Orphan Girls: Will the Real Orphan Annie Please Stand up?

Did she ever hook up with Pepper?

I was rolling around in a pile of puppies yesterday, and had an epic realization. Queers love orphans. Many of us are, or can relate to being abandoned. It isn’t surprising that we identify. Isolation, persecution, lack of power, and desperation (word to the Oxford comma) are common in queerdom. As a kid, most of my favorite movies involved she-orphans, and when I started to click around the web, I realized how many movies carry the theme. I thought about doing a top ten, but it’s so subjective… I did decide to choose one ultimate movie. It’s okay if you don’t concur.


Champion he's anything but...


Yes, “Annie” has given audio sunshine to queers for decades. I had the priveledge of being a slave.. aka .. a production manager for Fargo North High’s production of Annie. I really grew to hate each and every song in it’s own special way. However, time does heal all wounds, and I’m back to having an affinity for the film. I was joking around with a friend a few days ago, and said, “If you were in Annie, you’d be Miss Hannigan!” Apparently, that was a mistake. She got more than a little ruffled by me stating she’d play a great aging alcoholic that abuses young orphan girls. I don’t see how you don’t view that as a compliment. I mean, Miss Hannigan is the best role in the movie! If I say, I think you could fill the alchy shoes of Carol Burnett, that is a HUGE compliment. I just had a terrible vision of Anne Hatheway jumping straight from her Catwoman role to Miss Hannigan. Does anybody else think that our Princess who keeps diaries isn’t up to play the ultimate bad girls? Put your tiara back on Anne, because I’m pretty sure every orphan in that movie could kick your ass. (Was that mean?) Okay, here we go… put on your orphan goggles.





A sugary sweet Heidi may be more believable animated


First of all, when I was choosing which “Heidi” film to write about, I discovered the overwhelming number of productions in existence. Also, this one seems to have slipped off the contemporary radar. I didn’t get a lot of feedback when describing this movie at the bar. Then again, perhaps talking about orphan movies isn’t everyone’s favorite bar topic. There’s a reason I had few friends in high school.

Heidi is the story of an orphan that is brought to live with her crotchety antisocial grandfather is the Swiss Alps. She slowly wins him over, and teaches him that love conquers all. That’s basically the end of the movie, but in the book… there’s attempted murder, epilepsy, and mayhem. It’s very much the Grimm’s Fairytale effect.

Many people say the 1937 version with Shirley Temple is the best Heidi. These people also tend to think the Shirley Temple version of The Little Princess is the best rendition of that classic. Okay, Shirley plays a damn cute orphan, but come on people. There’s more to life than Sprite with grenadine. People of my generation seem to like the 1993 version with Jason Robards playing the grumpy Grandpa. Jane Seymor, and Sian Phillips also star. Robards does an excellent job, but he’s in so many films where he plays the guy with the heart of gold. I’m a little tired of it.

I recommend “Heidi, Girl of the Alps”(Arupusu no Sh?jo Haiji?) is a 1974 anime  series by Zuiyo Enterprises. It’s directed by Isao Takahata, and scene layout is done by none other than Hayao Miyazaki. This version is hugely popular all over the world… except for in the United States. It’s caused a flood of Japanese tourists to flock to the gorgeous Alps. This series stays fairly true to the book, and is beautiful to behold. Someone shortened the entire series into one film with new voices. Don’t watch that one. It deserves to be shunned. Someone is trying to silence the voices of orphans. Someone should call Angelina Jolie.


In the religion of child actors we congregate at the Shirley Temple.

The Little Princess

This tale has a bit more of a modern following in America. The sweetest, and the most privileged little girl in all the land is taken to an expensive boarding school for girls by her rich daddy. She must remain there until the return of her military father. The headmistress, Miss Minchin, is nice to little Sara Crewe as long as the money keeps flowing. But, when her father goes missing, and payments to the school lapse, the headmistress soon becomes a devilish torturer. Sara’s good nature and optimism (I’m throwing up a little.) help to last it out until resolution occurs. Even as a young person, I delighted at the lesbionic relationship between Sara Crewe and Becky, the overworked maid.

As mentioned, there is a charming version with Shirley Temple. I really like the 1995 production with Vanessa Lee Chester as Becky. Although, it would have been nice to see Becky throw a punch. I always wanted Sara to have a tougher sidekick, but you take what you can get. The cast is solid in this version, and some of the scenes are beautiful. I always cry. I cry every single time… which is why I don’t watch it on my Mac.

