21st century remakes are inevitable. Sometimes you anticipate what modern cinematic technology and story-telling can do for a film (Batman!), and sometimes your stomach curls with grim foreboding that a film once beautiful and unique is about to be rehashed with unrealistic modern settings, sass-mouth children and jaded one-liners (most other remakes). The 2014 remake of the 1982 musical Annie has yet to show which kind of experience it will deliver, but in the meantime, here are 16 things you probably didn’t know about the original 1982 Annie.
1. At the time, Annie was the most expensive musical ever made.
Different sources record the actual cost of Annie differently, but most agree it was around $40 million to make; a large part of that ($9.5 million) went into buying the rights to the popular 1977 Broadway play the film was based on. There were also the not insubstantial costs of advertising the film and producing prints, which, according to a 1982 edition of the Los Angeles Hollywood Examiner, were around $9 million. Unfortunately, the movie’s revenue didn’t even come close to recouping its expenses.
2. The Creator of the Annie musical hated the movie.
Martin Charnin, conceiver, director and lyricist of the Broadway hit, had nothing good to say about what producer Stark and director Huston did to his play. When he sold the rights, he relinquished all creative control. The result, according to Charnin, quoted by the Hartford Courant, was this: “Warbucks, played by Albert Finney, 'was an Englishman who screamed.' Hannigan, played by Carol Burnett, was 'a man-crazy drunk.' And Annie was 'cute-ed up.' Worse, the emotional relationship between Annie and Warbucks was distorted. They even downplayed the hit song "Tomorrow'' because 'Stark thought it was corny.'"
3. John Huston was hired to direct because of his similarities to Daddy Warbucks
If you wanted darkness, grit, and intrigue in your film, you got John Huston to direct it. The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen, Beat the Devil, and...Annie? Huston was an odd choice, but producer Stark insisted. To stark, the gruff, eccentric billionaire who shouts, “I love money, I love capitalism! I do not and will not ever love children!” was embodied by the grizzled 76 year old director. (Of course there is also the rumor that Huston only agreed to do such a far flung project because he was desperate for money.)
4. Albert Finney wasn’t remotely the first choice to play Warbucks.
Just as Bette Midler was the first choice for Miss Hannigan, there were many actors ahead of Albert Finney on the Daddy Warbucks line-up. Finney had Hollywood experience, but the stage was more his realm. Reportedly, Sean Connery was approached, but didn’t want to appear bald. Even Cary Grant, who would have been in his late 70s at the time and hadn’t made a movie since 1966, was asked.
5. “Easy Street” was originally a huge outdoor number.
The first incarnation of the show-stopping “Easy Street” was literally performed in a street, with the three enthralling villains of the film, Hannigan, Rooster, and St. Clair, displaying their joyous greed against a backdrop of dozens of dancing street vendors. After it was shot, Huston decided it wasn’t intimate enough and, more importantly, the setting distracted from the three enormous personalities at the center of it. Tim Curry, Carol Burnett, and Bernadette Peters were more interesting to watch just by themselves than in a whole studio full of performers. See some grainy bits from the original version here.
6. The re-shoot of "Easy Street" was mildly complicated by Burnett’s chin surgery.
After primary shooting, Carol Burnett underwent surgery to correct her overbite and align her jaw. When she was called back to re-shoot “Easy Street,” she had a new face. As quoted in the Chicago Tribune, she told her director about her concerns. "Mr. Huston," she remembers saying, "Two months ago, when I went into the closet, I didn't have a chin."
"Dear," he responded, "just come out looking determined."
7. New Jersey’s Governor signed a law to allow the children in the cast to work at night.
Annie’s climactic scene was partly shot on the Passaic River’s NX railroad drawbridge, which had been abandoned in the raised position in 1977. The scene called for Annie to climb the bridge like a ladder with Rooster following in a murderous rage. All of this took place in the dead of night, and New Jersey's child labor laws prohibited children employed in making films from working after 11:30 p.m. and before 7 a.m. More night hours would be needed to complete the shoot, and the state government was accommodating, with Governor Brendan Byrne helicoptering to the set to sign a bill amending the law, which now allows the Commissioner of Education “the authority to amend the hours of the day during which a minor may work but not the total hours.”
8. There were around 500 different product tie-ins for the film.
350 products is a lot, even in today's all-consuming vortex of modern film marketing. Annie’s merchandizing started three years before the film was released. Producer Ray Stark knew that the whole world was anticipating his movie, and he intended to use that interest towards a licensing boom. Tie-ins included contracts with Crayola, Random House, Marriott hotels, Sears Roebuck & Co., Knickerbocker Toys, Procter & Gamble, and Ken-L-Ration dog food. The products would include umbrellas, wigs, lunch boxes, dog accessories, a Parker Brothers board game, a line of Marvel Comics, Annie ice cream, Annie cookies, and Annie designer jeans.
9. Around 8,000 girls auditioned to be Annie.
Two years before the film version, Aileen Quinn was in the Broadway production of Annie. She was a “swing orphan,” meaning she was trained to play any of the orphans except Annie (who, at the start of Quinn’s tenure, was Sarah Jessica Parker). Auditions for the film began in 1980 and took an entire year.
The casting director had a clever way to speed the process along, according to the PBS's “Lights, Camera, Annie!” Annie hopefuls lined up and each girl sing a part of “Tomorrow,” with the next girl picking up when the last left off. Quinn was called back eight times until the production team was totally convinced she was the perfect combination of grit and sweetness. Quinn remembers, “I was completely in shock! I didn’t believe it until the casting agent showed me the production schedule, and I was scheduled to appear on The Today Show at 7:00 a.m. the next morning. That’s when I believed it!"
