10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Orphan Annie

Tribune Media Services
Tribune Media Services

From 1924 to 2010, cartoonist Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie comic strip presented the adventures of a plucky young girl with empty pupils who fell in and out of trouble at home and abroad while endearing herself to her adopted family. You’ve probably seen one of the many stage or screen musicals based on the strip, but you may not know some of the details behind Annie’s tenure in newspapers. Check out some facts about her origin, concerns over the strip’s violence, and which president pushed "Daddy" Warbucks into an early grave. (You can also check out our list of facts on the 1982 Annie feature film here.)

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY LITTLE ORPHAN OTTO.

Harold Gray was originally a hired pencil, owning and operating an art studio in Chicago following his service in World War I. After Gray began assisting cartoonist Sidney Smith on a strip titled The Grumps, Gray decided he might like to try his hand creating his own. Believing a character who had no allegiance to family or society would free them up for adventures, he decided to make his protagonist an orphan. Originally a young boy named Otto, Gray decided to switch genders when he realized that of the 43 strips running at the time, only three featured women in prominent roles. Little Orphan Otto became Little Orphan Annie, entering syndication in 1924.

2. ANNIE WAS A FIGURE OF FEMALE EMPOWERMENT.

In stark contrast to the portrayal of women in popular culture of the time, Annie was no damsel in distress. Though she found a guardian in rich industrialist Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, her tendency to get caught up in criminal schemes or political intrigue meant she was often in physical danger. But Annie was resourceful and wily, and usually able to extricate herself from those situations without needing to be rescued. Annie, wrote historian Elizabeth Maurer, was “neither ladylike nor cute ... she was the antithesis of Shirley Temple ... While she frequently ends up in dicey situations, she usually saves herself.” 

3. SHE PIONEERED MARKETING TO KIDS.

Tie-in merchandising and marketing to children is commonplace today, but the template for it may have been laid down by Annie’s first foray into multimedia. In 1930, the Little Orphan Annie radio program debuted, bringing with it a unique strategy of marrying entertainment with corporate messaging. The show was sponsored by Ovaltine and written by its advertising executives, who concocted several ways to get listeners to pick up the chocolate drink mix. Box tops could be mailed in and redeemed for Annie decoder rings and shake cups, the equivalent of an Avengers Big Gulp today.

4. HAROLD GRAY USED THE COMIC STRIP TO DELIVER POLITICAL PROPAGANDA.

A staunch conservative, Gray often used the powerful platform he had as a widely distributed cartoonist to comment on the politics of the day. Opposed to government interference in private financial affairs, in 1936 he ran a series of strips in which "Daddy" Warbucks is harassed by “political racketeers” and denounces virtually anyone holding public office. Newspaper editors were not pleased, claiming Gray was being too subversive for the funny pages. West Virginia's Huntington Herald-Dispatch pulled the strip and replaced it with a banner that read: “Deleted! For violation of reader trust!” The syndicate soon circulated word that Gray would be starting a new story, one free of any political subtext.

5. SOMETIMES THE STRIP GOT TOO VIOLENT FOR NEWSPAPERS.

One might not normally associate Little Orphan Annie with controversial content, but the carrot-topped crime-solver sometimes found herself pushing the envelope a little too far. For a 1956 story in which Annie runs afoul of a vicious street gang, papers including the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Ohio State Journal suspended the strip for depictions of muggings, knives, and other unsavory content. Annie returned to their pages only after her dalliances with juvenile delinquents had come to an end.

6. THE STRIP GOT SUPERNATURAL.

In the 1930s, Gray attempted to make Annie’s adventures slightly more escapist for readers mired in the Depression. When Annie would get into scrapes, sometimes accomplices like the eight-foot-tall Punjab would appear, throwing a magic blanket over crooks and teleporting them into unknown planes of existence. Annie later met Mr. Am, a bearded sage who could apparently enter other dimensions and bring the dead back to life.  

7. SHE MADE A DIFFERENCE DURING WORLD WAR II.

Annie’s efforts in wartime weren’t limited to the comics pages. While she sunk a German submarine and foiled spy rings, kids longing to become one of her “Junior Commandos” made their mark in the real world by collecting scrap for the government. Even something as simple as kitchen fat could be repurposed to make glycerin, which had applications in both medicine and explosives. Gray was apparently so pleased with his character’s influence that he asked for extra gasoline coupons during the fuel ration. The local board turned down his request.

8. "DADDY" WARBUCKS DIED BECAUSE GRAY HATED FDR.

Gray could never stay away from his thinly-veiled political commentary for long. A stubborn opponent to president Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the cartoonist was astonished to learn FDR was aiming for a fourth presidential term in 1944. By way of protest, Gray had Annie’s benefactor, “Daddy” Warbucks, die of a mysterious illness—one some readers suspected was death by way of being a capitalist hero. But when FDR himself passed away in 1945, Warbucks miraculously recovered after Gray revised his fate to being in a coma. The character said that “the climate here has changed since I went away,” a clear reference to new leadership in the Oval Office.

