Thursday, May 13, 2010

Daddy Warbucks makes like John Galt...again

You wouldn't know it from the strip in recent years, but Little Orphan Annie used to have a political axe to grind. Phil Rosanthal writes in the ChiTrib,

What's ironic is this version of the strip is going away, said Tippie, because it has been targeting young readers who rarely "are encouraged to read newspapers these days." Yet in the nearly 44 years when creator Harold Gray was presiding over it until his death in 1968, "Little Orphan Annie" was decidedly adult despite the preteen heroine at its center.

One wouldn't necessarily know that from the upbeat 1977 Broadway musical and subsequent films that have come to define the strip's characters. Or the late 1930s and '40s children's radio program on Tribune Co.'s WGN-AM 720, NBC and, eventually, the Mutual network that's recalled in the wry holiday film " A Christmas Story."

But Jay Maeder, who would team with artist Ted Slampyak to produce the strip's final years, wrote in 1997 that it was "the eeriest comic strip of all time" and in the Depression became "a terrifying pilgrimage through a loony, dark, paranoid and quite particularly American nightmare."

Today's "Annie" has been recast as a kids adventure, with the auburn-haired orphan very much a 21st century girl and Warbucks what Tippie described as "sort of a buff, bald Clive Owen-type," who, separately and together, have adventures around the world.

Back when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated to run for a fourth term in the middle of World War II, Gray's decidedly anti-New Deal "Little Orphan Annie" killed off Daddy Warbucks, protesting that he shouldn't have to apologize for being successful as he expired.

"Some have called me (a) dirty capitalist," Warbucks said on his deathbed in August 1944, according to Maeder. "But I've merely used the imagination and common sense and energy that kind of providence gave me. Now? Well, Annie, times have changed, and I'm old and tired. I guess it's time to go!"

A year later, with Roosevelt dead, Warbucks rejoined the living. "Somehow," he said, smoking a cigar, "I feel that the climate here has changed since I went away."



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