Can you imagine at the Mac store? “Maam, (cringe) it shows water damage underneath your keyboard. We can’t replace your unit.”

My response, “But they’re tears! They’re tears for the little Princess and her friend!”


Badass Mary Lennox... she could have a badass breakdance dance-off with Annie Lennox.

The Secret Garden

Okay, I KNOW, all of these have British versions. But, who does pale little orphans better than Britain? Charles Dickens started an entire enterprise! Also, many of these have film versions that include the mysterious magic of India. Some of them in a pretty offensive way. Thank you Rudyard Kipling. You do go from elephant riding to the orphanage. It’s basically a nonstop flight.

Yet again, you have choices of different versions, except not really. Most people I know have seen the sappy 1993 version. It’s okay. I really think the 1988 Hallmark Hall of Fame “Secret Garden” is perfection. The character of Mary Lennox truly starts out vile. I mean, she’s awful. That’s the way it should be. She’s a rich racist brat that’s accustomed to having a personal servant, and her way all the time. Plus, she witnesses her loathsome neglectful parents die of Cholera. She shouldn’t be disgruntled… she should be hideous and damaged.

There’s a 1949 version that I hear is a bit slow paced, but very good. It would also be unqueer of me to not mention the Broadway musical. This is a classic story with a strong heroine. What makes her terrible, also makes her strong. She learns the difference between strength and tyranny. Plus, as a lesbian, aren’t I stereotypically glad that it’s the result of hard work, and the power of nature that teaches her the golden rule? Yes… yup.


The sweetness of this movie isn't recommended for those of you with visual diabetes.


In the move “Showgirls” (which I know every line to, and aren’t you excited to know that?) the cruel show director calls Nomi Malone, a dancer from the Cheetah, “Polyanna”. I always picture a young Haley Mills auditioning to be an erotic star of the stage show “Goddess”. Hmm, it doesn’t make me feel good. What he means, of course, is that she seems like a goody two-shoes. That’s not true either.

This is a movie of which I enjoy multiple versions. I love the Haley Mills version, but I love all of her movies. I really love the Keshia Knight Pulliam (little girl from the Cosby Show, and other things) musical, “Polly”. Phylicia Rashad was also in it. I watched it over and over. It’s awesome. Keshia’s character, and disposition really get you rooting for her. Everyone is grumpy, and you know she’s got it under control. I agree, overstated optimism is annoying, but when it’s more like perseverance, it’s charming. Funny, both of these versions were done by Disney. Man, do I have conflicting feelings about all of this. The most recent version of this is British, and kinda heartbreaking. You can’t go wrong really, I think a lot of this comes down to preference. The last one I mentioned is probably the most faithful to the book, but that isn’t always important to me. I like the anime series of this as well. They use a rainbow font for the “Pollyanna” title, and the little girl has strange hipster braids. I dig it.


Omg! I think I just found my gay root!

Pippi Longstocking

One of the ultimate stories of a magical girl orphan. Naturally, the fact she’s magic puts this movie above some others. The absurdity of a talking horse in her attic, and a monkey best friend is priceless. She shakes some rich kids up, and gets revenge for the town’s orphans. She can also lift many grown men with her amazing little girl muscles (???). She doesn’t let anyone tell her she’s an orphan, because dammit, her king of the cannibals father is coming to get her soon. She’s also richer than Rowling, and as a character, predates “Home Alone” as she puts the smackdown on prowlers through slapstick antics.

This is the 1989 version… Pippi is a bit older in this take… which works for her sassiness. She’s bordering on adulthood, and shouldn’t be treated like a 5 year old. Also, Eileen Brennan plays the angry orphanage manager. She’s classically flawless with grumpy villainy. I love her in anything. She’s the drill sergeant in “Private Benjamin”. She’s also “Mrs. Peacock” in “Clue”. I love how different looking she is, and her ability to do comedy is outstanding. Camp can go bad so easily, and I really think she nails it. This isn’t her best role, but again, I just like seeing her in so many things.


It's clear now, Alley Hector drugged Punky Brewster and stole her clothes. I'm going to do something about this.

Punky Brewster

Whew* This is a lot. The more I write, the more movies I think of that relate. I’m only doing one more after this. If you’re still reading, then you don’t mind my obsessive nature. If you’re not reading, well, I don’t “hate” you… but I don’t know if this is going to work out between us. Let’s process, and return for discussion in a bit.

