This post is a fantastic post to tell you, dear readers, about the time I ran away to join the circus. I know there are plenty of kids that dream about doing this, but if you know me, you know, when I make a decision I stick with it. So, when I decided to join the circus, I took off.
You can imagine my mother’s horror when she arrived to pick me up from elementary school, and her daughter was nowhere to be found. This horror was compounded when my teacher told her I did not show up to school that day. I am certain her horror was even worse being in a foreign country.
Oh, did I mention I was five years old?
There are many things in my life I regret, but doing that to my mother is the worst.
This circus was pretty exciting it was a combination circus and carnival, but believe me, life in the circus is not all it is cracked up to be. It is work, work, work; I watched the roustabouts lay out hay, raise tents, build rides, and feed elephants and monkeys (that was the highlight). I remember the men were nice and were happy to explain what they were doing, but in retrospect, it is weird that no one thought to take the wandering five-year-old child back to the school across the street.
Fortunately, my mother found me, and thus ended my brilliant career as a German circus performer. I will be honest there is a part of me that wonders “what if,” because there is no business like show business:
“Annie Get Your Gun” is a film adaptation of the Irving Berlin musical based on the life of legendary sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, a woman who (unlike me) had a brilliant career in the circus. Here is the real Annie Oakley in a short film made by Thomas Edison in 1894.
The Broadway musical was written as a vehicle for Ethel Merman. Judy Garland was originally cast in the cinematic version; however, Garland suffered from exhaustion during filming and MGM recast Betty Hutton in the lead role. As a general rule, I am always on #TeamJudy, and it is unfortunate that Judy Garland was unable to complete the part. And despite being the better singer, Judy Garland does not seem the right choice for Annie Oakley.Here is Judy performing Annie’s first number, “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly”
Judy performs well, but you can’t help but feel she is rolling her eyes at the number.
Here is Betty Hutton, performing the same scene, Betty Hutton is a natural comedian and is clearly having the time of her life. She is a much better choice for Annie, so, in this case, I am on #TeamBetty.
“Annie Get Your Gun” follows Colonel Buffalo Bill Cody (Louis Calhern) and his famous Wild West show, a traveling circus, headlined by the smug, womanizing, and chauvinistic star performer Frank Butler, played by Howard Keel.
The circus issues a shooting challenge, to promote the circus to the locals. Famous sharpshooter Frank Butler will compete in a shooting competition with the local town hero if the shooter can outshoot Frank they will get $100. A local hotel owner sees Annie’s natural ability and her ignorance and offers her $5 to compete against Frank.
The dashing and handsome Frank reduces tough Annie to a slackjawed idiot, but Annie’s charms do little for Frank.
Annie arrives at the competition and she out shoots Frank and is immediately offered a job in the circus. Annie having fallen head over heels for that snappy dresser Frank agrees to join the show.
As the tour continues, Annie focuses on her goal becoming a woman Frank would be attracted to and appears as though her plan is perfect. Frank finally sees Annie as a woman.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill’s competitor Pawnee Bill keeps arriving in the neighboring town, with his headliner Sitting Bull. To attract an audience, Buffalo Bill decides to make Annie the main attraction; Frank attempts to swallow his pride, after all; he wants to marry Annie. …Until he sees her act.
Professional jealousy kicks in, and Frank leaves the circus to work with Pawnee Bill.
Annie becomes an international sensation, touring throughout Europe. Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill decide to unite and create one unified show.
But when Annie meets Frank the competition starts back up!
In true old Hollywood fashion, this mismatched couple manages to transcend their differences; but while “Annie Get Your Gun” is a charming musical with many enjoyable numbers and an adorable cast, so much of this film is cringe-worthy.
I’m An Indian Too
The most obvious problem is the song “I’m an Indian, too.” Fans of the 1999 Broadway revival version may not recognize this song, it was removed from the production and replaced with an adorable duet for two secondary characters “Who Do You Love, I Hope?”
“I’m an Indian, too” contains such charming lyrics as:
Just like Rising Moon, Falling Pants, Running Nose
Like those Indians
I’m an Indian too
But before we judge, we should consider the song in the context of its source. Irving Berlin, the composer, was a staunch activist for racial equality, as were Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, the original Broadway producers. The song plays to an alarming number of racial stereotypes, though less alarming considering the film was made in 1950, and while the lyrics are disturbing, “Annie Get Your Gun” offers a positive portrayal of its native American characters.
Sitting Bull is an educated, shrewd businessman who is a wise counsel with matters of the heart. There is a complete acceptance between Annie and Sitting Bull, he adopts her as his daughter, and she is proud to become a member of his family, while the film appears to highlight cultural differences, it presents an entirely happy and accepting blended family, quite shocking for a movie from the 1950s.
You Cain’t Git a Man with a Gun
The film seems extremely sexist; Frank tells Annie to “put down her daddy’s gun and get her knitting needles.”
Annie defies the audience’s expectations; the circus attendees laugh at female entering a shooting competition, but she is clearly the more talented shooter. Then we consider Annie’s motivations, everything she does is to get Frank to want to marry her; songs drive home repeatedly that men do not want women who can shoot; they want a soft feminine woman; Annie immediately works to become Frank’s ideal woman. She joins the circus to be near him and is happy to work as an assistant, allowing Frank to shine. But while Annie is willing to bend, and wear beautiful dresses, it is Frank who must check his ego, and accept that he his second best.
“Annie Get Your Gun” ultimately teaches its audience that if a woman wants to catch a man, she has to be feminine, but women can be the breadwinner, and the one in charge, but they have to let men think they are in charge. Not tremendously bad advice.Especially for a 1950s film.
And while it is not a feminist masterpiece, “Annie Get Your Gun” is forward thinking for its times.
At The Circus
“Annie Get Your Gun,” tells a fictional account of real-life circus performers, and the song “There’s No Business like Show Business” perfectly captures the excitement of performing. Its circus scenes are thrilling, and the trick riding is impressive. I am fairly sure had I stayed with the circus, I would have been a trick rider.
This post is part of the #AtTheCircus Blogathon.
The #AtTheCircus Blogathon has a soft rollout date see Le’s lovely post for an explanation.
Be sure to stick with Le and me, we will gradually roll out the posts for #AtTheCircus throughout the month of November.
We will gladly accept and promote your posts as we receive them!