Carol Burnett Almost Lost Her Role in ‘Annie’ to This Famous Singer
By Chris Malone
January 13, 2021
For decades, Annie has remained in people’s hearts as a beloved musical about family and overcoming the challenges that life throws our way. Its three film adaptations tell the same story in different ways, and the original 1982 version is still many people’s favorite.
‘Annie’ had an all-star cast
The 1982 version of Annie has remained timeless thanks to the lineup of accomplished actors that were a part of the cast, including Tim Curry, Carol Burnett, and Bernadette Peters.
By the time Curry, Burnett, and Peters began filming Annie, they were all established in their careers and each brought a unique star quality to the film. Curry worked as an actor on the West End in London throughout the 1970s before his film debut (and breakout role) as Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Burnett’s popular variety show The Carol Burnett Show ran for more than a decade and made Burnett the icon that she is today. Peters, meanwhile, became known for her stage work as well as her frequent appearances on The Carol Burnett Show.
Carol Burnett played one of Annie’s villains
Filming Annie was a reunion of Burnett and Peters. In the movie, the two all-star actors — along with Curry — each serve as evil adults who make the titular character’s life miserable.
Burnett played Miss Agatha Hannigan, the cranky alcoholic manager of the orphanage where Annie finds herself living the hard-knock life. Curry played her con-artist brother Rooster, while Peters played his thieving girlfriend Lily St. Regis.
When Annie’s adoptive father Oliver Warbucks announces a reward for her birth parents, the Hannigans and Lily cook up a plot to steal the reward money and pose as Annie’s parents. Of course, their plan is eventually thwarted, and the sun comes out tomorrow for Annie.
Carol Burnett wasn’t the first choice to play Miss Hannigan
By the end of the movie, Miss Hannigan saw the error of her ways and accepted that Daddy Warbucks was Annie’s father. Burnett’s portrayal of a dynamic character is a key part of the film, but it almost didn’t even come to be.
The role of Miss Hannigan was originally offered to singer, actor, and comedian Bette Midler. Midler rose to fame in the 1970s after her breakout debut album The Divine Miss M. At the same time, Midler was also brushing up on her acting chops with several appearances on screen; her first major role was alongside Alan Bates and Frederic Forrest in 1979’s The Rose.
Even though Midler’s larger-than-life personality and singing accomplishments made her a perfect fit for the musical film, she declined the role, which eventually went to Burnett. Burnett reportedly jumped at the opportunity to work with the legendary director John Huston.
In a 2020 interview with Forbes, Burnett reminisced on her time filming the movie, and her method of getting into the character of Miss Hannigan. “The chemistry was there right from the beginning, and John was very good about letting us go with it. He believed that you hire a person because of what they can bring to the movie, so you don’t try to tell them how to do it,” she recalled. “That was terrific because that’s the way I like to work.