Annie Oakley (1935)

 

 

 

 

Director:    George Stevens.

Starring:     Barbara Stanwyck (Annie Oakley), Preston Foster (Toby Walker), Melvyn Douglas (Jeff Hogarth), Moroni Olsen (Buffalo Bill), Pert Kelton (Vera Delmar), Andy Clyde (James MacIvor), Chief Thunderbird (Sitting Bull), Margaret Armstrong (Mrs. Oakley), Delmar Watson (Wesley Oakley).

Loosely based on the story of the great female sharpshooter of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.  In the show, she is an uncultured hick from the Ozarks having a hard time wooing a fellow sharpshooter. 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"No fiction is stranger than the actual life of Annie Oakley who came out of a backwoods village half a century ago to astonish the world."

Four men are sitting around a general store talking about who they should vote for president:  James G. Blain or Grover Cleveland.  A man comes and starts putting up a poster on the side of the general store.  The store owner gets a bit angry and tells the man to take the poster down, but Annie Oakley and family ride up  in a wagon and Annie asks the man to finish putting  the top half of the poster on the wall.  The store owner says that's all right if Annie Oakley wants it that way-- go ahead and finish the job. 

The poster talks about the great Toby Walker, the world's greatest sharpshooter, who is appearing nightly with his spectacular shooting exhibition.  Annie looks at the picture of Toby and asks:  "Gosh, ain't he pretty?"  Lem, the store owner, says he bets that Annie is a better shot than this Toby Walker.  Annie has been feeding her family on the money she makes selling the quail that she shoots to fancy restaurants in Cincinnati through Lem.    An express company sends the quail to the MacIvor Hotel, James MacIvor, proprietor, Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Mr. MacIvor is hosting a banquet to honor Toby Walker and the mayor will be there. In the hotel bar Toby signs up with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.  Some of the men are drunk and they say that maybe this Toby Walker isn't such a great shot at all.  Toby responds that he will bet that he can defeat any of their local sharpshooters.  Mr. MacIvor has someone in mind that might be able to defeat Mr. Walker.  So Walker and MacIvor make a $200 dollar bet on a sharp shooting contest between Walker and the challenger. 

A woman named Vera walks into the bar and this shocks the men because no women are allowed.  She knows Toby well and Toby has to take her out of the saloon, so he escorts her out to the hotel lobby.  Walker hired her for his show, but he says ". . . there just ain't no place in the Buffalo Bill show for a gal." 

MacIvor calls up Lem on the phone and tells him about the shooting contest.  He says he wants the sharpshooter who shoots the quails always in the head.  The reception on the telephone is bad and he assumes that it is a man, so he says he wants Lem to get this Andy Oakley here in the morning. 

In the morning a photographer takes a photo of the people at the gun club ready for the match.  Annie and family arrive while the people are standing absolutely still for the photo.  When the photo is finished the people return to what they were doing.  Not expecting a woman shooter, no one notices Annie.  She hears a man talking about a shooter who can hit quail in the head with every shot.  She asks MacIvor if he is looking for her, because she's Oakley.  MacIvor figures the shooter must be her father and he asks where is he?  Annie says:  "Well, he's dead."   MacIvor then asks where is hr brother.  She introduces her whole family to MacIvor.  Her brother is just a young boy, sister Susie is still young and then there's her mother.  MacIvor now says he is looking for Mr. Andy Oakley.  Annie laughs and tells him that he made a mistake.  She is Annie Oakley, not Andy Oakley.  The hotel proprietor is so upset that he is going to cancel the contest.  Annie asks him:  "You mean just because I'm not a man, you ain't gonna let me shoot?"  Toby's agent, Mr. Hogarth, intervenes saying the bet still stands.  Annie will shoot.  She is told now that she will be going up against Toby Walker, the pretty one.  Annie says she can't go up against Toby Walker.  Hogarth tells her not to be afraid.  Annie says:  "Oh, I ain't scared he could beat me."  She adds it just that the contest doesn't seem reasonable.  (She doesn't say why it's unreasonable.)  Annie now bets the $37 dollars of her own and other people's money on herself to win.

Annie looks over the rifles she can choose from.  Toby comes over and tells the "kid"l not to mess with those rifles. Annie shows him that she has her own rifle. She says: "It was clean through the Civil War."   He laughs at her old rifle and asks her:  "Up from the sticks to see me make a monkey out of that Oakley?"  Annie gets mad and replies:  "The shootingest monkey you ever saw . . .."  Hogarth intervenes and tells Toby that this is his opponent in the shooting contest.  Toby asks if this is some kind of joke?  Are they trying to make a fool out of him eating a mere kid  --  a girl kid at that.  Oakley says Walker is right.  "He'd look awful silly if I beat him in front of all these folks."  Toby doesn't like her kind of bravado. 

