Leapin' Lizards!

A Pair of Annie Fans Form a National Fan Club

Jon Merrill, Tricia Trozzi

For Annie lovers, a cold Sunday afternoon 18 years ago, January 2, 1983, in New York City marked a sad end to "Annie"'s almost six-year run on Broadway.

But for New Jersey Orphan Annie fans Jon Merrill and Tricia Trozzi, that day was a beginning as well as an end. For it was then that the wheels of the Annie People Fan Club were first set in motion.

Before the 2,377th and final Broadway showing of "Annie" at the Uris (now Gershwin) Theatre, a group of fans were gathered at the stage door to greet the cast as they entered the theater for the last time. It was also at this time that they first met "Annie"'s creator and director, Martin Charnin. On this day, when Tricia and Jon started talking and comparing notes, they discovered that not only did they live only a few miles apart, but they both were proud owners of Annie rooms filled with mementoes and collectibles. A week or so later, upon discussing the fact that there was no existing fan organization for Annie fans, they both said simultaneously, "Why don't we start one?" And so, later in January 1983 they published the first issue of "Annie People,” the newsletter for Annie fans, affiliated with the National Association of Fan Clubs.  “Annie People” was published for 17 years, with a total of 90 issues.

The newsletter, which was read by fans and performers all over the U.S and Canada and comes out four times a year, covered all three parts of Annie fandom--the stage musical, the movie, and the Little Orphan Annie comic strip (written and drawn first by Harold Gray and then by Leonard Starr). Each issue featured updates on what the Broadway, national touring company, and movie cast members are doing now, as well as photographs of casts of local and community productions of the play. There were articles on Annie collectibles, both modern day items and ones from the 1930s and 1940s that were offered as giveaways by Ovaltine, the sponsor of the old LOA radio show.

In the winter of 1990 the sequel to "Annie," called "Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge," played in Washington, D.C., and "Annie People" provided much coverage of that new show. Then in that summer the revised "Annie 2" played at Goodspeed-At-Chester in Connecticut. Later on, the sequel was retitled "Annie Warbucks" and toured the country before arriving a the Variety Arts Theatre in New York where it played until January 1994. Through these new stage musicals about Little Orphan Annie, yet another dimension was added to "Annie People" coverage, and Jon and Tricia followed these new shows as eagerly as they have always followed everything to do with the red-haired orphan.

Over the years both of them have kept up with the careers of the "Annie" stars of the past and have seen them in other stage productions, TV and film roles, and personal appearances. Additionally, they see as many local productions of "Annie" as they can and follow the careers of those casts as well (e.g., Monica Lee Gradischek, Pittsburgh's most famous and best-loved Annie during the '80s played Frenchy on Broadway in "Grease" in 1995, or Kelsi and Kassidy Osborn from the hot country music trio SHeDAISY, or Michigan’s Annie in 1988, Becky Baeling, who released a dance album in 2003). The two editors report that many former cast members subscribed to "Annie People" and loyally and enthusiastically kept up with the fandom for the show they loved so much when they were in it. And in the mid-'90s they both did the same thing with productions of "Annie Warbucks" and found the same loyalty and enthusiasm for it too. “Annie People” also covered the 20th Annie-versary Broadway revival in 1997 and all its controversy.

Jon, 58, and Tricia, 38, each have rooms in their homes with several hundred different Annie items on display, items such as dolls, plates, buttons, posters, ceramic figurines, old Orphan Annie comic strip books, and music boxes, as well as dozens of autographed photos given to them by "Annie" cast members. Both of them have been interviewed on TV and have had feature articles in various newspapers done over the years about them and their home Annie museums.  Numerous "Annie" stars have come to see Jon's and Tricia's Annie rooms, including some from the Broadway casts.

To date they have each seen more than 100 productions of "Annie" including the post-Broadway national tours. Easily recognized at theaters in their black Broadway Annie jackets, the two fan club co-presidents are often asked what it is like to see the same show over and over again. "We love it every time we see it," they say. "Every production is different and it's always a lot of fun."

In March 1998, Jon retired from public Annie fandom; however, Tricia continued with "Annie People" until late 1999, when issue #90 was published. Now the emphasis for both of them is on collecting, thanks to eBay’s providing an opportunity to find rare and unusual Annie collectibles.

UPDATE:  In 2005 Jon was interviewed at home for Julie Stevens’s documentary, “Life After Tomorrow.”  Not long after that, he moved down South to a smaller place and began downsizing his large Annie collection to a level more workable.  He was an assistant to the compiler of the new LOA comic strip series called “The Complete Little Orphan Annie.”

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