15 Hard-Knock Facts About Annie

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Little Orphan Annie has been a part of American pop culture for nearly a century now—first as a comic strip which made its debut in the summer of 1924, then as a popular radio show in the 1930s, which spun off into a couple of film productions later in that decade and a hit Broadway musical in 1977. Though the musical version has been adapted to the big-screen a few times over the years, most recently in 2014, the 1982 version—starring Aileen Quinn as the titular orphan—is the best known big-screen version. On the 35th anniversary of its release, here are some things you might not have known about Annie.

1. AT THE TIME, IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MUSICAL EVER MADE.

Though the final budget varies from source to source, most agree that it cost about $40 million to produce Annie, with a large part of that budget (about $9.5 million) spent on buying the rights to the popular 1977 Broadway play the film was based on. There were also the not insubstantial costs of advertising the film and producing prints, which, according to a 1982 edition of the Los Angeles Hollywood Examiner, were around $9 million. Unfortunately, the movie’s revenue didn’t even come close to recouping its expenses.

2. THE CREATOR OF THE ANNIE MUSICAL HATED THE MOVIE.

Getty Images

Martin Charnin, conceiver, director, and lyricist of the Broadway hit, had nothing good to say about what producer Ray Stark and director John Huston did to his play. When he sold the rights, he relinquished all creative control. The result, Charnin told the Hartford Courant, was this: “Warbucks, played by Albert Finney, 'was an Englishman who screamed.' Hannigan, played by Carol Burnett, was 'a man-crazy drunk.' And Annie was 'cute-ed up.' Worse, the emotional relationship between Annie and Warbucks was distorted. They even downplayed the hit song "Tomorrow'' because 'Stark thought it was corny.'"

3. JOHN HUSTON WAS HIRED TO DIRECT BECAUSE OF HIS SIMILARITIES TO DADDY WARBUCKS.

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If you wanted darkness, grit, and intrigue in your film, you got John Huston to direct it. The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Beat the Devil, ... Annie? Huston was an odd choice, but producer Stark insisted. To Stark, the grizzled, then-76-year-old director was the embodiment of Daddy Warbucks, the gruff billionaire who shouts, “I love money, I love capitalism! I do not and will not ever love children!” (Of course there is also the rumor that Huston only agreed to do such a far-flung project because he was desperate for money.)

4. ALBERT FINNEY WAS HARDLY THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY DADDY WARBUCKS.

While Bette Midler was the first choice to play Miss Hannigan (a role that went to Carol Burnett), there were many actors ahead of Albert Finney on the Daddy Warbucks lineup. Finney had Hollywood experience, but the stage was more his realm. Reportedly, Sean Connery was approached, but didn’t want to appear bald. Even Cary Grant, who would have been in his late 70s at the time and hadn’t made a movie since 1966, was asked.

5. “EASY STREET" WAS ORIGINALLY A HUGE, OUTDOOR NUMBER.

The first incarnation of the show-stopping “Easy Street” was literally performed in a street, with the three enthralling villains of the film—Miss Hannigan (Burnett), Rooster (Tim Curry), and Lily (Bernadette Peters), displaying their joyous greed against a backdrop of dozens of dancing street vendors. After it was shot, Huston decided it wasn’t intimate enough and, more importantly, the setting distracted from the three enormous personalities at the center of it. Burnett, Curry, and Peters were more interesting to watch just by themselves than in a whole studio full of performers. (You can see some grainy bits from the original version here.)

6. THE RE-SHOOT OF "EASY STREET" WAS MILDLY COMPLICATED BY BURNETT'S CHIN SURGERY.

After primary shooting, Carol Burnett underwent surgery to correct her overbite and align her jaw. When she was called back to re-shoot “Easy Street,” she had a new face.  As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, she told her director about her concerns. "Mr. Huston," she remembered saying, "Two months ago, when I went into the closet, I didn't have a chin."

"Dear," he responded, "just come out looking determined."

