|Gail Davis as Annie Oakley|
The year I discovered Annie Oakley, the TV series starring Gail Davis, 1955, I was eight. It was the year my ragtag family–single mom, little brother and I–had moved into the one-room garage apartment behind my Grandmother's house. I didn't know we were a 1950s anomaly. Childhood is just childhood when you're in it. Your family is just the people you live with. If there's no Dad there's no Dad. That's only really troublesome for the three weeks surrounding the "Father & Daughter" banquet. Of course, all of our cousins and school chums lived in houses with two parents, but the people we dreamed of being lived on-screen on Saturday morning in anything but two-parent families.
Penny from Sky King lived with her uncle on a ranch with horses and an airplane and all manner of ranch hands. Annie Oakley lived with her mostly absent uncle and her little brother Tagg. She captured outlaws better than the best.
Rusty lived at Fort Apache with Rin Tin Tin, Lt. Masters, and Sgt. O’Hara. All the others seemed to live with “sidekicks.” The Cisco Kid had Pancho. Wild Bill Hickok had Jingles. Tonto had the Lone Ranger. Even Roy Rogers spent more time with Gabby than with the insipid Dale Evans. Who could blame him, really?
In an era of strict conformity, 1950s Saturday morning TV with its configuration of "outsiders," saved me. Maybe it was because all those blacklisted Hollywood commies were working in television.
Now, I think that Gail Davis’ Annie Oakley fostered a generation of girls who wouldn't settle for being the sidelined Dale Evans. Annie told us we could be in the center of the action–that our lives could be heroic. In the late 60s, those pig-tailed girls eagerly awaiting Saturday morning became the radicals of the burgeoning Women's Movement.
|Gail Davis as Annie Oakley riding Target|
In 2004, Gail Davis was posthumously inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Davis' exhibit there recalls her impact on young girls:
"Back then I knew the show was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way.”
Daedalus Books has Annie Oakley, TV Collection Volume 1 and Volume 2 as well as The Cisco Kid: Collection 1 through 4.
Guest blogger Linda Thornburg is a filmmaker and writer. She's currently working on a screenplay about growing up queer and clueless in the 50s & 60s.