Admit it. When the obituaries for pioneering broadcaster Art Linkletter appeared, you probably gasped, "I thought he was already dead!" Similarly, when the Chicago Tribune reported that the final "Little Orphan Annie" comic strip would appear June 13 (just a couple of months shy of the feature's 86th anniversary), readers were surprised to learn the strip still existed. An entire generation knows Annie just as the star of a Broadway musical.
But the strip (as well as Mary Worth, Andy Capp, Dennis the Menace and other veterans) indeed carried on, although perhaps not in your local newspaper. Now, alas, even sparsely circulated adventures are beyond our redheaded heroine's grasp. Annie will relocate to the Comic Strip Character Retirement Home, to play shuffleboard with Steve Canyon, Smilin' Jack, Pogo, Li'l Abner, Maggie and Jiggs, and the gang.
My credentials for mourning Annie are substantial. I read the mammoth hardcover "Arf! The Life and Hard Times of Little Orphan Annie" in just a few sittings. Several times a day I see my refrigerator magnet based on the 1995 Annie postage stamp. And in the late '70s I devoted vast amounts of time to ensuring the survival of Annie (and other classic strips). When I started my campaign, Annie appeared in some 200 papers. When the cancellation announcement came, the number was fewer than 20. For some reason, no one ever solicits my advice on mutual funds. Or circumcision.
Environmentalists will miss Annie almost as much as I will. Endangered-species cries of "Leapin' lizards!" helped them raise funds to block the construction of highways, subdivisions, and reservoirs. A battle cry of "Moseyin' mussels!" just doesn't rally the troops nowadays.
The spunky orphan brought a unique viewpoint to the comics section. While most people argue over whether the glass is half empty or half full, Annie didn't care. She just wanted to make sure none of the water went to a &^%$# pinko bum who wouldn't get off his duff and pull himself up by his boot straps.
Besides changing times and changing tastes, the strip was doomed by scandal. Annie's adopted father, Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks, was always an ardent foe of FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society. But the New York Times learned that Warbucks secretly pulled some strings and got Sandy the dog placed on Medicare. Explained the cornered billionaire, "The mutt is 600 years old in dog years! Even with socialized medicine, the 'Milk Bone hole' alone in Part D is costing me an arm and a leg!"
At least Annie's alleged bodyguard Punjab will no longer have to answer for letting her get into so many scrapes. I think he got distracted by doing double duty as a Secret Service agent. ("I swear, officer, I only meant to crash a White House party, but when Punjab made that so easy, I decided 'What the heck, I might as well tie Annie to a railroad track while I'm at it.")
Tribune Media Services, owner of the Annie property, holds out hope that the character may resurface in another medium, such as graphic novels (i.e. glorified comic books), mobile phone downloads, etc. Just don't expect an Annie Wii game to succeed. ("I can't see to stop the saboteurs! My eyes have no &^%$# pupils! Someone get off your duff, pull yourself up by your boot straps, and save me!")
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