Sandra K. Sagala is the author of articles, "Buffalo Bill Cody v. Doc Carver: The Battle Over the Wild West" and "Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill Cody: Mirrored Through a Glass Darkly" and coauthor with JoAnne M. Bagwell of Alias Smith and Jones: The Story of Two Pretty Good Bad Men. She lives in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Buffalo Bill on Stageby Sandra Sagala
Between 1872 and 1886, before he achieved acclaim for his Wild West show, "Buffalo Bill" led a troupe of traveling actors known as a Combination across the country performing in frontier melodramas. Biographies of William Frederick Cody rarely address these fourteen rather obscure years when Cody honed the skills that would make him the world-renowned entertainer
Between 1872 and 1886, before he achieved acclaim for his Wild West show, "Buffalo Bill" led a troupe of traveling actors known as a Combination across the country performing in frontier melodramas. Biographies of William Frederick Cody rarely address these fourteen rather obscure years when Cody honed the skills that would make him the world-renowned entertainer as he is now remembered.
In this revision of her earlier book, Buffalo Bill, Actor, Sandra Sagala chronicles the decade and a half of Cody's life as he crisscrossed the country entertaining millions. She analyzes how the lessons he learned during those theatrical years helped shape his Wild West program, as well as Cody, the performer.
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Sagala is the author of previous books on Buffalo Bill and popular-culture subjects of his era in which he figures strongly. In this book, she fills in the period between his last years as a scout and Indian fighter in the early 1870s and when he became a world-famous star of his own traveling show named Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. By the 1870s, William Cody had already gained famed as a cavalry scout and Indian fighter helping to tame the 'wild west.' Yet he had no thoughts of performing on stage or of forming a Wild West Show to capitalize on his fame. Eventually though the combination of personality, circumstances, and opportunities were like a siren call for him to take up public performances. In the latter 1800s, dime novels about the West and the cavalry and adventurous frontiersmen were a leading area of popular culture. Cody's exploits and traits were often the basis for the heroes of such novels. There were even a few performers who portrayed Buffalo Bill in vaudeville-like skits before large, enthusiastic crowds. The first time Cody appeared on stage was in 1872 when the actor J. B. Studley, who was portraying him, called him up at the urging of the audience after it learned that the real Buffalo Bill was sitting among them. It was not long after this when the dime novelist Ned Buntline persuaded Buffalo Bill to take up acting. Buffalo Bill threw himself into acting with as much intelligence, energy, and commitment as he did with his work as a cavalry scout. Though his early efforts in shows put on by 'theatrical association[s] of roving troupers who supported a star for the run of a single performance' were amateurish to the point of often being comically inept and usually panned by the critics, audiences nevertheless responded to Cody's authenticity and the true-life dramas he and his changing troupes performed. 'The fact that Cody was [in italics in original] a brave Indian fighter, scout, and estimable man and that he could project his personality to the audience solidified his heroic status. Buffalo Bill of the dime novels and stage gelled with Buffalo Bill of the real West...He spent the theater's off-season actually doing the brave deeds, the shooting, and the scouting he was famous for, then returned to portray them on the stage.' Sagala does a good job of following how Buffalo Bill's true self and stage character and image recurrently blended and separated as he became the consummate showman. She sees Cody as the original star of the embryonic star system which would be implemented throughout Hollywood starting just about the time Buffalo Bill died in 1917.