10. Finney had limited experience with song and dance.
Albert Finney was a trained Shakespearean stage actor and widely regarded for his dramatic roles. He’d only ever sang and danced once before in a performance, in the 1970 musical Scrooge. As a crotchety Scrooge, his singing and dancing came out more like cleverly inflected growls and splay-footed leaps. Annie didn’t require him to become Baryshnikov with the voice of Pavarotti, but it did call for ballad singing and a tap dance routine.
Says Quinn, "One of my favorite memories of him is [Albert] learning to really sing for the first time. He did that beautiful version of "Maybe"... As he was taking singing lessons on the set, I can remember him with a cigar out of his mouth and going 'la la la la la la la,' pause, 'la la la la la la la.'" This, plus Finney’s habit of putting bottle caps under his loafers to practice his tap routine, thoroughly charmed the 10 year old Quinn. "He was, like, in it to win it ... so adorable."
11. The Warbucks Mansion was a real House, but only briefly.
It was hard to find the right place for Oliver Warbucks to call home. Many of the grandest homes of the Gilded Age had been turned into museums, and the others had been overly featured in other movies and on television. Then Huston found Shadow Lawn. The 130-room New Jersey palace was built in 1927 for the then-president of Woolworths, Hubert Templeton Parson. It was designed by Horace Trumbauer and his assistant Julian Abele, considered by some to be the first African American architect in America.
Within 10 years, Parson went broke and his home was appropriated by the city. After that, according to the New York Times, it served as a military academy, a military hospital, and a school for girls, but never again a private home. In the 1950s, Monmouth College bought the mansion and its 108 acres, and it remains a part of their campus today.
12. The Warbucks Mansion was just as crazy as it appeared to be.
Annie is based on a cartoon, after all, so it’s no surprise that the film producers were looking for comic-book quality wealth in their portrayal of Daddy Warbucks' house. Turns out, very little needed to be added to the Shadow Lawn mansion to achieve that effect. From a 1981 edition of The New York Times: “Shadow Lawn has 130 rooms, not including the 2,500-square-foot main hall with its 75-foot Venetian glass ceiling. For guests there were 17 master suites of Chinese, Japanese, French, English, Spanish and other national designs. There is a theater seating 300 people, a gymnasium, two bowling alleys and a billiard room and, outside, a nine-hole golf course. It is a palace of marble in 48 varieties, petrified woods, mirrors—1,500 of them—gold leaf and rare inlaid woods.”
13. Aileen Quinn teaches at the University that owns the “Warbucks” mansion.
According to an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
A couple years before I started teaching, I went there for a big fund-raiser to help them raise money for education. So I went back for the first time and actually got very emotional. It’s that staircase that does it. After I gave my speech they had me go up the stairs and I sang “Tomorrow." That was so surreal. I was walking down that staircase again, and even though they had tables set up for the gala, I couldn’t help but think, “Oh my god, that’s where I karate chopped and that’s where I was on his shoulders.” I actually was flashing back, and that got our wheels spinning: this is an obvious match. There were some conversations afterwards and they asked if I would be interested in teaching, and I said I would actually love that. Next thing I knew, I was teaching a theater course.
14. The “original” Annie movie was not the first incarnation of the little orphan.
As even the most casual fan of A Christmas Story knows, Annie was a radio program in the 1940s (and she wanted you to drink your Ovaltine). But that wasn’t even close to the beginning of America’s relationship with the sassy Little Orphan Annie. The original Annie as we know her appeared in a comic strip started in 1924 by Harold Gray. It was going to be “Little Orphan Otto,” but a friend convinced Gray to change it based James Whitcomb Riley’s even older 1885 poem “Little Orphant Annie,” which in turn was based on a real orphan child living with the Riley family, Mary Alice Smith.
The comic strip ran for decades and limped along for about 40 more years after Gray’s death. Annie of the comics was Nancy Drew crossed with Dick Tracy; she spent a lot of her time fighting Nazis and uncovering communist plots. And those round, empty eye sockets? On purpose, according to Gray. “The blank eyeballs served to enhance reader involvement with the strip: not seeing what is going on in the eyes of the characters, readers could impose their own fears and concerns into the narrative.”
In the 1930s, two Annie adventure movies were made, both reportedly awful. The Broadway play released in 1977 was the most successful incarnation of Annie since her days of being shot at by gangsters. It was followed by the 1982 movie, a made-for-television remake in 1999, and the 2014 reboot.
15. 10-year-old Aileen Quinn won both a Razzie and a Best Young Artist Award for her performance
It is indicative of how puzzled people were with Annie that they couldn’t decide if its tiny star was a prodigy or a freckle-faced misery. She was awarded the Razzie for Worst Actress in a lead role, but took home a Best Young Artist Award, too. She also received a Golden Globe nomination.
16. Annie attracted Tim Curry because musicals were some of the only movies he was allowed to watch growing up.
Tim Curry was the son of a Royal Navy Chaplain and a school secretary. He described his childhood as “strict,” and that fact might have had an effect on his career choices. During this unedited interview, a very bored, jet-lagged looking young Curry describes his desire to be in Annie. “Long time ambition really, to do a Hollywood musical. [They] were one of the movies I was allowed to see. I had a very strict childhood, but Hollywood musicals were all right.” But wait, if you want to see a tiny flash of the man who brought Pennywise, Frank-n-Furter, and Darkness to life, skip to 3:30, where he describes his character, Rooster.