9. THE BROADWAY MUSICAL GAVE IT NEW LIFE.

After Gray died in 1968, Little Orphan Annie was passed to a series of successors, including former assistant Tex Blaisdell and cartoonist David Lettick. But their efforts proved unpopular, and Annie originals left the comics pages in 1974: Reruns of Gray's work took up residence on newspaper pages. When the 1977 Broadway adaptation became a smash hit, interest in the strip was revived. Artist Leonard Starr took over the strip in 1979, restoring it to much of its former popularity. Starr retired in 2000.

10. THE STRIP ENDED ON A CLIFFHANGER.

Contemporary times were not kind to Annie, who was appearing in less than 20 newspapers in 2010, when Tribune Media Services announced the strip's cancellation. Readers were left with a cliffhanger ending, with Annie captured by a war criminal dubbed the Butcher of the Balkans. The story was resolved in 2014, when Dick Tracy—another Tribune strip—continued "Daddy" Warbucks’s search for his missing adoptee. The trench-coated detective found her alive and well. She continues to appear sporadically in the Tracy strip, still devoid of any pupils.

Turn Your LEGO Bricks Into a Drone With the Flybrix Drone Kit

Flyxbrix/FatBrain
Flyxbrix/FatBrain

Now more than ever, it’s important to have a good hobby. Of course, a lot of people—maybe even you—have been obsessed with learning TikTok dances and baking sourdough bread for the last few months, but those hobbies can wear out their welcome pretty fast. So if you or someone you love is looking for something that’s a little more intellectually stimulating, you need to check out the Flybrix LEGO drone kit from Fat Brain Toys.

What is a Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit?

The Flybrix drone kit lets you build your own drones out of LEGO bricks and fly them around your house using your smartphone as a remote control (via Bluetooth). The kit itself comes with absolutely everything you need to start flying almost immediately, including a bag of 56-plus LEGO bricks, a LEGO figure pilot, eight quick-connect motors, eight propellers, a propeller wrench, a pre-programmed Flybrix flight board PCB, a USB data cord, a LiPo battery, and a USB LiPo battery charger. All you’ll have to do is download the Flybrix Configuration Software, the Bluetooth Flight Control App, and access online instructions and tutorials.

Experiment with your own designs.

The Flybrix LEGO drone kit is specifically designed to promote exploration and experimentation. All the components are tough and can totally withstand a few crash landings, so you can build and rebuild your own drones until you come up with the perfect design. Then you can do it all again. Try different motor arrangements, add your own LEGO bricks, experiment with different shapes—this kit is a wannabe engineer’s dream.

For the more advanced STEM learners out there, Flybrix lets you experiment with coding and block-based coding. It uses an arduino-based hackable circuit board, and the Flybrix app has advanced features that let you try your hand at software design.

Who is the Flybrix LEGO Drone Kit for?

Flybrix is a really fun way to introduce a number of core STEM concepts, which makes it ideal for kids—and technically, that’s who it was designed for. But because engineering and coding can get a little complicated, the recommended age for independent experimentation is 13 and up. However, kids younger than 13 can certainly work on Flybrix drones with the help of their parents. In fact, it actually makes a fantastic family hobby.

Ready to start building your own LEGO drones? Click here to order your Flybrix kit today for $198.

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This App Lets You Download Free E-Books, Magazines, Comic Books, and Audiobooks From Your Library

boggy22, iStock via Getty Images
boggy22, iStock via Getty Images

Even if your local library is closed during the novel coronavirus outbreak, you can still use your library card in quarantine. As Thrillist reports, Libby is an app that works with local libraries to give you free access to audiobooks, e-books, comic books, and magazines wherever you are.

Libby, an app from the digital reading company Overdrive, is connected to 90 percent of public libraries in North America. To use the app, just enter the information from your library card and start browsing digital titles available through your local branches. If you don't have a library card yet, some participating libraries will allow you to sign up for a digital card in the app. That way, you don't have to leave home to start reading.

As more people are looking for e-books and audiobooks to pass the time at home, Overdrive has made it possible for multiple users to check out the same title at once. That means as more libraries shift to a 100 percent online loan system for the time being, it will be easier to meet their patrons' needs.

No matter what your current literary mood may be, you should have no trouble finding something to read on Libby. Downloadable titles from the New York Public Library currently available through the app include the e-book of Becoming by Michelle Obama, the e-book of Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, and the audiobook of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. After you download a book, you can send it to your Kindle device, and all items are automatically returned on their due date. Download the free app today to start browsing.

[h/t Thrillist]