Classic Video Showplace


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The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace will feature prominent female-driven classic programs and films…and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond.

It wasn’t very common to see female characters in a starring role on successful non-comedy television series in the early 1950s.

It was unheard of to have a female lead in a TV western…

…except for Annie Oakley.

Gail Davis was one of few shining accomplishments for progressiveness in 1954 television by successfully portraying the popular Western hero.

The real Annie Oakley was a sharpshooting exhibitionist after the Civil War and toured the world showcasing her talents with a gun.  

At fifteen, she won a shooting contest against experienced marksman Frank E. Butler, whom she later married. The couple joined Buffalo Bill in performing in Europe before royalty and other heads of state. Audiences were astounded to see her shooting a cigar from her husband’s lips or splitting a playing-card edge-on at 30 paces, becoming one of the richest gun-slinging performers in the world.

Unlike the real Annie Oakley and the 1935 movie of the same name, the television version was completely fictionalized and strayed far away from the original screenplay. The only true similarity between the television and earlier versions was that Annie was an exceptional marksman, whose sharpshooting skills would rival anyone in the Ol’ West.

Cowboy legend Gene Autry came up with the idea for making the legacy of Annie Oakley into a television show.  Autry was the program’s executive producer under his company, Flying A Productions, of which Davis was a part prior to the show’s creation.  Gail’s personality made her an easy choice for the show’s likeable protagonist.

A common plot line throughout the series was that Annie’s Uncle/Sheriff  Luke MacTavish would be out of town on some other matter while at the same time trouble started brewing in their hometown of Diablo, Arizona. It was up to Oakley and her friends to try to save the day.

Starring as Annie’s little brother, Tagg, was Jimmy Hawkins, whose previous claim to fame was as Jimmy Stewart’s youngest son in the holiday classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.  Before retiring from acting in his late twenties, Hawkins would also have recurring roles on fellow television classics like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show.

Rumor has it that Hawkins himself inadvertently led to the end of the initial series’ run. Additional episodes for Annie Oakley were ordered after the 1957 season, but Hawkins went through a growth spurt and became too big to credibly play the role of Annie’s little brother.  Instead of recasting, legend says that the producers and studio executives decided to just end the show.

The episodes were so popular when they first ran in the mid-1950s as a weekly show that ABC then re-ran the series with daily airings in the late 1950s and early 1960s and again from 1964-1965. The show was finally sent into syndication over a decade after the show first premiered on network television.

You can see the adventures of this early female television star in Annie Oakley on RCN-TV every Tuesday evening at 9:30pm.

To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.