THEATER : Daughter of ‘30s Star Has ‘Annie’ in Her Blood

Everyone knows the Little Orphan Annie saga--the one about America’s wandering red-haired darling, her street-bred pooch and her filthy-rich benefactor.

And it seems as if practically everyone has seen “Annie,” the stage musical that ranks with “The Sound of Music” for sheer ubiquitousness on the community-theater circuit.

After all these revivals--including the 1982 John Huston Warbucks-scaled movie--what more can be said about that Depression-era clan?


Well, wait a leapin'-lizard minute.

The latest revival, the La Habra Community Theatre production that opened Friday, gives us a nice, sentimental twist.

Let Jan Pevney, who is featured as FDR’s secretary in the La Habra revival, explain:

“Aileen Quinn (in the 1982 Hollywood version) wasn’t the first Annie in the movies. Nope. My mother was the very first--and that was ages ago, back in the early talkies, more than 50 years ago.”

Pevney’s mother was Mitzi Green, who died of cancer in 1969. Green was known as an especially effervescent performer with a comedic deftness.

Green first made it big on Broadway in 1937’s “Babes in Arms,” singing two of the most revered songs in the Rodgers and Hart repertoire, “My Funny Valentine” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” She went on to headline nightclub shows, more stage musicals (including the national touring version of “Gypsy”) and a short-lived TV sitcom (NBC’s “So This Is Hollywood”).

But many remember Green best as a child star. One of those born-in-the-trunk prodigies, “Little Mitzi” joined her parents on the vaudeville circuit of the 1920s. At age 10, she became a Hollywood headliner in 1930, playing female foil to the movies’ reigning kiddies, Jackie Coogan and Jackie Cooper.

Green’s big screen break came with 1932’s “Little Orphan Annie,” the movie inspired by Harold Gray’s immensely popular comic strip about a philosophical little waif beset by all sorts of bumblers, thieves and spies.

“It’s funny; mother talked a lot about her early Hollywood days, but I had never seen any of those movies, including the ‘Annie’ one,” Pevney said.

The chance came several years ago. “It was about the time the (1982) Huston ‘Annie’ was about to come out, and someone had arranged a Directors Guild screening for us--my father, brother Jay and myself. When I saw mother on the screen, I cried.”

Jan’s father is movie and TV director Joseph Pevney, 66, whose best-known films include “Man of a Thousand Faces” (the Lon Chaney biography) and “Away All Boats.” He and Mitzi Green were married in 1942.

Although Jan Pevney grew up as a studio “movie brat” (she has a snapshot of her ninth-birthday party on the Universal set with Errol Flynn as a guest), she says she’s never really gone the show business route.

“My parents didn’t really push it. They always believed it can be a terribly hard, frustrating field,” said Jan, now 40, who worked for years as a dental technician and is now office manager for a building contractor.

She has, however, occasionally performed in the chorus or as a featured player in community-theater musicals--most recently “The Music Man” in Fullerton, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in La Mirada and “Sweet Charity” in Downey.

In the production at the La Habra Depot Playhouse, she plays several walk-on roles, in addition to being FDR’s secretary.

“It’s great fun being on the stage, and I guess it’s sort of in my blood.” Laughing, she added, “I mean with my background, it’s got to be.”

“ANNIE” PAW-NOTES: When director Marla Gam-Hudson was casting the principal canine role, she didn’t have to look very far. Her very own mutt, whose name was already Sandy, got the part . . . paws down.

Others in the La Habra Community Theatre cast: Kate Staiger as Annie, Stephen Reynolds as Warbucks, Linda Minder as Miss Hannigan, Pat Boldt as Warbucks’ secretary, Joe Venaglia as Rooster, and Kathleen O’Brien’s as Lily.

“Annie” runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 6 at the La Habra Depot Playhouse, 311 S. Euclid St., La Habra . Information: (213) 691-8900.