Friday, December 12, 2014

The many incarnations of Annie Oakley -- what a cast of different dames

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British born Emma Williams played a sultry, fun Annie Oakley.


"I can shoot a partridge, with a single cartridge."
"I can shoot a sparrow, with a bow and arrow."
         --From "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" 

Garland's Annie -- vulnerable, wide-eyed.
(archival art from vintage posters)

SO MANY women have played the part of Annie Oakley in "Annie Get Your Gun," that it staggers the imagination.
I've studied the character carefully -- and its various incarnations -- from Ethel Merman's brash, bold Annie to Judy Garland's wide-eyed and emotional Annie, to Doris Day's version which was wholesome and tuneful.
BETTY HUTTON won praise for her movie Annie, giving the character sex appeal, something Merman would never be linked with! Merman was in her own league, though, and every other Annie would be compared to her.
Patti Lupone wowed 'em with her fire, magnificent pipes and belt-it-out bravado. Reba McEntire's Annie Oakley was perky and flirty, with a country flair. Herbert and Dorothy Fields wrote the book for a musical based on Oakley's life and I listened to their brilliant lyrics as thought about Lilian.

Betty Hutton's Annie -- sultry for the day~!
 In creating this title role in our novel, we went for a three-dimensional human being.  She falls in love, she jilts a man who is wrong for her.  She fools around with two fellas at the same time. She has a substance abuse problem. She's also gorgeous, loyal, generous. She's, well, imperfect.
OUR STORY is spiced by the appearance of real show biz and art icons -- Buffalo Bill Cody, D.W. Griffith, Pickford, Chaplin, Pablo Picasso and many others.  Buffalo Bill, very much a real guy, hired our fictional Lilian.  The novel's characters interact with the real-life famous ones.
Bernadette Peters' Annie was
vulnerable and tender.
IN MY FAMILY, the motto was "come big or stay home."  So I'm coming big, but it's taken a while and it may never be more than a well reviewed novel........but who knows....
Many moons ago, when my novel collaborator William Jones and embarked upon "Lilian's Last Dance," I told him of a recurring dream, to write a Broadway musical.  My first husband, Bruce, and I talked about it and even sketched out a few melodies.  It would be a musical about a French born sharpshooter.  (Perhaps we'd just seen "Les Miserables" and were thinking French, but I believe it was frequent forays to Paris and Provence that made us imagine this beautiful, talented character.)  She'd be sexy, smart, sassy and sure of herself. Her confidence would be subtle, not brassy.

Merman's Annie:  she belted out the
songs, but wasn't what critics called

subtle. Crowds loved her blustering singing.
AFTER BRUCE died, Billy and I plugged away on "Lilian." Between stints on the novel, he encouraged me to write a half-dozen songs, towards "The Famous Broadway Musical," as we called it.
Mary Martin's Annie -- could she be
believable after "Peter Pan" and
"South Pacific"? Of course, it's show biz!
 We knew comparisons might be made to "Annie Get Your Gun" but our musical wouldn't be all nice, dreamy and idealistic.  It would have violence, death, unrequited love, accidents, murder and a couple really rotten characters.
Still, it was fun to revisit the famous "Annie Get Your Gun." On a 1999 trip to New York, the show was in revival with Bernadette Peters in the title role and Tom Wopat as Frank Butler. Peters was enchanting, expressive -- a world apart from Merman's over-the-top Annie. (Donald O'Connor, who played opposite Merman, blamed his hearing problem on her piercing voice!) Bernadette was strong but vulnerable, always a lady, even with her pistols! I've probably seen 15 versions, including Betty Hutton's movie Annie.
A vintage poster of the real life Annie Oakley,
touring with Buffalo Bill's famous Wild West show.
 The diminutive Mary Martin of "Peter Pan" fame played the lead to raves in 49 cities.
Another spin on Annie was given by Reba McEntire, who toured the show with a huge country and western following.

Patti Lupone's Annie was
a bit demure, fetching!
I'VE BEEN working on "Lilian"  here and there, between blogging, trips, family stuff, teaching workshops, playing piano in gin joints, taking tap dance lessons, helping the next tier of musicians with music lessons....
In crafting the Lilian of our novel, we delved into her French shooting background.  Bill and I traveled to Cisteron, a real place in Provence, where our fictional Lilian grew up. Like Annie Oakley, our Lilian learned to hunt with her father, who meets a dark end and appears briefly in a flashback.
In writing about her, we of course read about the real life Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann (Annie) Mosey on August 13, 1860.  We read several books about the real life Annie, who came off as shy yet determined, loyal to her family, smart, generous to friends, but not very three-dimensional.
In crafting Lilian's character, we tried to make her complex and a bit mysterious, laced with the contradictions that make all of us interesting.
We're looking for an artist to sketch the characters for the paperback version. If you're talented and interested, let us know at:
Meanwhile, the lyricists said it best:  there is no business like show business!
Glacier National Park is a treasure to Montanans and
worldwide visitors who admire its wildlife, including
this handsome mountain goat in repose.

COMING UP: Wild things! The U.S. is home to fabulous national parks, and they beckon the traveler to wildlife wonders.  Glacier Park is home to this fantastic mountain goat, along with grizzlies and many other exciting critters.  Remember, carpe diem, so explore, learn and live and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at: 

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