Saturday, May 01, 2010
If Calamity Jane is remembered at all today - at least around the Pop Culture Institute - it's because of one movie: David Butler's nearly perfect 1953 musical Calamity Jane, which was produced by Warner Bros. and starred Doris Day as the lady herself and Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok. As indelible as Day's performance is, though, she was neither the only nor even the first person in movie history to play the legendary frontierswoman*...
Jean Arthur played her in the 1936 Gary Cooper film The Plainsman, and Jane Russell took her best shot at the character in the 1948 Bob Hope comedy The Paleface. Other filmic performances include those of Catherine O'Hara (opposite Patrick Swayze as Pecos Bill) in the 1995 film Tall Tale and Ellen Barkin in the same year's Wild Bill, which starred Jeff Bridges as Hickok. Television has not been immune to the charms of Calamity Jane either; in that medium she's been portrayed by such diverse lovelies as Stefanie Powers, Jane Alexander, Robin Weigert, and Anjelica Huston.
All of which means that the woman born Martha Jane Cannary on this day in 1852 has been portrayed on film for more years than the 51 she actually lived, and while most of those movies are nearly as interesting as the truth of her life, most of them also contain about as much truth as the stories she told about that life - which is to say not much!
*Although she was both the first and only person to play her as likely to burst into song without any notice!
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