From the most prolific author to write on all things Western, Larry McCurtry follows the rise of international celebrity "Buffalo" Bill Cody, tracker, part-time Indian scout and showman, and his most famous and celebrated star, Annie Oakley, the gifted woman sharpshooter, and how they became the first of America's great superstars.
From the early 1800s to the end of his life in 1917, Buffalo Bill Cody was as famous as anyone could be. Annie Oakley was his most celebrated protégée, the 'slip of a girl' from Ohio who could (and did) outshoot anybody to become the most celebrated star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
In this sweeping dual biography, Larry McMurtry explores the lives, the legends and above all the truth about two larger-than-life American figures. With his Wild West show, Buffalo Bill helped invent the image of the West that still exists today—cowboys and Indians, rodeo, rough rides, sheriffs and outlaws, trick shooting, Stetsons, and buckskin. The short, slight Annie Oakley—born Phoebe Ann Moses—spent sixteen years with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, where she entertained Queen Victoria, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, and Kaiser Wilhelm II, among others. Beloved by all who knew her, including Hunkpapa leader, Sitting Bull, Oakley became a legend in her own right and after her death, achieved a new lease of fame in Irving Berlin's musical Annie, Get Your Gun.
To each other, they were always 'Missie' and 'Colonel'. To the rest of the world, they were cultural icons, setting the path for all that followed. Larry McMurtry—a writer who understands the West better than any other—recreates their astonishing careers and curious friendship in a fascinating history that reads like the very best of his fiction.
As is McMurtry's wont in works of nonfiction (e.g., Crazy Horse), this dual bio reads more like an extended elegy than biography. Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, the demigods of western mythology, hold particular personal appeal for McMurtry. In a diner in his hometown of Archer City, Tex., McMurtry writes, "here is a Cody poster that I sometimes study if I happen to land in the right booth," and as a child he heard his uncles recollect having seen Cody perform. This personal attachment doesn't obscure the quality of McMurtry's observations, and the book's aim, to separate fact from folklore, is beautifully accomplished. The Wild West show and all of its mytho-historical components, such as riding the Pony Express, hunting bison, killing Tall Bull, scalping Yellow Hair both distorted and magnified western heritage to a level of fantasy that captivates readers, including McMurtry, to this day. He smartly analyzes Cody's genius for PR, evidenced in such tactics as continually announcing that his next tour would be his last and seeing that cowboys' informal roping competitions could be turned into money-making rodeo shows.It's jarring when McMurtry tries to explicate Cody and Oakley's unprecedented fame by comparing them to today's pop stars, as in analogizing Annie Oakley's prima donna stage behavior to that of Martha Stewart and Courtney Love. Regardless, this book's a delight. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.