7. NEW JERSEY'S GOVERNOR SIGNED A LAW TO ALLOW CHILDREN IN THE CAST TO WORK AT NIGHT.

Annie

’s climactic scene was partly shot on the Passaic River’s NX railroad drawbridge, which had been abandoned in the raised position in 1977. The scene called for Annie to climb the bridge like a ladder with Rooster following in a murderous rage. All of this took place in the dead of night, and New Jersey's child labor laws prohibited children employed in making films from working after 11:30 p.m. and before 7 a.m. More night hours would be needed to complete the shoot, and the state government was accommodating, with Governor Brendan Byrne helicoptering to the set to sign a bill amending the law, which now allows the Commissioner of Education “the authority to amend the hours of the day during which a minor may work but not the total hours.”

8. THERE WERE AROUND 500 DIFFERENT PRODUCT TIE-INS FOR THE FILM.

Annie

’s merchandising began three years before the film was released. Producer Ray Stark knew that the whole world was anticipating his movie, and he intended to use that interest toward a licensing boom. Tie-ins included contracts with Crayola, Random House, Marriott hotels, Sears Roebuck & Co., Knickerbocker Toys, Procter & Gamble, and Ken-L-Ration dog food. The products would include umbrellas, wigs, lunch boxes, dog accessories, a Parker Brothers board game, a line of Marvel Comics, Annie ice cream, Annie cookies, Annie designer jeans, and hundreds more.

9. AROUND 8000 GIRLS AUDITIONED TO PLAY ANNIE.

Two years before the film version, Aileen Quinn was in the Broadway production of Annie. She was a “swing orphan,” meaning she was trained to play any of the orphans except Annie (who, at the start of Quinn’s tenure, was Sarah Jessica Parker). Auditions for the film began in 1980 and took an entire year.

The casting director had a clever way to speed the process along, according to PBS's “Lights, Camera, Annie!” Annie hopefuls lined up and each girl sang a part of “Tomorrow,” with the next girl picking up where the last left one off. Quinn was called back eight times until the production team was totally convinced she was the perfect combination of grit and sweetness. “I was completely in shock," Quinn remembered. "I didn’t believe it until the casting agent showed me the production schedule, and I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s when I believed it!"

10. FINNEY HAD LITTLE EXPERIENCE WITH SONG AND DANCE.

Finney was a trained Shakespearean stage actor and widely regarded for his dramatic roles. He’d only ever sang and danced once before in a performance, in the 1970 musical Scrooge. As a crotchety Scrooge, his singing and dancing came out more like cleverly inflected growls and splay-footed leaps. Annie didn’t require him to become Baryshnikov with the voice of Pavarotti, but it did call for ballad singing and a tap dance routine.

"One of my favorite memories of him is [Albert] learning to really sing for the first time," Quinn said. "He did that beautiful version of 'Maybe' ... As he was taking singing lessons on the set, I can remember him with a cigar out of his mouth and going 'la la la la la la la,' pause, 'la la la la la la la.'" This, plus Finney’s habit of putting bottle caps under his loafers to practice his tap routine, thoroughly charmed the 10-year-old Quinn. "He was, like, in it to win it ... so adorable."

11. THE WARBUCKS MANSION WAS A REAL HOUSE, BUT ONLY BRIEFLY.

It was hard to find the right place for Oliver Warbucks to call home. Many of the grandest homes of the Gilded Age had been turned into museums, and the others had been overly featured in other movies and on television. Then Huston found Shadow Lawn, a 130-room New Jersey palace built in 1927 for Hubert Templeton Parson, the then-president of Woolworths. It was designed by Horace Trumbauer and his assistant Julian Abele, considered by some to be the first African American architect in America.

Within 10 years, Parson went broke and his home was appropriated by the city. After that, according to The New York Times, it served as a military academy, a military hospital, and a school for girls, but never again as a private home. In the 1950s, Monmouth College bought the mansion and its 108 acres, and it remains a part of the school's campus today.

12. AILEEN QUINN USED TO TEACH AT THE UNIVERSITY THAT OWNS THE “WARBUCKS” MANSION.

Years after filming her performance in Annie, Quinn returned to the scence of her childhood stardom when she began teaching at Monmouth University. According to a 2012 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

"A couple years before I started teaching, I went there for a big fundraiser to help them raise money for education. So I went back for the first time and actually got very emotional. It’s that staircase that does it. After I gave my speech they had me go up the stairs and I sang “Tomorrow." That was so surreal. I was walking down that staircase again, and even though they had tables set up for the gala, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my god, that’s where I karate chopped and that’s where I was on his shoulders.” I actually was flashing back, and that got our wheels spinning: this is an obvious match. There were some conversations afterwards and they asked if I would be interested in teaching, and I said I would actually love that. Next thing I knew, I was teaching a theater course. 

