I has now been six months since I stepped away from Little Orphan Annie, much longer than I had intended to. It occurs to me that it would be nice to have all those posts in one place. As soon as I get them moved here, I will continue from where I left off (February, 1938).
I usually like to have at least one comic strip collection among my various reading “projects,” and now that I have finished the latest volume of Dick Tracy, I thought I’d go back and read Little Orphan Annie from the beginning. It is unique among continuity strips in that it is told in “real time,” that is, for every day that passes for the reader, a day passes in the strip. (That is not to say the characters age in real time, however.) The first strip appeared on August 5, 1924. The seventh daily strip revealed that “The Home” knows all about Annie’s parents, but this is a plot element creator Harold Grey never followed up on.
In the ninth daily strip, Annie was adopted “on a trial basis” by snobby social climber Mrs. Warbucks. Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks makes his first appearance on September 26, returning from a business trip to Buenos Aires. Thus began the happiest time so far in Annie’s young life. Unfortunately, it was to be short-lived. On October 28, Warbucks was called away to Siberia, and on October 30, Annie was returned to the “Home.” She writes to “Daddy” every day, but soon learns that the headmistress, Miss Asthma, has been destroying the letters.
On January 5, 1925, Annie rescues a puppy from abuse at the hands of a group of young boys. She names the dog Sandy. She cannot keep him, so she gives him to a man who runs a local steakhouse. At this time, Annie is staying with a woman named Mrs. Bottle who owns a little store. Mrs. Bottle has an arrangement with Miss Asthma, who runs the “Home.” Mrs. Bottle “adopts” Annie six days each week, feeding her milk and mush, and puts her to work in the store. She returns Annie to the home on Sundays when the store is closed. Because Annie is not officially adopted, Miss Asthma pockets the money she gets from the state for Annie’s care, and Mrs. Bottle gets free labor.
Eventually, Annie runs away and ends up on a farm with Mr. and Mrs. Silo, an older couple with no children of their own. The Silos take good care of Annie, and she is well-fed, although the farm has been losing money for four years. The man who holds the mortgage on the farm sells Mr. Silo some bad seed in the hope Silo will default on his loan and gthe businessman will be able to take possession of the farm.
Meanwhile, Oliver Warbucks is back in the states and is offering $5000.00 for information regarding Annie. The Silos see the ad, but although they could use the money, they decide not to claim it. The businessman has seen the ad, too, and hires a band a travelling gypsies to kidnap Annie.
Just as the gypsy begins to beat Annie for information, suddenly Sandy leaps out from behind the bushes and saves her. He bites the gypsy severely and runs him off. It’s May now, and Sandy is quite a bit bigger than the little puppy Annie saved back in January. Sandy adapts quite well to life on the Silo farm, but Willis (the mortgage holder) isn’t through with Annie yet. First he hires a man named “Slippery” to kidnap Annie, but Sandy again intervenes. (When Slippery learns Willis is going up against Oliver Warbucks, he skips town.) Next, Willis tries to poison Sandy, who trots off with the meat but is too smart to eat it. Assuming Sandy is dead, Willis himself tries to kidnap Annie that night, but Sandy again runs him off.
Things are going well for the Silos, but Willis decides to foreclose at the end of June. They’re expecting a bumper crop, and Mr. Silo decides to take out a loan to pay off the mortgage. The loan officer from the bank sets up an appointment to appraise the farm, but that night a big storm rolls through. Lightning sets fire to the hay, hail destroys the crops and high winds destroy the barn. The next day a stranger drives by and asks for a drink of water. It is “Daddy” Warbucks!
Warbucks rolls up his sleeves and immediately begins helping Silo rebuild his barn. Warbucks had been offering $5000.00 for information regarding Annie, but the Silos had actually been taking care of her. Warbucks reasons that that’s worth $10,000.00, but Silo refuses on the grounds that Warbucks himself found her by accident. Warbucks even proposes that Annie stay on with the Silos; he wants whatever will make her happy. Annie herself can’t decide; she loves them both.
Warbucks approaches Willis and pays off the mortgage on the Silo farm, then he beats the crap out him just on principle. After that, he takes Silo on as a partner. Silo decides that Annie should live with Warbucks in the city because he can provide her with more opportunities. Annie agrees and goes off with “Daddy” Warbucks. What could possibly go wrong now?
