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Shirley Adrienne Bell provided the voice of Little Orphan Annie on the radio for the first time on this date in 1931. She would soon be the only actor playing the role, which she kept from age 10-20. Cole was the daughter of a single mother in Chicago (her father left the family when she was a toddler) and earned enough money as Annie to support five immigrant Jewish families. “In 1931 (when a Pontiac sold for $600), Shirley earned $4,160; in 1937 she earned $7,514,” wrote Dennis Hevesi in a 2010 New York Times obituary. But in 1940, when Ovaltine dropped its sponsorship of ‘Annie,’ Shirley Bell’s acting career ended.” In 2005, she self-published an autobiography, Acting Her Age: My Ten Years as a Ten-Year-Old.
“ ‘“Orphan Annie” was like the keystone of after-school radio during the Depression,’ Chuck Schaden, an expert on radio history, said in an interview. ‘It meant a lot to kids because she would save the day, come to the rescue. At Christmas time in those days they were happy to get two pennies.’ ” —Dennis Hevesi