Over the years the giant shadow of Orphan Annie has hidden from view the creator of the original strip to such extent very few people know who Harold Lincoln Gray was. Reagrdless of his politics which he regularly injected into his strip his sense of style and his draftsmanship cannot be denied. He was an original.
Harold Lincoln Gray (January 20, 1894 – May 9, 1968) was an American newspaper artist and cartoonist, best known as the creator of Little Orphan Annie, which he worked on for 45 years. The strip became the basis for the 1977 Broadway musical Annie and its 1982 film adaptation
Born in Kankakee, Illinois, Gray grew up on a farm near the small town of Chebanse, Illinois. His parents, Ira L. Gray and Estella M. Rosencrans, both died before he finished high school in 1912 in West Lafayette, Indiana, where the family had moved. In 1913, he got his first newspaper job at a Lafayette daily. He graduated from Purdue University in 1917 with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering, but as an artist, he was largely self-taught. In 1917, he found a position with the Chicago Tribune at a salary of $15 a week. During World War I, his rank was lieutenant and he served as a bayonet instructor. Discharged from the military, he returned to the Chicago Tribune and stayed there until 1919 when he left to freelance in commercial art. In 1923, he was a charter member of Lombard Masonic Lodge #1098, A.F. & A.M.
From 1921 to 1924, he did the lettering for Sidney Smith‘s The Gumps. After he came up with a strip idea in 1924 for Little Orphan Otto, the title was altered by Chicago Tribune editor Joseph Medill Patterson to Little Orphan Annie, launched August 5, 1924. Gray’s first wife, Doris C. Platt, died in late 1925. He married Winifred Frost in 1929, and the couple moved to Greens Farms, Connecticut, spending winters in La Jolla, California.
By the 1930s, Little Orphan Annie had evolved from a crudely drawn melodrama to a crisply rendered atmospheric story with novelistic plot threads. The dialogue consisted mainly of meditations on Gray’s own deeplyconservative political philosophy. Gray made no secret of his dislike for the New Deal ways of President Franklin Roosevelt and would often decry unions and other things he saw as impediments to the hard-working American way of life.
Gray sometimes ghosted Little Joe (1933-72), the strip by his assistant (and cousin) Ed Leffingwell which was continued by Ed’s brother Robert. Maw Green, a spin-off of Annie was published as a topper to Little Orphan Annie. It mixed vaudeville timing with the same deeply conservative attitudes as Annie.
Films, radio and merchandising made Gray a multi-millionaire. He died of cancer at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla on May 9, 1968, at the age of 74.