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Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane(1953)


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The real-life "Calamity Jane," Martha Jane Canary Burke (ca. 1850-1903), was a hard-drinking, sharpshooting frontierswoman known for wearing men's clothing and telling exaggerated stories about her life. As depicted in the film, she reportedly was a scout for Gen. George Armstrong Custer and carried mail through dangerous terrain between the towns of Custer and Deadwood in Dakota Territory. She also claimed to have galloped into the midst of attacking Indians to save the life of a wounded and horseless Capt. Egan, lifting him onto her horse and riding away with him. James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok (1837-1876) was a gunfighter, Union Army scout and Kansas marshal, who was killed by Jack McCall in a Deadwood saloon. Reportedly, Hickok was shot during a poker game in which he held the so-called "Dead Man's Hand" of aces and eights. Both Calamity and Hickok appeared in Wild West shows in their later years. According to some sources, Calamity boasted that she and Hickok were married, but there is no evidence that the two were ever romantically involved. However, at her request they were buried next to each other in a Deadwood cemetery.
       According to publicity materials dated 1944 in the AMPAS Library file on the film, Warner Bros. assigned Jerry Wald to produce an Alan LeMay screenplay titled Calamity Jane, which was slated to star Ann Sheridan and Jack Carson. A February 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Delmer Daves had been assigned to direct the film. Neither Sheridan nor Carson appeared in the viewed print, and the contributions of LeMay, Wald and Daves to the 1953 release, if any, have not been determined.
       Although their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed, the following cast members were listed in Hollywood Reporter news items: Brad Osborne, Post Park and James Gonzales. The Los Angeles Times review noted that Warner Bros. borrowed "unblushingly" from the stage musical Oklahoma! and the 1950 M-G-M film Annie Get Your Gun, which was directed by George Sidney and starred Betty Hutton and Howard Keel (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-1950). Both Annie Get Your Gun and Calamity Jane have a sharpshooting tomboy heroine and both co-star Keel as the romantic lead. The Daily Variety review noted that the song, "I Can Do Without You," which is sung by competitors Calamity and Hickok during a battle of the sexes, is reminiscent of the song "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" from Annie Get Your Gun.
       According to an October 1953 Los Angeles Daily News news item, Sigurd Anderson, governor of South Dakota, declined an invitation to the premiere of Calamity Jane, claiming that the heroine was not the kind of woman South Dakota should honor, and pointing out that the film inaccurately portrays Calamity as a sarsaparilla drinker, when in fact, she drank whiskey. However, an October 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that after the Twin Cities premiere, the mayors and Chambers of Commerce of Rapid City, Lead and Deadwood, SD, in cooperation with Warner Bros., held a gala for a Black Hills opening and proclaimed a "Calamity Jane Week."
       Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster received an Academy Award for their song "Secret Love." The song also became a pop hit single for Doris Day. Although Ray Heindorf was nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture, he lost to Alfred Newman's Call Me Madam. The Warner Bros. Sound Department, headed by William A. Mueller, was nominated for Best Sound Recording, but lost to Columbia's From Here to Eternity. Calamity Jane marked the final collaboration of director David Butler and producer William Jacobs; Jacobs died September 30, 1953. A modern source adds Jack Perrin to the cast.
       Other films featuring both Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok are the M-G-M/U-I 1995 release Wild Bill, starring Jeff Bridges and Ellen Barkin, which was directed by Walter Hill, and the 1984 CBS network television production Calamity Jane, which was directed by James Goldstone and starred Jane Alexander and Frederic Forrest. For other films featuring Calamity Jane, see the entry for The Paleface in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50. Among the many screen depictions of Hickok was the 1923 silent Paramount production, Wild Bill Hickok, which starred William S. Hart and was directed by Cecil B. DeMille (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30). Guy Madison portrayed Hickok in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, which aired on the Mutual radio network from 1951-1956, and on ABC and CBS television networks from 1951-1958.