I have an endless fascination with fictional characters who experience long lives and evolutions through by being expounded upon by different artists who keep the character alive and transforming through generations. As surprising as it may seem, few characters really emulate as thoroughly as Little Orphan Annie, whose history is surprisingly longer and more interesting than you might have thought.
When folks think of the famous Little Orphan Annie they almost always hum ‘Tomorrow’ and other songs from the famous 1977musical. A few will point out that the musical is based off the long running and at one time enormously popular daily comic strip. However, Little Orphan Annie is actually a product of the Victorian era, although she was born in the states, in Indiana.
The original incarnation of Annie was as an 1885 poem by James Whitcomb Riley entitled The Elf Child.
He based the poem on a 12 year old orphan girl who lived with him and his family while he was growing up. The girl, Mary Alice Smith, known as Allie to everyone was orphaned when her father died as a soldier in the American Civil War. Riley’s father was also a soldier in the war and when his mother discovered the poor girl’s plight she insisted the girl be brought in to live with the Rileys.
Allie worked alongside the family to earn her keep and in the evenings told the other children stories. It is this image the poem centers on.
The poem gained some popularity and in 1897 for its third printing Riley decided to change the title from The Elf Child to Little Orphant Allie. However the printing house miscast the type and instead of using Allie’s name cast it as Little Orphant Annie. Riley tried to get them to change it, but the poem’s popularity was taking off and the Annie name was becoming widely known, so he let it go.
The poem uses a midwestern accent, one used by residents of Indiana, and indeed James Whitcomb Riley was known as the Hoosier poet for his prevelant use of this accent in his poetry.
The poem begins by introducing Allie, well, Annie now, and in the following verses she tells the children various morality tales about bad children who meet their fearsome fate.
- Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
- An’ all us other children, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
- Ef you
- Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
An’ when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wuzn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an’ roundabout:–
- An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’ one, an’ all her blood-an’-kin;
An’ wunst, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks wuz there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
- An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- Ef you
- An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,-You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
- After the renaming of the poem to Little Orphant Annie the poem became nationally famous. It even became a silent film in 1918. i would LOVE to post some footage of it here, but i cannot find any actual footage online.
- The next true evolution of Annie occurred in 1915 however, when writer Johnny Gruelle was presented an old rag doll by his young daughter Marcella. He drew a face on it and when she asked for a name, pulled out a book of poems by Riley and saw the poem Little Orphant Annie. He thus named the doll Raggedy Ann.
- Raggedy Ann became a sensation. First the doll was produced and then in 1918 Gruelle began writing books about the doll’s adventures. In 1920 he introduced a companion doll and book of stories to go along with him, Raggedy Andy. He went on to write over 35 books about the pair, although the exact number is contested as beginning in the 1940s it is accepted that as grulle began writing less and less Raggedy Ann and Andy books, the publishing house Saalfield would ghost write books and throw Gruelle’s name on it for authenticity.
- The dolls are STILL being produced today. My sister had a Raggedy Ann and Andy doll when she was a girl and in 2012 toy giant Hasbro has signed for a new line of plush Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.
- However, a very interesting note on this, Gruelle’s daughter Marcella died at age 13 after receiving a smallpox vaccine at school without her parent’s permission. There has been speculation that the vaccine was infected although other doctors blamed a heart defect.Gruelle and his wife blamed the vaccine. Gruelle became an outspoken proponent of the anti-vaccination movement and Raggedy Ann for years was used as an anti vaccine symbol.
- We will end here for today. Thanks for stopping by, little urchins!