Talkin’ Annie Warbucks / Pete Seeger Blues, by Mike Gold
Well, that headline ought to cause some Google searcher meltdown. But the fact is, right wing poster child Little Orphan Annie has a lot in common with mega-leftie songleader Pete Seeger.
This dawned on me because of the confluence of recent events. IDW released the first volume of The Complete Little Orphan Annie last week. American Masters ran its documentary about Pete earlier this month and, yes, it’s PBS so it’ll be rerun forever. Which is fine; both are absolutely first rate. Both are American legends.
Little Orphan Annie was created by Harold Gray, a man who fit in nicely with his boss, the contemptible isolationist Col. Robert McCormack, a man so far to the right when he disagreed with the politics coming out of Rhode Island he removed their star from the American flag that was raised right above his office atop Chicago’s Tribune Tower. Until he was told he could go to jail for desecrating the flag, McCormack and his employees – including Gray – worked right under America’s only 47 star flag. Both Gray and McCormick loathed Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the point of histrionics. Gray’s comic strip fully represented those values; Annie’s Daddy Warbucks even did a little jig on FDR’s grave.
Pete Seeger is – he’s 90 years old and still singing – a folk singer, writer, left-wing political activist, and human band leader. He can make any group raise their voice in song. It’s actually an amazing sight to behold. Or be-hear. Unlike Gray, Seeger has been in favor of US entry in World War II, opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favor of environmental causes. Seeger marched with Dr. King and led the fight to save and restore the Hudson River, which is probably the movement’s greatest achievement. He was blacklisted and, despite his great popularity, kept off of television for almost 20 years.
So where’s the confluence?
In an interview with Roger Ailes in his pre-Fox News days, Seeger stated “I’m the most conservative person you’ve ever interviewed.” Ailes, known even then to be a little bit to the right of Joe Goebbles, looked like he had just been offered an uncooked monkey brain sandwich. Pete continued: “Most conservatives just want to turn the back the clock 100 years, to before the income tax, but I’d like to turn back the clock thousands of years, to when we lived in small communities and took care of each other… I don’t think the human race will survive unless we do something like that… That’s almost an article of faith with me these days: The world won’t survive unless we learn to talk with people we disagree with. And then I’m also conservative: my wife and I have been married for 63 years now.” Ailes, to his credit, understood the point and seemed to respect it.
It’s that sort of conservatism – the type the neo-cons reject (but some Libertarians embrace) – that is Pete Seeger’s common ground with Annie Warbucks. Both are dedicated to the concept of people helping people, of one person rising up to rally the community in joint effort to right grievous wrongs, of the combined effort of community responsibility, hard work and good will as the most important value we can share as a people.
One thing more. If Roger Ailes could be fair to Pete Seeger, I can be fair to Little Orphan Annie creator Harold Gray. Both Seeger and Gray are absolutely first-rate storytellers.
There’s one important difference. It’s pure speculation on my part. I think Gray would loathe Seeger. I think Pete would love Harold. Or, at least, Annie.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix. He’s not to be overly confused with the Mike Gold who inspired a young Pete Seeger.