Annie shoots first.  They both miss on the first try.  Toby asks for something harder than busting bottles sitting on a board.  So they decide to use moving targets  -- namely clay pigeons.  They both shoot clay pigeon after clay pigeon and now the men start teasing and taunting Toby about losing to a girl.   They says the girl is going to shoot him out of his contract.  They lay it on so thick that Annie starts to feel sorry for him. She decides to deliberately miss and she does so.  Toby shoots and hits his target and wins the contest.

Annie and her family slowly walk to their wagon.  They stop at the general store.  Annie has to go in and explain what happened.  Annie says that she will pay them back even if she has to give them a whole winter's shooting.   She says she deliberately missed a shot.  Annie tells the men that she just didn't have the heart to beat that fellow.   He was too pretty. She goes outside.  Mr. Hogarth arrives and he tells Annie that he forgot to bet her money so he is returning her $37 dollars. This makes Annie happy.  But what Hogarth really wants to talk about is Annie joining the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.  Annie is worried about leaving her family, but Hogarth assures her that she will be paid good money.  But what cinches the deal is that Hogarth tells her that Toby Walker will be right there with her for the next two years.  Annie says:  "Mister, it's a deal."

Toby talks with Buffalo Bill who stresses that he wants the "real genuine article" or nothing. Walker says that's what the Colonel is going to get from him.  Toby leaves.

Hogarth brings Annie to the show.  He says he wants to go in first and tell Buffalo Bill about the new act.  Cody thinks the idea is some kind of joke.  Hogarth assures him it's not.  Annie comes in saying that she heard her name being called.  Hogarth introduces her to Buffalo Bill.  Cody seems to like Annie well enough, but he says he's afraid to tell the men about having a woman in the show.  Hogarth tells his partner that he can tell the men for Cody. 

Cody tries to tell a gathering of the all male crew, but can't find the words.  So Hogarth just tells the men right out that Annie is joining the show.  The men say welcome, but as they start to leave, they start asking what are they going to do with a woman in the show? 

At dinner time Cody and Hogarth take Annie over to the mess tent.  There is a big turnout for dinner this night, because all the guys want to get a good look at Annie.  Cody tells them:  "Judging from the turnout, I guess you boys see the light. All right, fellows, what do you say?"  Every man quickly stands up and goes down again while saying:  "Howdy, Miss Oakley."  Hogarth tells the guys that sounds might good.  He adds: ". . . someday you're gonna be darn proud to say you knew Annie Oakley."  Toby Walker is standing up and he seconds the opinion:  "That's right.  Take it from one who knows."  Annie looks around and is pleased to see Toby again.  Hogarth and Cody introduce her to Ned Buntline, writer of many dime novels about western heroes.  Hogarth wants to sit on the right side of Annie, but Tobby rushes over and grabs the seat before Hogarth can sit down.  Hogarth has to go sit on the opposite side of the table from Toby. 

At the dinner table Buffalo Bill says he wants to grab Chief Sitting Bull of the Sioux to be in their show.  Toby says it's not good to bring a dirty Sioux into the show mix.  Buffalo Bill says the easterners will pay big money to see Sitting Bull.  Then Walker has the nerve to say:  "Toby Walker's the lad who will pack your arena."  Almost everyman drops their spoon in the their soup or sets down his coffee hard on the table.  They can't believe the man's ego.

Hogarth and Cody take Annie past the tents of Major Buntline, Hogarth and Col. Cody  before they reach Annie's tent.  Hogarth has provided her tent with some beautiful flowers and Annie thanks both gentlemen.  The gentlemen say good night to Annie.  Then Hogarth spots a fifth tent in the line.  He goes over to it and sees the name Toby Walker prominently displayed on a sign at the tent entrance.  Hogarth calls a workman over and whispers something to him about Toby's tent. 

Toby is still talking to the guys at the table saying who great he is.  Walker says he learned to shoot in a shooting gallery in the Bowery.  This gives the men a big laugh and they called him a Bowery cowboy.  Toby fights back with:  "Boys, I just had to make this jaunt to show you western monkeys how to shoot."  One westerner comments:  "That bronc's begging to be busted."

Tobby walks over to his tent only to find that the workmen have removed the tent from around his furniture.  Hogarth is having him moved to the other side of the buffalo corral.  Toby doesn't like it, but quickly decides maybe it would be better for at least his rifles will be safer against theft.  As he starts to carry his rifles, Annie stops him so she can talk to him.  So the two start talking about the content they had against each other.  And she tells him that she let him win the contest. 