Punky Brewster was an icon for me. She dressed very soft-butch, and her ability to start and engage in mayhem is epic. This hasn’t been a movie yet. It was a live action tv show in the mid 1980’s, and then a cartoon. The cartoon used the same actor voices as the live action show, and added a bit more of the fantastical. I like both, and I could conceive a world where Punky Brewster is a Jesus-like figure, and Lisa Frank is God (and the designer of heaven). I just want to roll around in painted puppies with troublesome orphans. You can quote me on that.

Also, here are some lyrics to the Punky theme. They’re really… good.

“I went to the end where the rainbows are. There wasn’t any pot of gold. Instead I found a new friend who is three feet tall… But when the rainbow faded, he was left behind. And a lot like Punky, he is one-of-a-kind. Punky Brewster, I always want you here with me-e. Uh-oh, uh-oh. Punky Brewster, together we’re a fantasy. Uh-oh, uh-oh. Punky Brewster, we’ll always be the best of frie-ends. Punky Brewster, you know our friendship will never e-end. Uh, oh. Uh, oh.”

I’m sure you understand my appreciation now.

And NOW for the ULTIMATE orphan girl movie:

for real. 

The Journey of Natty Gann

F:*&% put a bird on it!

lesbianwolftraintravelerextrava-tonydanza! Ladies, give a shout out to your maker.

This is the last one. I could go on, but I’ve gone too far as it is. This is a not-well-known movie about a tough girl who goes in search of her father. It’s Disney 1985! There’s more Disney in this post than I expected, but movies about kids are their thing. This is an atypical piece for them. It’s set in 1935 during the not-so-great Depression. She’s a “boyish young lady” (barf in mouth) left alone by her father as he leaves to chase work. Her aunt secretly plans to report her as an orphan, so she runs away to find him. She makes friends with a wolf, and has a light romance with John Cusack.

If this movie doesn’t capture the delicate ascetic of Portland lesbian-shabby-drabby-runaway-newsie chic, then I don’t know what does. It’s mechanic overalls with a paperboy cap and a wolf companion. It’s – I did train-hop with a mouse, I would squat with you on a couch, and I will cut the arms off a blouse… and those are all names for misanthropic queers that just didn’t identify with their given names.

This movie is one of a kind, and sadly, kinda forgotten.

The wolf was in White Fang as well. wolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf=badasswolf.

Okay.. that’s all I can take. There’s more movies than this, and feel free to list them all, if you don’t have a wrist ache from scrolling down already. So many media portrayals of young ladies picture them separated from their families and society. Certainly, a sense of feminism or queer pride can come with a price inside mainstream culture. Perhaps, someday we’ll feel differently about that. Perhaps, someday I’ll have a wolf companion.





Watch “Annie” online free!





Watch the Shirley Temple “Heidi” with rousing musical score!




Watch a VHS quality version of my favorite Secret Garden!





Trailer for the campiest orphan girl movie of all time: The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking





   Yes! I found the whole version online. Watch the ultimate orphan movie… The Journey of Natty Gann. 






woah. .. that was a lot. I need a margarita.














7 comments to Orphan Girls: Will the Real Orphan Annie Please Stand up?

  • Nicole

    Oh my gosh, this whole blog was so brilliant! And SO hilarious! Great job!

  • i am an orphan girl

    okay, this queer actually IS an orphan, so I guess I am not part of the joke? “Isolation, persecution, lack of power, and desperation,” and GRIEF. it’s not just a movie trope.

  • Lyska

    Well, I’m the product of a broken home, and my mom is an orphan…. Wait.. is that you mom? Mom, remember when we had that talk about “Camp as commentary?” Oh.. and please send me that cobbler recipe.. mine keeps coming out bad.

    Campy movies get us to laugh about things that try to break us. There’s no mockery here.

  • Lyska – I love this sentiment, “Campy movies get us to laugh about things that try to break us. There’s no mockery here.”

  • Oh, and you’re right about Punky. I’ve loved her and her style from the beginning. I even had Punky Brewster shoes, which I wore as part of my Punky Brewster Halloween outfit when I was 5.

  • litchick

    I loved all these movies too. The spunky little heroines who made their own way and didn’t suffer fools. Yeah, girl power!!!! Enjoyed your writing also, Lyska. Look forward to more. BTW, I’m sure Alley’s right about being 5 when she was Punky. She was just too, too adorable!! (Alley’s MOM)