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American Experience: Annie Oakley Rebroadcast

April 23, 2013 | By Public Programs Staff

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: ANNIE OAKLEY

Rebroadcast: Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 8:00-9:00 p.m. on PBS, ET (check local listings)

Annie Oakley personified the vanished Old West for millions of Americans—but she more accurately represents her nation in the years when she was a great star, from the mid-1880s through the early 1900s. The United States in the late Victorian age was a country caught between the disappearing frontier and the emerging machine age. Americans were full of nostalgia for the past, particularly the Wild West. But they lived in a country where twentieth-century technology was roaring in—a country that was home to a movement crusading for women’s rights and other progressive causes. Oakley was a star sharpshooter of the Wild West Shows, which were the most popular form of live entertainment in the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth-century. Many Americans in her day believed that the Old West had been the most “American” place—eliminating distinctions of wealth, fostering honesty, courage, hard work, and self-sufficiency. In a time of massive immigration, industrialization, overcrowding and rampant disease in Eastern cities, the Wild West Shows flourished because they were a way of looking backward. Most people have seen Oakley as either a determined feminist or the woman who gave up everything to stand by her man, like the fictionalized version of her in the musical Annie Get Your Gun. But the real Annie Oakley was more complicated. She was a superb athlete and consummate entertainer, yet strove always to be seen as a genteel Victorian lady. She advocated increased independence for women—yet was a staunch opponent of women’s suffrage. Today many believe that Annie Oakley is a mythical character. Her real life was entirely overshadowed by the legend. Annie Oakley now reveals the authentic Annie Oakley—a genuinely complicated person whose many contradictions mirrored her times.

PRODUCTION ORGANIZATION: American Experience/WGBH
YEAR PRODUCED: 2006
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Mark Samels
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR: Riva Freifeld
WRITER: Ken Chowder
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Joel Shapiro, Boyd Estus, Robert Elfstrom, Michael Chin, John Chater
EDITOR: David Espar
NARRATOR: Laura Linney

DISTRIBUTOR: WGBH


Film/Video Arts, Inc. received four grants for a documentary on the life and times of Wild West Show sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, and how her character represented the paradoxes of her country from the mid-1880s through the early 1900s.