The next day Buffalo Bill watches Annie's performance and he tells Hogarth that he doesn't think she will make the grade.  The lady is just a "shooting machine" without the pizzazz to really sell her act to the audience.  Toby hears this and looks concerned for Miss Annie Oakley.  Soon Toby is working with Annie to improve her act.  He says she can shoot as good as he can, but what she needs is color and showmanship. 

The show is in Washington, D.C. and all the bit politicians are coming to see the show.  The show starts features a display of rodeo type skills, like horse breaking, riding bulls and roping calves.  In the audience sits Ned Buntline with Rain-in-the-Face and Sitting Bull.  Sitting Bull isn't much impressed by the show.  Next comes some fancy riding tricks, supposedly done by Russian Cossacks and some American cowboys.  Now Mr. Toby Walker is introduced to the audience.  He blows out the candles on a chandelier with his bullets.  Now Miss Annie Oakley is presented.  She uses one of the routines Toby showed her, but she is going to hit five objects thrown up instead of Toby's two.  Annie accomplishes what she said she would do and the audience goes wild for her.  Sitting Bull is so impressed that he runs onto the field to congratulate Annie.  But the chief scares Annie and she gets backing up to get away from him.  Toby steps in and tells Annie not to worry.  Chief Sitting Bull just wants to compliment her on her performance.  Annie is greatly relieved to hear this.  And the chief has given her a new Indian names that mans "Little Sure Shot".  Furthermore, Sitting Bull says he will join the troupe if Annie will shoot like that everyday. 

Now the show puts on an Indian attack against an immigrant wagon train.  They battle it out until Buffalo Bill comes to the rescue with more cowboys behind him.  Sitting Bull gets so excited he runs out to one of the cowboys and is going to actually take the man's scalp until an Indian tells Sitting Bull that this is all just in fun. 

Buntline publishes a book entitled Buffalo Bill's Ward:  Annie Oakley, the Prairie Primrose.  Toby is getting a bit jealous of Annie and thinks he is being pushed to the sidelines.  But Ned Buntline has an idea.  They will put on a show of male versus female, Toby Walker versus Annie Oakley, for the rifle championship of the world.  Annie apologizes to Toby for all this talk about her when she wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for Toby.  Toby  tells her not to worry because as far as he is concerned she is aces with him. 

In the newspapers there and article about how Annie Oakley defeated the World Champion Rifleman and how bitterness exists between Buffalo Bill stars.  Toby and Annie have dinner together.  She asks him if he is mad about all this publicity about her beating him?  He says no and he tells Annie that she has really got him.  No other girl stands a chance with him.  Annie is thrilled to hear this from Toby.  But he cautions her that they can't let any know they are so close, because it's better for business to act like they don't like each other and are "pretty near enemies".  Toby also says that he doesn't care that Annie can beat him.  In fact, he says, he is very proud of her.  But, she must remember that she hates him.  They kiss. 

Back home in Annie's county, everyone is going to Cincinnati to see Annie Oakley perform in the Wild West Show.   They are very proud of their native daughter. 

Annie and Toby go walking through the Indian area of the show.  Sitting Bull sees them and wants to play matchmaker.  He has them sit on either side of him.  He draw a picture of two teepess then indicates that the two teepess should become one teepee.  He also points out to them the beauty of a little Indian girl being carried on her mother's back. 

A drunk and his two friends wants to shoot Sitting Bull because he had a brother under Custer killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn.  He goes into Sitting Bull's tent.  Toby sees him point his pistol at Sitting Bull and Toby grabs for the pistol and deflects it when it goes off very close to his left eye.  Now Toby fights all three of the assassins until Sitting Bull calls for reinforcements.  The Indians run off the three white men. 

Toby goes to have his left eye checked.  The doctor tells him that he has a form of corneal opacity, a compressed condition of the optic membrane.  He tells Toby to go easy with those eyes, but he should see reasonably well. 

But Toby can't see well enough to do the kind of shooting that he used to do.  He thinks about quitting his participation in the shows with Annie, but Annie speaks so kindly to him about putting on the best show they can for the people that he feels obliged to keep on shooting.  In a contest of kicking cans down a surface with their bullets, Toby has a hard time hitting the can.  He volunteers to let Annie shot the end of a cigarette from his mouth. Annie wants to return the favor so she will hold a quarter between thumb and finger for Toby to shoot it from her hand.  Toby is mad when he here's the announcer says that now Toby will shoot a quarter from the hand of Annie.  But then Toby starts really getting razed by the audience and his co-workers.  They start saying he doesn't have the nerve to do the shot, that he is afraid and that he is a coward.  Toby feels that he has to shoot the quarter from Annie's hand.  Toby fires and knicks Annie's hand. 

