The sun’ll come out tomorrow, but Little Orphan Annie won’t be there to see it come up in the morning. After 86 years, the daily comic strip about the plucky redhead and her dog, Sandy has come to an end.
Harold Gray created the strip and was its writer and artist from 1924 to 1968. During the Depression, the story of the feisty, independent-spirited orphan captivated newspaper readers. It became a popular radio show and Annie merchandise included everything from books and dolls to piggy banks, tea sets, board games, and, as anyone who has ever watched “A Christmas Story” knows, a decoder ring. Decades later, a musical based on the comic strip was one of the biggest box office hits in Broadway history. Several of its young stars went on to careers in show business including Sarah Jessica Parker. There is even a documentary called Life After Tomorrow about the girls who played Annie and the orphans and what happened to them while they were in the show and after they outgrew the role.
The musical later became a movie with Albert Finney as Annie’s adoptive father Daddy Warbucks and Carol Burnett as the cruel Miss Hannigan, and was remade for television. In 1977, Leonard Starr of “On Stage” took over the strip, retitled “Annie.” Under his direction, it received the National Cartoonist Society’s Story Comic Strip Award in 1983 and 1984. Starr retired in 2000 and the cartoonists who followed were not able to continue at his level. The fading appeal of comic strips and the struggles of print newspapers led the syndicate to announce its cancellation.
Little Orphan Annie survived the Depression, WWII, the Cold War, Watergate, and the dot.com bubble. She began just four years after American women got the vote and six years after the end of World War I. Gray, Starr, and all those who worked on the strip created a cultural touchstone that will continue through future generations. A junior version of the musical is performed frequently in elementary schools. Somewhere, someone is singing “Tomorrow.”