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As depicted in the film, Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Anne Oakley Moses in 1860, was a markswoman who first toured circus and vaudeville circuits, and from 1885 to 1902 was a star attraction in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Her husband, Frank E. Butler, was a noted marksman who toured with her. For more biographical information on Buffalo Bill Cody, please see the entry below for Buffalo Bill. The stage musical Annie Get Your Gun was first performed on Broadway on May 16, 1946, directed by Joshua Logan and starring Ethel Merman and Ray Middleton.
Contemporary sources add the following information about the production: In late February 1947, M-G-M purchased the film rights to the Broadway show for a record $650,000, and immediately cast Judy Garland in the title role. Bing Crosby was considered to co-star with Garland in April 1948. Rehearsals on the film began in early October 1948, and Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli, who was three years old at the time, was set to portray Annie Oakley's young sister. Production on the film initially began on April 4, 1949, with Busby Berkeley directing and Al Jennings assisting. Harry Stradling was the film's photographer. In early May, Berkeley was replaced by fellow dance director Charles Walters. Although a May 4, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Berkeley asked to be removed from the film "after a difference of opinion with Freed," a modern source notes that producer Arthur Freed removed Berkeley from the picture because he thought Berkeley was directing the film in the manner of a stage play. In mid-May, according to a Los Angeles Times article, studio executives suspended Garland for repeated failures to report to the set. The article also noted that studio executives in the East were "particularly irked by the temperament of stars under the strained economic circumstances" of the time, and that the footage that had already been shot for the film (at a cost of $1,250,000) might have to be scrapped. M-G-M shut down production on the film while searching for a replacement for Garland and re-writing parts of the script.
A May 13, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Betty Garrett was a "hot contender" for the role. Modern sources note that Judy Canova and Doris Day were considered as possible replacements, and that June Allyson and Ginger Rogers expressed interest in playing the role. According to records of the M-G-M legal department, as reproduced in a modern source, a $100,000 contract was drawn up on June 21, 1949 for the loan-out of Paramount actress Betty Hutton. Previously-shot footage of the film was discarded, and production on the film resumed on October 10, 1949 with George Sidney directing and George Rhein assisting. Charles Rosher replaced cameraman Harry Stradling, and James E. Newcom replaced editor Albert Akst. Actor Louis Calhern replaced Frank Morgan, who was originally cast in the role of "Buffalo Bill" but who died on September 18, 1949. Geraldine Wall, originally cast in the role of "Dolly Tate," was replaced by Benay Venuta, although a September 30, 1949 Daily Variety news item noted that Marjorie Reynolds was also considered for the role. An April 11, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item included Evelyn Finley and Napoleon Whiting in the cast, but their participation in the completed film is doubtful. Daily Variety news items include Vance Henry and trick riders Sharon and Shirley Lucas in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. Production on the film was completed on December 16, 1949, ahead of schedule, and $61,000 over the $3,707,000 budget. A shooting match sequence was cut from the final film following a January 29, 1950 preview in Long Beach, CA.
According to information contained in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, M-G-M was warned by the Breen Office in late March 1949 that the "Secretary of the Interior has gotten very Indian-minded and will raise hell about your showing the Indians lousing up the train in Annie Get Your Gun." It is not known whether any changes were made regarding the portrayal of Native Americans in the script following the recommendations of the Breen Office. In a May 1950 Los Angeles Daily News column, screenwriter Sidney Sheldon noted that several changes in the adaptation of the story from stage to screen were "unavoidable." Among the changes noted by Sheldon were the cutting of some of Annie's "earthy" lines, the elimination of a romantic subplot involving an ingenue, the combining of some of the stage version's minor characters and the elimination of two Irving Berlin songs ("Moonshine Lullaby" and "I Got Lost in His Arms"). Unused film footage featuring Garland singing "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" and "I'm an Indian Too" was shown publicly for the first time in Paris in October 1991. The two numbers, and also an outtake of Betty Hutton singing "Let's Go West Again," were included as added content on the DVD release of the film. A modern source reported that the latter musical number, which was cut from the original Broadway production, was filmed at Irving Berlin's request, but then cut during final editing. In 1978, according to modern sources, Berlin, who retained the music rights, refused to allow the picture to be shown commercially.
Annie Get Your Gun marked the American screen debut of actor Howard Keel (1919-2004), who had previously appeared in a small, non-singing role in the 1948 British film The Small Voice. Annie Get Your Gun grossed more than eight million dollars following its May 1950 release and its 1956-57 re-release, and received an Academy Award for Best Musical Direction. The film was also nominated for Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction and Best Editing. The Annie Oakley story was featured in the non-musical 1935 RKO film Annie Oakley, directed by George Stevens and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Preston Foster (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.0131). Oakley's exploits were also portrayed in an ABC television series, which starred Gail Davis and ran from 1953-57. In 1957, Mary Martin and John Raitt appeared in a television adaptation of the musical, and on March 19, 1967, the NBC television network aired a second version of the musical starring Ethel Merman and Bruce Yarnell, who also played the leads in the 1966 Broadway revival. Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat starred in a 1999 Broadway revival, which ran for over 1,000 performances.