Collecting Annie Dolls – When the Annie musical first hit London, in 1978, following on from the Broadway production a year before, it was a smash-hit. It gave numerous young girls a chance to shine, amongst them a very youthful Catherine Zeta Jones, who played the lead role in a Swansea production, aged just ten.
Little Orphan Annie made her debut in a cartoon strip in the Chicago Tribune in 1924, brainchild of artist Harold Gray. The story of the twelve-year-old girl surviving by her wits as she made her way in the world proved enormously popular. In 1927, according to the cartoon, Annie was living with a kind lady called Mrs. Pewter, who decided the little girl needed a new frock. She made her a red dress, with a white collar and cuffs – and the Annie image was born! Today, the carroty curls and red, white-trimmed dress, are instantly recognisable to people on both sides of the Atlantic, thanks to the musical, and, even more so, the movie.
The London show, at the Victoria Palace theatre, starred Sheila Hancock and Stratford Johns, with Andrea McArdle playing Annie, and ran for 1,485 performances. It was a resounding success, and was soon followed by a movie version, which today graces not only our television screens but is often still shown at cinemas, too. Most of us know the story of the orphan girl who was adopted by the benevolent millionaire Daddy Warbucks, but cruelly tricked by scheming Miss Hannigan into believing that her parents were still alive. Songs such as ‘I think I`m gonna like it here`, ‘You`re never fully dressed without a smile’, ‘It`s a hard knock life’ and, of course, ‘Tomorrow’ led to a happily ever after finale – and spawned loads of memorabilia, including dolls.
Annie was very much an all-American icon; she lifted spirits during the dark days of the depression, and has always had a special place in the hearts of the American people. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the dolls are American, some dating from the musical and movie days, others more recent, and a few which were made in the 1930s and 40s.
When the musical first came out, manufacturers were quick to realise the marketing potential, but it was the release of the movie in 1982 which really triggered the mass interest. At the time toyshops featured colourful displays of the scarlet-dressed Annie, though, certainly in Britain, most of the dolls were of the cloth doll type. It might be just as well to clear up a popular misconception here – Annie is not the same character as Raggedy Ann. Raggedy Ann was a doll dreamt up by American writer Johnny Gruelle in 1915 to amuse his sick daughter. The doll was a pinafore-wearing rag doll with a triangular nose and red hair. By contrast, Annie (or Little Orphan Annie) was a fictional child whose character became world-famous through the medium of cartoons, musical theatre and cinema.
Many of the Annie dolls are easy to find, though often you will need to purchase from America as the more unusual types were not sold in Britain. Those that are easy to find over here include a selection of cloth dolls. One of the most appealing was made by Knickerbocker in the early 1980s. She stood 16 inches tall, and her gingery hair was sewn in tight wool curls. A tiny furry Sandy, the dog which she adopted in the film, was tucked inside a pocket in her red dress. The company also made a smaller, 6 inch, Annie doll, but she was not so well detailed, as well as several larger sizes.
Applause was another company who made Annie cloth dolls, including some with reinforced, stiff faces. The interesting thing about the Applause dolls was the way that the company tried to capture the blank-eyed expression of the original cartoon character by giving the dolls printed eyes which appeared to be gazing upwards. These dolls were similarly dressed to the Knickerbocker girls, but their curls were looser and softer. Applause Annies were made in various sizes, including some small clip-on types. Expect to pay around £15 for a cloth Annie doll depending on condition.
Also available in Britain was a delightful small vinyl Annie doll, made by Knickerbocker. This doll stood just six inches high and was sold in the ubiquitous red Annie dress. A ‘gold’ locket was included in the box with the doll, large enough for a child to wear. In the show, the locket was a vital piece of evidence in the search for Annie’s parents. The outfits issued at the time for this little doll included a pale yellow floral dress, a cream two piece, a blue coat, a pink floral nightdress and a blue play-suit, with accompanying hats and shoes.
Other characters were issued in the same series, but were much harder to find in the UK, and today you would probably need to try ebay if you want to add them to your collection. Punjab, an Indian doll, looked handsome in his white cotton suit and turban with a bright red and black striped sash tied around his waist. Daddy Warbucks wore a black satin evening suit with a white shirt, black bow tie and red cummerbund. Knickerbocker managed to achieve some great characterisation in these small playdolls, capturing Daddy Warbuck`s expression – and his bald head – very well.
