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Leapin' Lizards! Here Are 9 Things You Didn’t Know About 'Annie!'

As America’s favorite orphan returns to a live musical airing on NBC, we dig up a treasure trove of trivia

Taraji P. Henson, Tituss Burgess, Nicole Scherzinger, Celina Smith and Harry Connick Junior star in Annie Live

Paul Gilmore/NBC

(Left to right) Taraji P. Henson as Miss Hannigan, Tituss Burgess as Rooster Hannigan, Nicole Scherzinger as Grace Farrell, Celina Smith as Annie and Harry Connick, Jr. as Daddy Warbucks in "Annie Live!"

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Everyone is buzzing about Annie Live!, NBC’s live musical extravaganza with an all-star ensemble that includes Taraji P. Henson, 51, as Miss Hannigan; Harry Connick Jr., 54, as Daddy Warbucks; Nicole Scherzinger as Grace; Tituss Burgess as Rooster; Megan Hilty as Lily St. Regis; and Celina Smith in the title role. While you may be able to hum “Tomorrow,” the much-loved show’s optimistic takeaway tune, we bet you won’t know all the fabulous trivia that this spunky little orphan with the big eyes has collected along her journey from 1920s comic strip heroine to American cultural icon. See how much you know about Annie, and we’ll see you at the show!

​​Watch it: Annie Live! (NBC, Dec. 2, 8 p.m. ET)

1. A real polio survivor is stepping onto the stage to play polio survivor Franklin D. Roosevelt — for the first time in history.

​​Alan Toy, 71, plays Franklin D. Roosevelt, making him the first polio survivor to play the 32nd president in any production. Both Toy — a prolific actor of stage and screen and a key voice in the disabled persons community — and Roosevelt contracted polio resulting in paralysis.

2. The 1982 film version cost a Daddy Warbucks-style fortune to make … and didn’t earn it back.​​

The 1982 movie Annie was at the time the most expensive movie musical ever made, with a cost of about $40 million. A large chunk of that, about $9.5 million, was spent buying the rights to the popular 1977 Broadway show the film was based on. The movie’s revenue didn’t even come close to recouping its expenses.​​

3. Annie made her first screen appearances all the way back in the 1930s.​​

That “original” Annie movie was not the first big-screen appearance for the little orphan. In the 1930s, two Annie adventure movies were made based on the Annie from the comic strip created in 1924 by Harold Gray. ​​


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Reid Shelton plays Oliver Warbucks and Andrea McArdle as Annie along with the dog playing Sandy

Bettmann/Getty Images

Reid Shelton played Oliver Warbucks and Andrea McArdle played Annie in the 1977 production of "Annie."

4. Two distant productions of Annie share one thing — a dog trainer.​​

William Berloni, the dog trainer for Sandy during the making of the 2014 movie version of Annie (starring Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz) was the same trainer who found the original Sandy, an Airedale terrier mix, for the 1977 Broadway production.

5. The original Sandy was found at a shelter.​​

Berloni told Playbill that he was a 19-year-old apprentice at the Goodspeed Opera House when they needed a dog for a new musical they were producing. “They called me in and offered me an Equity card and a part in one of the plays if I would find and train a dog,” he said. Berloni agreed, went to a shelter, adopted a dog and trained him. That canine ingenue became the original Sandy in the original Annie production and went with the show when it opened on Broadway. Berloni has since made a career of training dogs to be real characters onstage. ​​

Sarah Jessica Parker performing in the musical Annie

Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Sarah Jessica Parker performs a scene in "Annie."

6. Long before she wore Manolos, Sarah Jessica Parker played everyone’s favorite orphan. ​​

"I watched Andrea [McArdle] and assumed I would never be in Annie, and I wouldn't be part of this sort of magical phenomenon that washed over Broadway," the former child star told ABC in 2017, when the Sex and the City producer and megastar joined a TV special reuniting 20 actresses who had taken on the role in the musical's 40-year history. But cast she was — along with Molly Ringwald and Alyssa Milano, who both took turns as onstage orphans, and Jane Lynch, who made her Broadway debut as Miss Hannigan in 2013.​​

7. Drew Barrymore lost the 1982 film role to an actress no one had heard of at the time. ​​

When the ’80s film version was casting, another famed child star — Drew Barrymore — auditioned for the lead role, though Sarah Jessica Parker was considered the top pick because of her stage experience in the musical. But after auditions spanning two years, 22 cities, 8,000 interviews and 70 actresses, a fresh face, Aileen Quinn, landed the role. Talk about stepping into the spotlight: Two years prior, Quinn had played a “swing orphan” behind Parker on Broadway, meaning she was trained to play any orphan except Annie.

8. Lots of big stars passed on the 1982 film version.​​

Bette Midler declined to step into Miss Hannigan’s shoes on-screen, and beloved comic star Carol Burnett was cast. Steve Martin was offered the role of Rooster, but passed because he didn’t want to work that closely with Bernadette Peters, who’d been cast as Rooster’s partner in crime, Lily St. Regis (the celebrity couple was in the middle of a romantic breakup). So Tim Curry took on the role. Albert Finney was far from the first choice for Daddy Warbucks: According to Mental Floss, Sean Connery was under consideration but balked at donning the necessary bald cap. Jack Nicholson had signed on but dropped out when the original producer left the project. Even Cary Grant, who hadn’t made a film since 1966, was approached. (For the record, the vanity-free Finney shaved his head for the role.) ​​

9. Jay-Z lied to sample an Annie tune.​​

In 1998, rapper Jay-Z sampled excerpts from “Hard Knock Life” for his own “Hard Knock Life (The Ghetto Anthem),” part of his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, which nabbed the Best Rap Album Grammy that year. In his 2010 memoir, Decoded, the entertainment mogul confessed how he had obtained rights to sample the tune after his first request to the copyright holders was rejected. “We might not all have literally been orphans, but a whole generation of us had basically raised ourselves in the streets. So I decided to write the company a letter myself. I made up this story about how when I was a seventh grader in Bed-Stuy, our teacher held an essay contest and the three best papers won the writers a trip to the city to see Annie. A lie. I wrote that as kids in Brooklyn we hardly ever came into the city. True. I wrote that from the moment the curtain came up I felt like I understood honey’s story. Of course, I’d never been to see Annie on Broadway. But I had seen the movie on TV. Anyway, they bought it, cleared it, and I had one of my biggest hits.”

Gayle Jo Carter, the former entertainment editor at USA WEEKEND magazine, has interviewed newsmakers for AARP, USA WEEKEND, USA Today, Parade, Aspire and Washington Jewish Week.