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Happy to Annie
    by Heather Tomasello

Today marks the anniversary of the Broadway debut of the musical Annie. As a kid, I was introduced to this scrappy orphan not throught the play but the 1982 movie version, with the unforgettable Carol Burnett as mean Ms. Hannigan and the child star Aileen Quinn playing Annie. Like so many 10-year-old girls, I didn't just love the story, I lived it. I had the red dress, I had the locket, and suddenly my red curly hair was not a liability but an asset. I wanted my very own Sandy but my mother put her foot down. I exclaimed Leapin Lizards! 1000 times a day until, again, my mother put her foot down. I imagine mothers must do that a lot with red, curly-haired girls.

Of course, Little Orphan Annie was a cultural icon before the movie or Broadway Play. She made her debut in The New York Daily News on August 5, 1924, the product of the pen of cartoonist Harold Gray. Gray developed the idea for a strip featuring a spunky orphan while working as an assistant to Sidney Smith, creator of The Gumps. Few fans realize that Annie was nearly an Otto. Gray originally envisioned the character as a boy, but was counseled by Daily News owner Captain Joseph Paterson that there were enough boy comic characters in the world and so Annie was born.

The wide-eyed twelve-year-old s adventures reflected America during the Great Depression and World Wars I and II. As a heroine she was resourceful, independent, and always rewarded for her hard work and gumption. Gray produced the immensely popular strip until his death in 1968 and in 1979, Leonard Starr revived the series, which he renamed Annie. He stepped down in February 2000 and Annie again received a makeover when artist Andrew Pepoy and writer Jay Maeder took over the strip Instead of her trademark red dress and MaryJanes, the Annie for the new millennium sports jeans, a red t-shirt, and platform sneakers. But the duo insists that her character and personality haven't changed, and she is still accompanied by her faithful dog Sandy and still exclaims, "Leapin' Lizards!"

Annie 's endurance over the years speaks to the universality of her story and its place at the heart of the American ethos -- that someone with nothing more than a bit of scrap, a bit of spunk can succeed, and that even on the darkest days one can look for the sun to shine brightly . . . tomorrow.


Copyright 2005 Heather Tomasello

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."