performing Arts

From The Simpsons, to Saturday Night Live, to late night—Annie and her songs have remained a staple reference in television, film, and beyond. I think it’s safe to say that she’s not leaving pop culture behind any time soon.

If you’re never fully dressed without a smile, then it looks like ANNIE is where you need to be this Thanksgiving weekend!

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