Now the owners and co-workers and the audience want to rip Toby apart.  They say he did it deliberately or he tried to kill her.  Good thing that Buffalo Bill was right there to take the first action.  He tells the men to throw Toby off the lot.  Then they go over to see Annie and express their kindest sympathies for her.  They condemn Toby for what he did to her even though Annie says he didn't mean to hit her with his shot.  Annie wants to know where is Toby and how is he?  The men don't want Toby to ever be around Annie again, but Annie is so worried about Toby that she starts crying and says she wants to see him because he is kind and good.  She adds that the men just don't understand Toby and they never really gave him a chance in the show.  Everyone leaves expressing their good wishes for Annie, but Hogarth stays behind. 

Hogarth tells Annie that she has to forget about Toby.  Annie says she will not forget Toby.  When Toby shows up at her door, Hogarth interferes so much that the two can't even talk to each other.  Hogrrth says some very negative things about Toby that hurt his feelings and he goes away.  Annie screams:  "Toby!!" but Toby keeps walking away.  Hogarth now makes her go to bed.  He leaves. 

Vera comes to see Toby.  Toby tells her he's on the skids.  Vera tells him she is taking him out for a night on the town to help him forget what has happened.  As they leave his hotel room Annie tries to talk with Toby.  Toby has his feelings still hurt and he lets Vera ball out Annie for being such a negative influence in Toby's life.  Annie goes back up to her room.  Toby now tells Vera he is not going out on the town with her.  He leaves her behind.

Cody, Hogarth and Buntline all come in to Annie's room to tell her that the Wild West Show is going on a European tour.  Hogarth says she will be the darling of kings and queens.  They want her to come with them to celebrate, but Annie indicates that she would rather stay in her room.  So the men leave her alone and go partying.  They are detained, however, by Sitting Bull shooting out the gas flames in his chandelier with his pistol.  Everyone comes running to the chief's room.  MacIvor is mad at Sitting Bull, but Buffalo Bill won't let anything spoil his good mood.  He tells the hotel proprietor that he will pay the damages and Sitting Bull can shoot up any hotel he wants to.  He tells MacIvor and Sitting Bull that they are all going out to have a blast. 

Annie tours London, Paris, Vienna, Rome and St. Petersburg.  She meets the Tsar and the Tsarina, but commits some errors by shaking hands with the Tsarina before she approached the Tsar and she shook hands when she was supposed to kiss their hands.  Hogarth now tells Annie that he loves her. 

Now Annie goes to Germany and meets Crown Prince Wilhelm.  She shoots a cigarette out of the mouth of the Crown Prince. 

Annie will now participate in a parade of the show up Fifth Avenue in New York City.  She tells Hogarth that she is leaving the show when she gets to New York because she is just not happy.  Hogarth knows that she is not happy because she is not with Toby.  So now he gives her a piece from the New York Clipper saying:  "Report Annie Oakley shooting was accidental!  Doctor divulges Toby Walker was nearly blinded in saving Sitting Bull.  Walker still missing."   Annie tells her companion that they have to find Toby.  Hogarth says:  "We will." 

These days Toby helps runs the shooting booth in an arcade.  He puts pictures of Annie from newspapers up on a side wall of the arcade booth.  The boys at the arcade keep asking Toby if he really knew Annie Oakley.  Toby says yes, but the boys don't really believe him.  In fact, a man that hangs out at the arcade makes fun of Toby with all of his big name people he says he knew. 

Toby decides to go see the Wild West Show when it's in New York.  Annie wonders if Toby is out in that crowd.  Buffalo Bill introduces Annie and she rides out to join him.  While she is out there, she scans the crowd hoping to see Toby.  Sitting Bull comes out and he spots Toby in the stands.  While an Indian attack on a stage coach proceeds, Sitting Bull races his horse over to the stands where Toby sits and he runs up through the stands.  The people start screaming as what looks like a wild Indian comes at them.  Sitting Bull keeps shouting:  "Toby!"  Toby sneaks out under the tent, but Sitting Bull chases after him.  He even follows him through the streets of New York.  Toby goes back to his arcade job.  A drunken gentlemen is led out of a saloon by his cab driver.  The gentlemen gets away from the driver but bumps into Sitting Bull and goes down.  The gentleman's toupee falls off his head.  Sitting Bull picks it up and the other guys thinks that an Indian has just scalped the gentleman and runs the other way. 

