It’s A Hard Knock Life

Beech Tree - been through hard times
Beech Tree – been through hard times

Did you know that the musical Annie has a history that goes way, way back? You could almost call it an American legend.  It has it’s roots in the American Civil War – and you can’t get much more legendary than that, surely.

It all started when Elizabeth Riley, hearing from a friend that Mary Alice Smith who, at only twelve, had been left an orphan when her father was killed in the war (Elizabeth’s husband Reuben, who had joined up on the Union side, was also away fighting) went and brought the young girl over to her house to join her six children. Children in those days were expected to earn their keep and help with the housework etc. This can’t have been easy for parents, as there was no television to use as a carrot to get the work done. Mary Alice, or Allie as she became to the other children, became a very useful television substitute because, in the evening, after all the chores were done they would sit round the fire and she would tell scary stories.

In the 1890s one of those children, James Whitcomb Riley, now an adult and a successful poet and performer wrote a few verses remembering those evenings, called “The Elf Child”. It was printed and became very popular, so popular that it needed to be reprinted. He asked the printers to rename the poem “Little Orphant Allie”. The printers, however, renamed it to “Little Orphant Annie“.

Next stop 1924. Poetry is out of fashion in newspapers by now and the newfangled cartoon strip is all the rage. Enter the “Little Orphan Annie” cartoon, based on the character in the poem, that ran and ran and ran, until 2010 to be exact.

Somewhere in that eighty-odd years, there has to be enough material for a musical.

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