13. THE "ORIGINAL" ANNIE MOVIE WAS NOT THE FIRST BIG-SCREEN INCARNATION OF THE LITTLE ORPHAN.

As even the most casual fan of A Christmas Story knows, Annie was a radio program before it was a movie (and she wanted you to drink your Ovaltine). But that wasn’t even close to the beginning of America’s relationship with the sassy Little Orphan Annie. The original Annie as we know her appeared in a comic strip started in 1924 by Harold Gray. It was going to be “Little Orphan Otto,” but a friend convinced Gray to change it based on James Whitcomb Riley’s even older 1885 poem “Little Orphant Annie,” which in turn was based on a real orphan child living with the Riley family, Mary Alice Smith.

The comic strip ran for decades and limped along for about 40 more years after Gray’s death. Annie of the comics was Nancy Drew crossed with Dick Tracy; she spent a lot of her time fighting Nazis and uncovering communist plots. And those round, empty eye sockets? Those were on purpose, according to Gray. “The blank eyeballs served to enhance reader involvement with the strip: not seeing what is going on in the eyes of the characters, readers could impose their own fears and concerns into the narrative.”

In the 1930s, two Annie adventure movies were made. The Broadway play released in 1977 was the most successful incarnation of Annie since her days of being shot at by gangsters. It was followed by the 1982 movie, a made-for-television remake in 1999, and a 2014 reboot.

14. 10-YEAR-OLD AILEEN QUINN WON BOTH A RAZZIE AND A BEST YOUNG ARTIST FILM AWARD FOR HER PERFORMANCE.

It is indicative of how puzzled people were with Annie that they couldn’t decide if its tiny star was a prodigy or a freckle-faced misery. She was awarded the Razzie for Worst Actress in a lead role, but took home a Best Young Artist Award, too. She also received a Golden Globe nomination.

15. TIM CURRY SIGNED ON FOR THE PART OF ROOSTER BECAUSE MUSICALS WERE SOME OF THE ONLY MOVIES HE WAS ALLOWED TO WATCH GROWING UP.

Tim Curry

was the son of a Royal Navy Chaplain and a school secretary. He described his childhood as “strict,” and that fact might have had an effect on his career choices. During this unedited interview, a very bored, jet-lagged looking young Curry describes his desire to be in Annie“Long time ambition really, to do a Hollywood musical. [They] were one of the movies I was allowed to see. I had a very strict childhood, but Hollywood musicals were all right.” But wait, if you want to see a tiny flash of the man who brought Pennywise, Frank-n-Furter, and Darkness to life, skip to 3:30, where he describes his character, Rooster.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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Beyond Queen Elizabeth: 10 Fantastic Shows to Stream After The Crown

Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Josh O'Connor as Prince Charles in season 4 of The Crown.
Alex Bailey/Netflix

So you’ve already torn through the latest season of The Crown, which arrived on Netflix in mid-November. You’ve watched and evaluated the performances of the new cast members, including Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher. You’ve done your Google searches on the events depicted in season 4, including the disappearance of Thatcher's son Mark. You’ve played back every scene featuring a corgi. What are you going to do now?

If you’re looking for something else that’s historical, royal, or just vaguely British, give one of these shows a try. They’re all available on a major streaming service and they all feature the same whispered bombshells and meaningful glances that make The Crown such a quietly devastating—and highly addicting—drama.

1. Victoria

Like The Crown, Victoria opens with a young queen ascending the throne after a death in the family. Only in this case, the queen is 18-year-old Alexandrina Victoria, who would rule Great Britain and Ireland for an astonishing 63 years. This costume drama hasn’t even covered a third of that reign, but it’s packed with plenty of royal scandal, real-world politics, and dramatic gowns into its three seasons. There’s no official word on when fans can expect the next batch of episodes, but writer Daisy Goodwin has promised “an absolute humdinger” of a fourth season.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