Scary, intoxicated Miss Hannigan was also included in the set, dressed in a mauve two-piece patterned with small multi-coloured shapes, while little Molly, Annie’s friend at the orphanage, wore a green pinafore over a floral long-sleeved blouse. Molly had a delightful smile and her brown hair was cut into a short bob with a fringe. Knickerbocker produced several accessories to go with these dolls, amongst them a super blue 1929 Model Duesenberg Limousine, complete with chauffeur. It measured 15 inches long, and there was room in the back seats for two Annie dolls. The company also made an Annie Mansion dollhouse, which had room for all the characters. This house was actually more like an open play-set divided into rooms, with a sweeping staircase leading to the top floor, and was based on Daddy Warbuck`s mansion in the film. An impressive array of furniture was included. This was only sold in the US, and today costs around £30.
The prolific Knickerbocker also issued a set of plastic miniatures from the film, each carded in a bubble pack. They incorporated such characters as Rooster, Lily, Pepper, Grace and Sandy, as well as those which were featured in the larger size. Three versions of Annie were in the set, too. These miniatures ranged in size from a 1½ inch high Sandy to a 3 inch high Punjab. Knickerbocker also made a larger Annie who came with a spare yellow-flowered party dress. This ‘Movie Star’ Annie was 12 inches tall, and was similar to the 6 inch version, with the same orange nylon curly hair
Of course, Annie memorabilia was around long before the film – small composition, wood or celluloid dolls, dressed in red, were sold as Orphan Annies in the 1930s and 40s. In the sixties, Remco produced a cloth doll with blank, expressionless eyes, jus t as seen in the cartoons. This doll was 17 inches tall, with yarn hair and wearing the usual red dress, white collar and black belt outfit. Her chest bore a ‘kiss ‘n’ hug me’ logo with hearts, and she was marked ‘Little Orphan Annie’, Remco Industries Inc., by arrangement with Chicago Tribune 1967′. In the 1930s a toy replica of Sandy was issued, made from oilcloth and stuffed. He was 8 inches long, and bore the names ‘Sandy’ and ‘Gray’ (Howard Gray, the artist), on his collar.
Recently, the American Madame Alexander, renowned for their collector`s dolls, issued a delightful vinyl version of Annie, complete with her dog Sandy – albeit that Sandy is larger than Annie! Annie wears her red outfit, trimmed with a while belt fastened with a gold buckle. She has a gold locket.
Surely the prize for the most enchanting – and most imaginative – Annie must go to the American company Effanbee, which is now owned by Tonner. This 14 inch high doll in the Patsy series, has a sweet, serious face and a large mop of auburn curls. Sold packaged either in her undergarments or in her classic red dress, various outfits are available, the most inspired of which is the orphanage rig of floral dress, brown gingham pinafore (with patches), long bloomers, a cream kerchief which ties around her hair and sturdy boots. There is even a metal pail so that Annie can wash the floor.
Amongst the other delightful outfits are ‘Daddy`s Girl’ – a blue coat and matching hat, edged with soft white fur, complete with a pair of black, gold-buckled shoes; ‘Sweet Dreams’ – a pair of pink pyjamas, slippers and a cuddly rabbit, and ‘Uptown’ – a snazzy dress, coat and hat with faux leopard-fur trimming. The quality of these garments is amazing, they are fully lined and beautifully finished with tiny buttons and fancy trims. A wardrobe, or ‘trunk’, is available to store the garments, while in June Effanbee will be issuing Annie’s orphanage pal Polly. Effanbee also make a small, 9 inch Annie, in their Patsyette series, who comes complete with a trunk of clothes, similar to the above.
McCall’s issued a paper pattern in 1982, which gave instructions on creating a huge, 36 inch tall, Little Orphan Annie and her outfit, as well as her dog Sandy. Paper dolls were also available from various companies, complete with a whole cast of characters and costumes so that the Annie story could be acted out by a child.
A selection of Annie dolls, in their bright red dresses, would brighten any gloomy corner, so, instead of waiting for the sun to come out tomorrow, make it happen today!