Homeless again: ‘Little Orphan Annie’ loses syndication deal after 85 years

May 13, 2010 | 7:21 p.m.

Little Orphan Annie

A sad surprise today with news that “Annie” will lose her comics strip on June 13. It’s sad because the strip dates back to 1924 and it’s surprising because, well, who knew someone was still publishing “Annie”? Here’s the toon obit from the Associated Press with links added by me.

The iconic redheaded orphan Annie is ending her time on newspaper comics pages after 85 years.

Tribune Media Services announced Thursday that it will cease syndication of the “Annie” strip on June 13.

The company said in a news release it is taking Annie into the Internet age by pursuing new audiences for her in digital media.

The comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” made its newspaper debut on Aug. 5, 1924, first written and illustrated by creator Harold Gray.

The strip later was renamed simply “Annie.” The spunky orphan was adopted by Daddy Warbucks and later joined by her lovable dog Sandy. Annie is known for wearing a red dress with white collar and cuffs. Over decades she has become the center of a radio program, Broadway musical and movies.

Here’s the very first strip featuring the blank-eyed waif who became a sensation during the Coolidge administration:

Little Orphan Annie


And here’s one of the recent strips, which is produced by Jay Maeder and Ted Slampyak:

Little Orphan Annie


And here’s a musical moment from the 1982 movie:

And the hip-hop classic that echoed it:

— Geoff Boucher


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7 Responses to Homeless again: ‘Little Orphan Annie’ loses syndication deal after 85 years

  1. Ishi Ishmael says:

    It's good to see a little background on Annie, but how much more there is. Harold Gray, Annie's cartoonist, was from West Lafayette, IN. This is one of the places where the nomadic "Tribe of Ishmael" passed by on their annual tour. They went by the Indiana villages of Mecca and Morocco,as well as the Illinois ville of Mahomet(but they weren't Muslim–they were more like Shriners in that sense.) They wintered in Indianapolis. The landmark Sterilization Law of Indiana(1907) targeted these clans, among others. We believe that Gray saw the last caravan go by(they did that route throughout the 19th century.) The real orphan that James Whitcomb Riley wrote his famous poem, "Little Orphant Annie," about was an Ishmael girl, Mary Alice Smith(Riley called her a "little gypsy from Indiana's wild country" in his memoirs.)
    Some of our group are descended from the "tribe." We've created a show of 22 songs about the whole story, and Annie is one of the main threads. We say let her go digital. Do you know that Sir Paul McCartney owns the musical Annie now? Billions have been made off her legacy, but when we went to her gravesite in Greenfield, IN, we had to pull a carpet of mowed grass from the tombstone to read the plaque. Talk about being buried by history!
    -Ishi Ishmael

  2. Brigette Cook Jones says:

    It is sad that the “Annie” comic strip is leaving the newspapers and going digital. One age ends and another begins.
    I am a historical researcher and a writer from Greenfield, IN – which is the hometown of Mary Alice (Smith) Gray who was James Whitcomb Riley’s inspiration for “Little Orphant Annie.” Harold Gray’s creation was loosely based on Riley’s character.
    I would like to gather more information on Gray’s inspiration for creating the Annie character. I am aware of the folklore story – that he originally created the character as a boy, “Little Orphan Otto,” but his publisher said that the boy “looked like a sissy, and “to put a skirt on the kid and change the name.” I’ve also read that Gray was somewhat inspired by some picture that “has hung in a Philadelphia Art Gallery for years.” However, I have not been able to determine the veracity of either of these stories.
    As far as I can tell there is no familial relationship between Harold Gray and Mary Alice Gray. However, I do know that Harold Gray did live in West Lafayette and graduated from Purdue – and there was some Smith family members living in the area at about the same time. Any connection???
    As far as Mary Alice (Smith) Gray – I can say with definite fact that she was from a family who came upon some very hard times. I have talked to descendants of the family and have been in the home where she lived with her husband and raised her family. I have a lot of documentation on this family and have also tracked their whereabouts through census records.
    Her family were land owners and hard workers. Her father served in the Civil War – receiving an honorable discharge. She herself lived with her grandmother here in Hancock County as a child before her grandmother became to ill to take care of her, and she was passed along to her Uncle who brought her to the Riley Home to work for her board and keep. Her uncle was also entering the Civil War and had a large family of his own to care for – he needed to find a place for his niece so that she would not be an additional burden on his own family. Reuben Riley, James Whitcomb Riley’s father, agreed to the arrangement to take Mary Alice in and to care for her. She was never “stolen” or removed from a faraway settlement -as some people would like to claim. Nor was she a traveler or a gypsy.
    You have to be careful in using today’s interpretations in looking at history, and trying to bring your own interpretations into something that has no historical fact.
    As for her grave – you can visit it today – – it is very well kept – – and numerous people visit it every year. It is located on U.S. 40 in the little town of Philadelphia, which is located between Greenfield and Indianapolis. To look at pictures of her grave site and the historical marker on the site go to http://www.findagrave.com and input Mary Alice Gray’s name in the search parameters.
    Would love to hear any further information on Harold Gray and his life in West Lafayette and his early years at the Chicago Tribune.
    My intent is to write a book about the Orphan Annie characters – – and all of the movies (there were 4), the musical, the radio program, etc.
    Brigette Cook Jones

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