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“Annie (1982)” and the Great Hall Controversy

As Monmouth students, we all know and love our beautiful Great Hall. Some may utilize it to study, go to class, or even just to grab a quick pick-me-up at the beloved Parson’s café. But what many do not know is that the Great Hall was the filming location for Daddy Warbucks’ mansion in the 1982 version of “Annie.”

“Annie,” produced by Rastar Films in association with Columbia Pictures, is a musical comedy-drama film that is based on the popular Broadway show of the same name. Aileen Quinn played the titular character, a red-headed little orphan who lives in the Hudson Street Orphanage, run by the cruel Miss Hannigan played by Carol Burnett. Despite having a challenging life, Annie remains optimistic about finding her parents. Oliver Warbucks, a billionaire businessman played by Albert Finney, chooses Annie to spend a brief period living with him for a public relations campaign. It is here when we finally see our beloved Great Hall as the mansion.

The idea of using the building as the set was brought up by Roger Paradiso, a 1972 Monmouth alum who worked at Columbia Pictures when he suggested that the Great Hall, then known as Woodrow Wilson Hall, was a perfect location for the film.

The production of “Annie” began here at Monmouth University, then known as Monmouth College back in May 1981. Students watched for several weeks as the Great Hall was entirely transformed into Daddy Warbucks’ stunning Fifth Avenue mansion.

Many areas of the building, both first and second floors, were used as sets for the movie. The Undergraduate Admissions Office was turned into Daddy Warbucks’ private headquarters, the second-floor girls’ restroom was turned into Annie’s luxurious bathroom, and a second-floor conference room was turned into Warbucks’ study. Some students were joyous about this news and inquired with Rastar Films about hiring students to portray extras. Rastar did hire many locals in West Long Branch as extras, as the company filmed certain scenes in the surrounding area.

While many might be excited for their school to be a part of a movie so huge, tons of students were frustrated as classrooms were moved to outside trailers. Nine classroom trailers were scattered across the parking lots, furnished with desks for classes of at least 35 students. Faculty members were also distraught, as offices, such as the Undergraduate Administration Office, had been relocated to other buildings or the fourth floor of the Great Hall. Although students and faculty members were angered by the relocation of classrooms and offices, they complied with the events.

However, the final straw was when graduating students were forced to have their graduation relocated from the Great Lawn due to production. Many students were extremely outraged by this news, especially after working so hard for four years just to have their ceremony moved somewhere less scenic and rewarding.

One student in particular, Ann Marie Pulsch, wrote to the editors of “The Outlook,” expressing her and others’ concerns over this annoyance. All she asked for was for some consideration. She passionately expressed that after four years of difficult classes and challenging exams, students did not deserve to be put second to “Annie.” Unfortunately for the class of 1981, there were no changes made in production and their graduation ceremony was forced to be held elsewhere.

While the filming of “Annie” caused a lot of commotion in 1981, the final product was a success, as the centerpiece of our amazing campus was heavily showcased. So many iconic scenes such as Annie in her famous little red dress and Daddy Warbucks walking down the marble stairs, Annie playing the organ that remains in the Great Hall today, and Daddy Warbucks carrying Annie to her bedroom all promote the building that every Monmouth student gets to call home.

So, the next time you’re at the Great Hall, be grateful for the beautiful building that is a staple of our campus, and remember that you are walking on film history.