The book is loaded with fun facts (Queen Victoria gushed over good-looking Sioux Indians), but the whimsical tone suggests that McMurtry chose to retell these familiar stories because he enjoys them so much. And if his thesis — that Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley were Madonna's predecessors — gets lost amid the Indian wars and European show tours, that's not a bad thing.
The New York Times
If Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley were, as McMurtry contends in this odd but interesting book, "the first American superstars," then it is primarily because "their images were recognized the world over" because of the posters that depicted their exploits in melodramatic fashion and the photographs that made them come alive to people who never had the opportunity to see them in person.
The Washington Post
As is McMurtry's wont in works of nonfiction (e.g., Crazy Horse), this dual bio reads more like an extended elegy than biography. Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, the demigods of western mythology, hold particular personal appeal for McMurtry. In a diner in his hometown of Archer City, Tex., McMurtry writes, "[T]here is a Cody poster that I sometimes study if I happen to land in the right booth," and as a child he heard his uncles recollect having seen Cody perform. This personal attachment doesn't obscure the quality of McMurtry's observations, and the book's aim, to separate fact from folklore, is beautifully accomplished. The Wild West show-and all of its mytho-historical components, such as riding the Pony Express, hunting bison, killing Tall Bull, scalping Yellow Hair-both distorted and magnified western heritage to a level of fantasy that captivates readers, including McMurtry, to this day. He smartly analyzes Cody's genius for PR, evidenced in such tactics as continually announcing that his next tour would be his last and seeing that cowboys' informal roping competitions could be turned into money-making rodeo shows. It's jarring when McMurtry tries to explicate Cody and Oakley's unprecedented fame by comparing them to today's pop stars, as in analogizing Annie Oakley's prima donna stage behavior to that of Martha Stewart and Courtney Love. Regardless, this book's a delight. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (June 7) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A slapdash, repetitious but nonetheless compelling look at two phenoms of the late-19th-century, by Mr. Wild West himself. McMurtry (Loop Group, 2004, etc.) knows his territory, and though he takes some time here working up a thesis separating Buffalo Bill Cody's and Annie Oakley's legends from the facts, the author of the Pulitzer-winning Lonesome Dove is ever fascinating and knowledgeable. He does not purport to give a biography of Cody, who grew up in "bleeding" Kansas and worked briefly as a Pony Express guide, Army scout and buffalo hunter before embarking on a 30-year show-biz career that ended with his death in 1917. But the facts of Cody's romantic story keep pulling him in, especially the "tropes," as McMurtry calls the legendary set pieces by which Cody defined himself. These included his first killing of an Indian when he was 11 and his scalping of Yellow Hair in 1876. Cody's scouting for the Army allows McMurtry free reign on the subtleties of the Indian Wars, a subject he evidently relishes. Having distinguished the facts of Cody's glamorous life (fodder for something like 1,700 dime novels), McMurtry moves into his work as a showman. By 1882, Cody had organized some of the first rodeos and hired Indians to help stage such dramatic mock-historical scenes as the attack on the Deadwood stage and battles between settlers and Indians. One of his most successful acts was sharpshooter Annie Oakley, a poor girl from Ohio who made an honorable living by her gun and was the first woman to be admitted to British shooting clubs. McMurtry explores Oakley's own "creation myth," involving the shooting of a squirrel on a fence with her father's too-big rifle when she was a girl: "She alwaysclaimed that it was one of the better shots she ever made." No spectacular or sexy revelations here, just a curious excursus into Cody's successful performance for "Grandmother England" during the troupe's 1887 tour for Victoria's Jubilee. All in all, earnestly winning, old-fashioned storytelling.
"McMurtry has done his research well and presents a history that is well written, entertaining, and informative. The subtle humor and many ironies in the text are superbly read by Michael Prichard. He is understated without being flat."AudioFile