Jan 16, 2015

Annie Get Your Gun: Beefcake and a Gay Couple

I have mixed feelings about Annie Get Your Gun, the 1946 musical that was made into a half dozen movies, revived a dozen times, and remains a favorite of high school and college drama clubs.  Maybe because I got confused, thinking it was about a guy with his arms and legs blown off (that's Johnny Got His Gun).  

It's actually about real-life sharpshooter Annie Oakley (1860-1926), who joins Buffalo Bill's traveling Wild West Show in the 1880s and competes with the star, Frank Butler.

There's something to be said for a big, tough, rastlin' backwoods gal who can shoot guns, but why make her so all-fired eager to give it all up for a man?

I'm quick on the trigger with targets not much bigger than a pin point, I'm number one.
But my score with a feller is lower than a cellar- Oh you can't get a man with a gun.

Wait -- I know the answer.  Heteronormativity.

But she goes even farther, proclaiming it as universal human experience, "doin' what comes naturally":

My tiny baby brother, who's never read a book, knows one sex from the other --
All he had to do was look!

And the object of her affection is rather a cad, leaving a chain of seductions wherever he goes:

There's a girl in Tennessee who's sorry she met up with me
I can't go back to Tennessee -- I'm a bad, bad man!

The kicker: Annie is a better shot than Frank, but in the big match, she deliberately loses, so he will like her.  What kind of message is that for young heterosexual girls?  Squash your talents in order to get a man!

But some the songs are catchy, especially the show-stopping "There's No Business Like Show Business," which became the unofficial anthem of Hollywood.

There is a small gay subtext in the relationship between Buffalo Bill and his manager, Charlie Davenport.

And some beefcake: Annie is mentored by Indian performer Sitting Bull, who adopts her into his tribe.  Costumer designers often decide that the Indians should display their physiques.

Besides, Annie has been played by some of the biggest gay icons of the stage, including Betty Hutton, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland (actually fired from the 1950 film), Bernadette Peters, and Doris Day.

Notable Franks have included Bruce Yarnell, John Raitt, Harve Presnell, Tom Wopat, and Patrick Cassidy,

See also: The Sound of Music; The Pajama Game.

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