There is no doubt that the 1982 musical movie Annie is a genuine cultural phenomenon. Even if you’ve never sat down and watched the whole thing, it’s a sure bet you can sing songs like “It’s a Hard Knock Life” with the best of them.
Considering how popular Annie was (and still is), it’s a little surprising that we haven’t seen more from the actor who brought her to life. Little orphan Annie was played by 11-year-old Aileen Quinn, and she quickly won us over with her earnest talent and adorable voice.
But even as the movie became the stuff of pop culture legend, Quinn seemed to fall off the radar. Whatever happened to the little girl from Annie? We’ve got the dish on everything you need to know!
She still loves the character
One of the reasons we didn’t see Aileen Quinn in many major roles after Annie is that she was typecast a bit as a child actor. Her portrayal of the title character was so iconic that it was difficult for audiences and casting directors alike to see the great actor behind that iconic face.
But now that she’s 50 years old, Quinn doesn’t mind being known primarily for Annie. In 2012, she told Entertainment Weekly, “[It] kind of blows my mind that it’s been 30 years, but I still get the whole, ‘You seem familiar… Did you date my brother? Did we go to high school [together]? What do I know you from?'” Cheekily, she added that “If they’re a little closer to guessing, I’ll give them a hint. Sometimes I tell them, sometimes I don’t.”
Why would Quinn not necessarily be more memorable? While Annie has now become a cult hit, it was something of a box office disappointment (it made $57 million but had a high production cost of $35 million) for Columbia Pictures. Therefore, she ended up being typecast while also being less famous around the world than fans might have expected.
Pivoting to commercials
We didn’t immediately see more of Quinn on the big screen because plans for Annie sequels fell through (more on this later). And when the world did see more of Quinn, it was actually on the small screen rather than the big screen. She became a commercial star!
If you watched TV in the 1980s, you may remember being bombarded by ads featuring Quinn. She starred in commercials for brands like Planter’s Cheese Balls, Shake and Bake, Northern Bathroom Tissue, and Crest.
And Quinn wasn’t afraid to channel Annie for these commercials. In fact, she donned her Annie costume for an old Minute Maid ad where she compares the joy of being adopted (which is “the best of everything, lots of love, lots of kisses”) with the joy of drinking orange juice.
Focusing on school
Success at an early age often disrupts the lives of child stars. But Quinn’s mother felt it was important that Quinn retain a sense of normalcy, and that included going to school despite being a worldwide celebrity.
According to The New York Times, Quinn kept going to a private Catholic school in Yardley, Pennsylvania after the premiere of Annie. Impressively, they reported in 1982 that the young star maintained “pretty close to an A average” in her academic career.
Perhaps the biggest secret to Quinn keeping a normal life is that her family didn’t move her out to Hollywood. When she gave an interview to Coming Attractions in 1982, Quinn clarified that she enjoyed trying out for roles and acting, but she also liked being close to home.
“Once and a while when I do have breaks, I go back home and I do play with my friends and filming to me is like playing with my friends,” she said. “Not in the same way, but it’s something I enjoy.”
The ‘Annie’ sequels we never got
In our modern age of remakes, sequels, and prequels, it feels a bit weird that we never got more Annie movies. But to hear Quinn tell it, this wasn’t due to lack of trying!
In an interview with Broadway.com, “I was under contract for seven years to make more Annie movies, but they never materialized.” It’s possible that the relatively low box office of the first film made the studio hesitate to greenlight sequels. Meanwhile, being under this contract effectively kept her from acting in other movies.
Quinn said in the interview that she enjoyed having “a normal life outside of Hollywood,” and she was able to regularly scratch her acting itch via “regional theater gigs.”
Other movies and the college years
While Quinn may not have starred in as many things as fans expected her to star in, this didn’t keep her from acting in other movies. The same year that Annie came out, Quinn starred as the voice of Dorothy in an animated The Wizard of Oz adaptation from Toho.
Fans will also recognize Quinn from a musical adaptation of The Frog Prince in 1986, where she portrayed Princess Zora. This film, too, made good use of her acting and singing talents. But it wouldn’t be that long before Quinn was focused on going to college.
At 18, Quinn put her acting career on hold to attend Drew University, where she majored in language. After graduating in 1994, she helped to teach and mentor future actors at New Jersey’s Monmouth University. It wouldn’t be long, though, before she left teaching to focus on acting once again.
A return to the stage
In many ways, the stage was Quinn’s first love. And it’s to the stage that she keeps returning at different points in her life.
Over the years, she has starred in theater productions from Shakespeare to modern classics such as Peter Pan and Fiddler On the Roof. And having had one foot in Hollywood and one foot in Broadway has given her an invaluable sense of what audiences really want from a great performance.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, she clarified how she came to love theatre even more as she got older. “In theater, you have to be louder and bigger — that was harder for many years in my teens. But now I’ve conquered that. I eat up the stage. I love it.”
And returning to the stage has reignited some of her passion and drive. In that same interview, she describes her hopes of eventually playing the “very demanding role” of the title character in Evita.
Leading a rockabilly band
It’s fair to say that Aileen Quinn is known as much for her vocal talents as her acting chops. Eventually, she leaned into this when she created a rockabilly band with the Annie-referencing name Aileen and the Leapin’ Lizards. (One of Annie’s favorite catchphrases was “Leapin’ lizards!”)
Quinn formed the band back in 2011, and they have released two albums: Spin Me in 2015 and Lightning and Thunder in 2019. And to hear her tell it, the band coming together was a bit like destiny.
In an Entertainment Weekly interview, she said, “When I came to L.A., I met up with some musicians and it was just meant to be.” She mused that a “five-person group… just seemed to fit.”
All these years later and it’s reassuring to know Quinn is still bringing the house down with her voice!