Thursday, July 7, 2011

Turning Over: Harold Gray

Turning Over in Their Graves (TOTG) is a new repeating column I do about authors whose works are turned into exactly the opposite of what they wanted after they die. 

I was introduced to Little Orphan Annie not through the original comic, but as a child watching the Broadway play.  Annie is one of the most successful musicals of all time, spawning films, merchandise, and thousands of parents who would give anything not to hear the songs ever again.  The play riveted me, and I instantly fell in love with the star: Shelley Bruce.
Hey, I was six!  I hadn't fallen for Princess Leia yet.
In the musical, Annie is an abandoned child living in an orphanage where the children are all miserable.  When the billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides he wants to have a young orphan to join him for a celebration, Annie manages to finagle the job.  “Daddy” Warbucks slowly falls in love with the girl and wants to adopt her, but Annie wants to find her parents.  Warbucks offers a reward and the owner of the orphanage plans to trick him into giving her the reward (after which, she will murder Annie and disappear).  In the end the bad guys are captured, Annie’s parents are found to be dead, and Warbucks adopts Annie as well as all the other orphan girls.
"Daddy, there's just one girl for you to meet."
It’s a great musical: funny and emotional with catchy songs.  The problem is the subplot.

The musical is set during the Great Depression (there’s even a great song about Herbert Hoover).  At one point, FDR calls Warbucks up and asks him to help save the country.  Annie sings a song during their meeting and it inspires the two men to come up with the idea for the New Deal.

Sounds great, right?  Here’s the problem:

Harold Gray, the author of the original comic, hated FDR and his policies.  In fact, he felt so strongly that he had the New Deal kill Daddy Warbucks.
Yes, he died for capitalism.
Gray has Daddy Warbucks die as a protest against the New Deal and doesn’t bring him back until after FDR died.  ("Somehow I feel that the climate here has changed since I went away," he says.)
Turns out Warbucks faked his death (several times).  Luckily, nobody was hurt or spent the rest of her life in therapy.
As much as I love the musical, I can’t help but wonder why the creators would violate the original author’s explicit wishes.  I wonder how they sleep at night.  I wonder if, after Mel Gibson is dead, we can change the ending of The Passion of the Christ.
And then, Batman rescued him.

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