Annie is introduced to the lifestyle of the rich and famous. She gets to spend about a month with “Daddy” alone before Mrs. Warbucks returns from Europe. On August 4, Mrs. Warbucks arrives with a houseguest in tow, a young boy about Annie’s age named Selby Adlebert Piffleberry (of the Herring Piffleberrys), although Annie comes to know him by his initials. On September 9, another guest arrives, the Count de Tour. De tour and Piffleberry are in cahoots. The Count is out to defraud Warbucks of his fortune, and Adlebert is sort of an advanced scout.
By the time de Tour arrives, Adlebert has discovered Warbucks’ wall safe, but Annie’s onto him. The Count also cheats at cards. Annie sees him slip in a cold deck while Warbucks’ attention s distracted, and the Count soaks him for $8000.00. Warkbucks noticed the exchange, though, and purposefully lost to give de Tour a false sense of security. The next day, Warbucks wipes him out, but the Count was able to wire home for more. Warbucks places some false documents in his wall safe, then observes as de Tour and Adlebert steal them.
I really enjoy Harold Gray’s use of slang. (Frank King’s Gasoline Alley makes good use of it, too.) I wish I had been taking notes from the beginning, but I’m too far into it now. Also, I’d have to put the book down every page, at least. I also think this series would benefit from a glossary, such as Gasoline Alley has, to put certain things in context. Oh, well. Most of them are easy enough to figure out in context.
De Tour sets Annie up by planting Mrs. Warbucks’ pilfered jewels in Annie’s nightstand, but his scheme backfires when Annie finds them first. Next, de Tour hires six thugs to accost Warbucks, but he beats them off (with Annie and Sandy’s help). Warbucks’ lawyer discovers that de Tour is not the real count, but stole the title from his brother (who disappeared mysteriously several years ago). While Warbucks is away, Sandy bites de Tour, and Mrs. Warbucks order two servants to put him down. Warbucks returns early and puts a stop to it.
Warbucks confronts de Tour with the evidence against him. Hoping to maneuver Warbucks into challenging him to a dual (so that de Tour can have the choice of weapons), De Tour slaps Warbucks across the face with a pair of gloves, but Warbucks simply bops him on the beezer instead.
Mrs. Warbucks gives her husband an ultimatum: in one week he must choose between her and Annie. One must go. Annie runs away so “Daddy” will not have to make that choice.
Annie runs away, but “Daddy” tracks her down in about a week. Just in time to spend Thansgiving with the Silos. When they return home, Warbucks learns his wife went to Paris the day after he left, maybe for good. De Tour and Selby hung around for another week, snooping, then left. Warbucks checks his secret hiding place and discovers all his important maps, contracts and other papers have been stolen.
The one/two punch of losing both his wife and his fortune nearly devastates Warbucks, but he rebounds when he thinks of Annie. He rallies and liquidates his remaining assets, then leaves the country about a week before Christmas in order to regain his empire. He’ll be moving quickly and cannot take Annie along. He makes arrangements for her to stay with a Mrs. Sandstone.
This action sets of a pattern of losing touch with Annie, regaining it, then losing her again. But I’m getting ahead of myself. More next week.
DEC ’25 – JAN ’26: Mrs. Sandstone gives the Christmas presents Warbucks sent to Annie to her niece, Bertha. Bertha’s a better person than her mother and aunt, though; when she finds out those were Annie’s gifts, she gives them back. Annie meets up with Tony, who she knows from her days with Mrs. Bottle. Tony’s dad is in jail on phony charges. Annie makes the acquaintance of Alderman Paddy Cairn, a friend of Warbucks, who gets Tony’s dad freed.
FEB ’26: Flam, a lawyer who had been shaking down Tommy’s mom with the promise of getting her husband released gets his comeuppance. Mrs. Sandstone takes the money Warbucks sent for Annie’s schooling and sends Bertha to a private school, reasoning that it’s “not fair” that a common orphan should have such advantages. She takes the rest of the money and buys a mink coat for herself.
Sandy is hit by a getaway car. A new tenant in the building who Annie at first suspects of being one of the gangsters, ends up being a newspaperman. He leads Annie to the hideout of “Bullet” Martin’s gang. The gang is captured with Annie’s help, and Sandy is saved by a renowned surgeon (not a veterinarian).
