Little Orphan Annie's Giant Legacy; the Little Cartoon Waif Helped Reshape 20th-Century Conservatism

Article excerpt


On June 13, the comic strip Annie - or, as it used to be known, Little Orphan Annie - will conclude an impressive 85-year run in the funny pages.

Unfortunately, very few people will see or read the final panels. While Annie inspired a popular Broadway musical, Hollywood movie and radio and TV programs, the once-legendary strip is carried by fewer than 20 newspapers today. For fans and occasional readers, it's a sad ending to an important piece of Americana.

But they're not the only ones who should mourn the passing of Annie. Those of us on the right of the political spectrum also should pay homage to the strip's historical role in promoting capitalism, a free-market economy and political conservatism to a wider audience.

Annie's creator, Harold Gray, was once described by comics historian Coulton Waugh as Republican and conservative to his toenails. During the Great Depression, the cartoonist was a fierce opponent of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. He detested labor unions and communism. He railed against corruption in all aspects of society, especially Big Business.

Gray eventually morphed his political and economic philosophies into his creation. As noted by Richard Marshall in the book America's Great Comic Strip Artists, "Annie's homilies and examples of self-reliance and realistic optimism struck a chord with millions of readers who formed a fanatical and loyal corps of followers "But it went much deeper than that. Marshall also wrote that Annie became a"personalized creation in which [Gray's] own voice obviously predominated, yet one that featured a succession of characters and situations so vivid as to move adherents to tears and detractors to impotent fury over events in the 'lives' of mere paper actors."

This is especially true with respect to one of Gray's main characters, Oliver Daddy Warbucks. Liberals and socialists typically viewed him as a tough, greedy businessman who would crush his enemies like bugs. Meanwhile, conservatives and right-leaning liberals often regarded Warbucks as a successful, hardworking financial tycoon. …