There’s some terrific news out of VCI Entertainment this week. It’s about a real-life Western legend. No, make that an international legend! There was no doubt about it; legend she was.
She was born Phoebe Ann Moses at the beginning of the Civil War — the Western frontier was still untamed — and grew up in poverty in western Ohio and as a result she only had a smattering of formal education. And there her story might have ended.
But, Phoebe Ann had one amazing skill, she could shoot like any man … and pound for pound she was tougher than most. At the age of 15, and barely five-feet tall, she was pitted against the best shot in the land (a fellow named Francis E. Butler) at an event in Cincinnati, Ohio on Nov. 25, 1875 (Thanksgiving Day) for a cash prize of $100. For 24 rounds they matched each other shot for shot … and then he missed (he would marry her the following year).
The legend of Annie Oakley was born that day. She would become a fixture with Buffalo Bill's Wild West during the 1880s, be adopted by Sitting Bull and hob-nob with the likes of Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm … Teddy Roosevelt even named the “Rough Riders” in her honor.
Barbara Stanwyck portrayed her in director George Stevens’ 1935 film hit, Annie Oakley and 15 years later (1950) Betty Hutton did the same in the musical smash, Annie Get Your Gun. This did not go unnoticed and none other than Gene Autry, a Western star in his own right, who teamed with filmmaking legend Armand Schaefer, plus Colbert Clark and Louis Grey (who had all been associated with Autry over the years) to launch Annie Oakley, the television series.
Having worked on The Gene Autry Show (as different characters), it was only natural that Gail Davis would be the star of the new series, which was simply titled Annie Oakley. She was perfect for the role.
For three full seasons she starred (1954/55 through 1957/58 — 81 glorious Western adventures) as a fictionalized version of Annie Oakley (transplanted to Arizona, but actually filmed in Chatsworth and Corriganville, with location shots in Lonepine). The guest stars read like a who’s who of the period and include the likes of Harry Lauter, Walter Reed, Roy Barcroft, Slim Pickens … even the original Superman, Kirk Alyn.
Episodes have been hard to come by (VCI Entertainment even put out a few on a double-disc set some time back), but on Oct. 21 fans can celebrate the arrival of Annie Oakley: The Complete Series — all 81 episodes spread over a massive 11 disc DVD collection.
Bonus features include a newly-prepared feature-length documentary on the series star, Gail Davis, the original TV pilot featuring Billy Gray (best known as Bud in the Father Knows Best television series from this same period) as her brother Tagg (Jimmy Hawkins would take on that role in the actual series), an accompanying episode guide and not one, or two, or even three, but seven complete photo galleries from the personal collection of Gail Davis.
To download this week's complete edition of the DVD and Blu-ray Release Report: DVD & Blu-ray Release Report