Jay-Z's 'Annie' Remake: Meet the Man Who Made It Happen
This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In 1970, Broadway lyricist Martin Charnin bought rights to adapt the classic comic strip Little Orphan Annie from Tribune for $7,500. He emptied his bank account renewing the options until, seven years later, his Annie premiered on Broadway with such songs as "Tomorrow" and "It's the Hard-Knock Life," winning a Tony for original score. Since then, anyone wanting to adapt the musical goes to see Charnin, now 78.
He's been fairly permissive with his licensing authority. Annie has played in 40 countries -- including 35 straight years in Japan and on Broadway in a new revival -- likely generating tens of millions of dollars in revenue in which he shares. It also was turned into a 1982 Columbia movie, starring Aileen Quinn as Annie and Albert Finney as bald benefactor Daddy Warbucks, and a 1999 telefilm from Disney starring Kathy Bates as scheming slumlord Miss Hannigan. Charnin hated both films.
"We foolishly gave up the right to maintain any supervision on the 1982 movie," he says. "The money was so extraordinary, it was [my own] selfishness to allow it."
As the self-professed “keeper of the flame,” the alterations of his most famous creation have steered Charnin towards damage control, like commissioning and directing a new musical that he sent out onto the road in 2004.
Now, after two years of negotiations, Columbia has set Will Gluck (Easy A) to direct a new Annie with a mostly black cast and producers like Jay-Z, who sampled (with permission) "Hard-Knock Life" in 1998 to create the hip-hop star's first megahit. Charnin’s previous Hollywood experience has braced him, he’s optimistic thanks to the inclusion of Jay-Z
"Jay-Z found something in a lyric and applied it to his own life, and it was absolutely wonderful,” he says.
This time, Charnin negotiated at least some form of early review of the script -- mostly, he says, to make sure his work is treated respectfully.
"Shakespeare can be turned into a Civil War play," he jokes, "but I don't think Shakespeare has any agent alive who is going to make a fuss."
AFRICAN-AMERICAN REMAKES AT THE WORLDWIDE BOX OFFICE
The Karate Kid (2010) $359.1 million
Doctor Dolittle (1998) $294.5 million
The Preacher's Wife (1996) $48.1 million
The Nutty Professor (1996) $274 million
The Wiz (1978) $21 million