Sitting Bull now takes the cab and drives it into the Wild West Show.  He gets out and yells to Annie that he has found Toby.  So Annie goes with Sitting Bull in the cab. 

At the arcade Toby lets two young kids have three shots each and he tells them to hurry up and finish before the boss comes.  One boy goes first and is not doing so well.  All of a sudden the clay pipes start bursting from right to left down the line.  Toby thinks he's seeing things, but then thinks that with shooting like that it must be Annie Oakley.  The boys and the man are aghast now at the sight of Toby kissing the great Annie Oakley.  Toby turns to be boys and the man and asks:  "Did I know Annie Oakley?"

 

 Enjoyed the movie.  A charming love story is the subject of the film.  But the story is a bit wrong.  There was a shooting match between a man named Butler and Annie, but they married the next year after meeting.  The marriage lasted some 44 years and was only stopped because Annie died at age 66.  The couple was already married when they joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.  But in a Hollywood movie the couple can't come together almost immediately.  No, they want to have a buildup; they want to throw in obstacles for the pair to overcome; throw in a rival to the true love; and then they have their couple come  together.  The film has a nice story, only it just didn't happen that way.  But on the other hand, the film does give a good idea of the kind of show put on by Buffalo Bill.   Barbara Stanwyck is extremely charming as Annie Oakley.  Moroni Wilson plays Buffalo Bill Cody and what great casting.  He was bigger than anyone else around him adding to his mystique.  Chief Thunderbird plays Sitting Bull and provides some good comic relief. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

1860  --  birth of Phoebe Ann Mosey (the future Annie Oakley) in a rural western border county of Ohio. 

1866  --  her father dies of pneumonia at age 66 when Annie is six years of age.  Her mother remarries, but becomes a widow for a second time.  Annie starts hunting at the age of six and sells the game to locals, restaurants and hotels. 

1868 or 1869  --  Annie is put in the care of the superintendent of the county poor farm.  Then she was loaned out to a local family that used her as a virtual slave and abused her terribly.  Soon she returned to the county poor farm.  . 

1873 or 1874  --  Annie is reunited with her family.  Her mother has married for a third time, this time to Joseph Shaw. 

1875  --  at age 15 Annie is able to pay off her mother's mortgage on her farm. 

1881 – the Baughman and Butler shooting act performs in Cincinnati. Butler, an Irish immigrant, puts a side bet of $100 dollars with hotel owner Jack Frost that he can beat any local shooter in the area. Annie was his opponent. He loses the match, but starts courting Oakley. 

1882  --  marriage of Butler and Oakley.  They live in Cincinnati in the Oakley neighborhood.  

1884 – the Butlers join the Sells Brothers Circus as "champion rifle shots" for one season.

1885  --  Butler and Oakley join Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.  She has stiff competition from a younger woman named Lillian Smith and Annie leaves the show for awhile.  She comes back when Lillian Smith leaves the show.  She goes on a European trip with the show and meets many kings and queens.  Her husband becomes her manager. 

1892  --  Annie bought property in Nutley, New Jersey.  They lived here between tours with the Wild West Show. 

1894 – Oakley and Butler perform in Edison's Kinetoscope film, The "Little Sure Shot" of the "Wild West," exhibition of rifle shooting at glass balls, etc. filmed in Edison’s Black Maria studio in West Orange, New Jersey.

1894  --  performs at an amateur circus in Nutley, New Jersey to raise funds of the Red Cross.  She lives in Nutley for awhile. 

1898 – Annie writes President William McKinley "offering the government the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' who would provide their own arms and ammunition should the U.S. go to war with Spain."

1901 – Oakley is badly injured in a train wreck. She has temporary paralysis and five operations on her spine. But she does fully recover.

1902  -- Oakley quits the Wild West Show.  She becomes an actress. 

1903 – newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst publishes a false story that Oakley had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. Annie launches 55 libel lawsuits and wins 54 of them. She, however, spends more on legal fees than what she got from Hurst.

1904  --  she and her husband sell the house in Nutley, NJ. 

1911 – Oakley joins another wild west show, "The Young Buffalo Show".

1913 – Oakley and Butler retire and settle down in Cambridge, Maryland on the eastern shore.

1914 – publication of Oakley’s first autobiography, Powders I have Used by the Du Pont Powder Company.

1922 – in a shooting contest in Pinehurst, North Carolina, sixty-two-year-old Oakley hit 100 clay targets from 16 yards (15 m).

1926 – at age 66 Annie dies of pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio.  Her husband refuses to eat and dies 18 days later. 

 

 

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