MAR ’26: Annie tries to be a lady but it doesn’t take.
APR ’26: Warbucks’ check is late. Mrs. Sandstone’s bills are piling up. Annie has the same dream three times, that “Daddy” is in trouble. She reads in the newspaper that Warbucks is dead; he met with foul play in Cape Town, South Africa. Sandstone makes arrangements for Annie to be send to the orphanage. Annie runs away.
MAY-JUL ’26: When Annie was staying with the Silos, she trained a little runt pig to do some tricks. She eventually sold the pig, Grunts, to Little Casino, a clown in a travelling circus. She meets up with that circus and they let her tag along. To earn her keep, she works up a clown act. She also makes friends with a lion by removing a nail from its paw. She is also adept at lion training, much to the chagrin of the mahout. She runs afoul of Kala Pasha, the strong man, as well. They both scheme for revenge.
Mahout trains an elephant to step on her, but she is saved by Pee Wee, one of the other elephants she saved from Mahout’s cruelty. Annie, with Pee Wee’s help, spoils a robbery of the circus payroll. She speaks up for a roustabout looking for work who the owner was about to turn away. The guy looks like a pirate, with a striped shirt, bandana, and a big bushy beard. He always seems to be watching Annie. She sees Sandy with him, too, which is unusual.
Little Casino negotiates a good salary for Annie, but a sinister pair of eyes watch as she hides her money inside her doll. After the performance, her money is gone. The roustabout leashes Sandy, then takes him to where the money was stolen to get the scent. Soon, the money mysteriously reappears, and the next day, Mahout looks as if he has been beaten. Shortly after that, a bucket falls (or is dropped) from atop a wagon, striking Annie of the head. The roustabout runs to her in concern and, for the first time, Annie hears his voice. It is “Daddy” Warbucks!
“Daddy” explains how he was hit ver the head in Cape Town, put in a bag and droped overboard five miles out to sea. He knew some escape tricks, though, and was able to survive. By the time he got back to shore, though, it was too late: the Count had acquired his entire fortune. Totally discouraged, Warbucks returned to the states to find Annie.
AUG ’26: Annie inspires “Daddy” to fight back. She gives him her entire savings ($600.00), which he accepts as a point of honor between them. (Actually, $600.00 is a drop in the bucket of what he needs to defeat the Count, but he still has a cash reserve of about $100,000.) He shaves his beard and takes off for South America, warning Annie that he’ll be out of touch for a while.
Meanwhile, the owner of the circus has to take out a loan to meet payroll. Things are looking up a little; if he can make it to the end of the month without an accident he should be able to repay the loan. He borrowed the money from a man named “Buzzer.” Annie sees the mahout and the strong man conspiring with Buzzer, but they see her and slip away. Later, she overhears them plotting to cause the owner to default on his loan, reasoning Buzzer will put them in charge. She wants to help the circus, but she knows if they are put in charge she’ll be out of a job, too.
SEP ’26: The month of August ends with a train wreck, which causes the circus to miss shows, lose money. Buzzer takes possession. When he finds out that Mahout and Kala Pasha broke the switch and caused the crash, he fires them, reasoning that if they betrayed their former boss they could betray him. (He didn’t put them up to it.) Buzzer has his own elephant man and strongman, and he makes other changes as well. He decides to make Annie a trapeze artist, and turns her over to Trixie Putnam for training.
Annie takes to it well and soon get a raise. But then tragedy strikes! The rope breaks and Annie misses the net, becoming paralyzed from the neck down. The circus refuses to pay any of her hospital bills, so she becomes a charity case. She undergoes an operation, which restores mobility to her arms but not her legs. The surgeon takes pity on her and, when she is well enough, brings her to his house to live. The doctor has a new housekeeper who turns out to be none other than Mrs. Warbucks!
OCT ’26: Mrs. Warbucks has completely changed. Annie catches her up on what she knows of “Daddy.” There is a surgeon in Paris who may be able to restore the use of Annie’s legs, but he won’t travel to America, and Annie is too weak to survive a trip to Europe. Warbucks returns and reconciles with his wife. She hesitates at first, lest he think she’s only interested in his money. She would be perfectly happy if he were still poor. But she is now, once again, the woman he married and he insists they get back together. “Daddy” buys a house in the country, then takes off to Paris to find that doctor.