2. The Tudors

Henry VIII famously had a problem with commitment. He married six women, more than one of whom he had executed, making his life prime material for a soapy drama. Showtime delivered just that with The Tudors, which aired its final episode in 2010. The show covered each of Henry’s marriages and various international affairs in between, casting now famous British actors in some of their earliest roles. Henry Cavill appears in all four seasons as the king’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, and Natalie Dormer (a.k.a. Margaery Tyrell) dominates the first two seasons as Henry’s doomed second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Where to watch it: Netflix

3. Outlander

Take all of the historical intrigue of The Crown, add in some time travel and a lot more sex scenes, and you have Outlander. Based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series, this Starz original centers on Claire Randall, a nurse living in post-WWII Britain who is sent back in time to 1740s Scotland. Her travels don’t end there. Over the course of the show, Claire schmoozes with the French royal court in Paris and gets shipwrecked off the coast of the American colonies. She also falls in love with a Highlander named Jamie, even as she attempts to reunite with her husband Frank (played by Tobias Menzies, The Crown's current Prince Philip) in the present day.

Where to watch it: Netflix

4. Call The Midwife

Drawing on the diaries of a midwife who worked in the East End of London in the 1950s, this BBC show follows young women in medical training as they travel in and out of the homes of expectant Brits. By focusing on a working class neighborhood, Call the Midwife paints a picture of the London outside Queen Elizabeth’s palace walls, exploring in particular the stories of mothers in a post-baby boom, pre-contraceptive pill world.

Where to watch it: Netflix

5. Upstairs Downstairs

The first Upstairs, Downstairs aired in the 1970s—and when it ended, the tony Bellamy family had just been devastated by the stock market crash of 1929. The reboot (note the lack of comma in the title) picks up in 1936, with one of the original series' housekeepers serving a new family. Just like the original, it shows the very different lives of the “upstairs” aristocrats and their “downstairs” domestic staff, while nodding at current events that would’ve affected them both. A special treat for fans of The Crown: Claire Foy, who played Queen Elizabeth in The Crown's first two seasons, playing the frequently misbehaved Lady Persephone Towyn.

Where to watch it: BritBox

6. Versailles

Ever wondered what it was like to party in the Hall of Mirrors? Versailles takes you inside the grand French palace of the same name, fictionalizing the lives of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”) and his court in the mid-1600s. Versailles isn’t quite as critically adored as The Crown and its cohorts—many reviewers have written it off as a slighter historical series—but it’s got all the requisite melodrama and the jaw-dropping sets we’ve come to expect from these costume epics.

Where to watch it: Netflix

7. Poldark

When war breaks out between the Brits and American colonists, Ross Poldark leaves his hometown of Cornwall to fight for King George III. After eight years of battles, the redcoats lose, sending Poldark back across the ocean, where he finds that everything has changed: His father is dead, his estate is in ruins, and the love of his life is engaged to his cousin. This is where Poldark, the BBC adaptation of Winston Graham’s eponymous novels, picks up. While Ross Poldark is a fictional character, the show incorporates lots of real history, from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War to the subsequent revolution in France. Amazon Prime has all five seasons of the series, which ended its run in 2019.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

8. The Borgias

Rodrigo, Cesare, and Lucrezia Borgia were extremely influential nobles in 15th and 16th century Italy. In 1492, Rodrigo claimed the papacy and, with it, control of the Roman Catholic Church. That basically meant he and his children ruled the country: as long as Rodrigo was Pope Alexander VI, the Borgias could get anything they wanted. Showtime dramatized their power plays, betrayals, and rumored incest over three seasons of The Borgias, with Jeremy Irons in the lead role as Rodrigo.

Where to watch it: Netflix

9. Downton Abbey

If you missed out on the Downton Abbey craze in 2010, now is the perfect time to catch up. The entire series—which concerns the upper-crust Crawley family and their many servants—is available on Amazon Prime, and the 2019 movie is available on HBO Max (or for rent on Prime Video). Though the story is primarily set in the 1910s and 1920s, Maggie Smith’s withering insults are timeless.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime

10. Coronation Street

If you want to understand the royals, you have to watch their favorite shows—and Coronation Street has long been rumored to be Queen Elizabeth’s preferred soap. (Prince Charles is also a fan; he appeared on the show’s live 2000 special.) Airing on ITV since 1960, Coronation Street follows several working-class families in the fictional town of Weatherfield.

Where to watch it: Hulu, Tubi

This story has been updated for 2020.