Annie copes with being a paraplegic. A few weeks later, Warbucks returns with the doctor in tow. One gets the impression he was taken against his will. Dr. van Blanc examines her and concludes that an operation will either cure her or kill her, and he rates her chances at one in ten thousand. “Daddy” decides Annie would rather be dead than live her life as a cripple, and authorizes the operation.
NOV ’26: the operation was a failure, but Warbucks agreed to fund a new hospital for the surgeon because he tried his best. Annie comes to terms with her future life as a paraplegic, but “Daddy” has a hard time dealing with it. After about a week has passed, Annie wheels into the study to find “Daddy” broken down, crying. Instinctively, she gets up out of her chair and walks over to him. She’s cured! And just in time for Thanksgiving, which they spend at the Silos’ farm.
DEC ’26: It is decided that Annie will stay with the Silos for a while. Lots of the characters give speeches espousing Harold Gray’s philosophy during this time while they prepare for Christmas. Back on the old board I started a thread titled “Comic Strip Wisdom,” primarily to showcase gems and nuggets I found primarily in Little Orphan Annie. I haven’t gotten to any of those yet, but I previously read up through 1930 or so IIRC.
The Silos go to the city to spend Christmas with Annie and the Warbucks, but who will Annie live with afterwards? Both couples are willing to allow Annie to live with the other, both ewant what is best for her. Eventually it is decided she will go to a private boarding school.
JAN ’27: Annie is sent to Happy Hollow Seminary, and the Warbucks decide to take tour the South Pacific in their yacht. (They never had a real honeymoon.) “Daddy” has fixed it so that Sandy can stay with Annie in her dorm. She will have a suite f rooms. The principal of Happy Hollow is Miss Brussels. She wears a dark suit consisting of a long skirt with a jacket, a necktie and a man’s hat. She advises Annie not to let it become known that she is an orphan.
The first students she meets are a group of snobby mean girls. Pat Cassidy, a nice girl, explains they won’t be nice to her until and unless they find out she comes from money. Before that happens, Annie stands up to the head girl, Helene Norman, and beats her up. After that (and after they find out Oliver Warbucks is her Daddy”), Annie’s in.
I do a lot of complaining about “decompressed” storytelling in today’s comic books. I guess that’s why I like comic strips so much. I’m trying to give an overall overview of the plot, but each day has an entire little story “compressed” into a single strip every day. I’m going to try to avoid political analysis, but I sure wish Betsy DeVos could read this sequence of strips.
Miss Brussells has a cat named Galahad, and in one of the few Sunday strips included in this volume, she delights in its taunting of Sandy. Miss Brussells revels in the battle when Galahad gets the better of Sandy, but the tables turn and Sandy bites off Galahad’s tail! There’s no way that kind of storytelling would fly in today’s world, but the cat (and, by extension, Miss Brussells) had it coming.
FEB ’27: Word gets out that Annie is an orphan and she is shunned. Miss Brussels is unable to get ahold of warbucks, but sends Annie home by train, anyway. When she gets off to buy a hamburger, the train pulls away and she and Sandy are left behind. On the day my dad was born, Annie is just beginning her life riding the rails. She meets up with a hobo named Jerry who takes her under his wing. He also dresses her like a boy and calls her "Dannie“ to protect her. Eventually they begin travelling with Turk, and Turk puts Jerry out of the picture. Then he kicks Sandy off the train while passing over an icy river.
Annie is devastated, but Turk has her under his thumb. When Junior is first introduced in Dick Tracy, he is travelling with a hobo named Steve the Tramp. That situation mirrors this one. Folks are more likely to give food to a little “boy” as they are a rough looking hobo, so Annie does all the begging for them, but Turk takes most of the food. When she refuses to outright steal for him, he begins to beat her. Just then, Sandy appears on the scene and bites him severely, chasing him away.
MAR ’27: Annie and Sandy accidentally get locked in a boxcar overnight. They are found the next morning, nearly frozen. One of the men on the scene is Angus Flint, the local banker. He takes “Dannie” home and his wife soon discover she is really Annie. They lost their own little girl, who would have been just about Annie’s age by now, and they accept her as a gift from providence. Flint knows Oliver Warbucks by reputation, and attempt to contact him via telegram. The only response he receives is that Mr. and Mrs. Warbucks haven’t been heard from in over two months, last seen sailing in the South Pacific.