Archive for July, 2013

People Who’ve Made a Difference: The Ravishing and Brilliant Hedy Lamarr

July 31, 2013

A Beginning in Sex and Scandal

lamarr 1Her early life was scandalous. She appeared naked, on the movie screen, running through the woods and swimming in a lake, the first woman ever shown in the altogether.

That was in Ecstasy, made in Czechoslovakia in 1933. She also acted out sexual climax, writhing and moaning in a bliss that would have made Meg Ryan blush. Her films were luscious cinematic forbidden fruit, banned almost everywhere. Benito Mussolini owned and treasured a personal copy of Ecstasy.

And she was beautiful. Hedwig Kiesler had a perfect face, raven hair, and a slim delicate figure. Men lusted for her. The first man to have her – that’s not the right word, nobody ever truly had her – was Friedrich Mandl, the first of her six husbands.

He was one of the richest men is Austria. She was his trophy wife. His company, Hirtenberger Patronenfabrik, sold ammunition and was the one of the leading arms makers in Europe. He was a Fascist sympathizer, supplying the war machines of anyone who’d buy his wares.

Mandl showcased Hedwig at dinners and banquets with the likes of Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. She acted the part of a brainless beauty. She often said that the secret of glamor was to “stand there and look stupid.” So she did. It was a superb performance, maybe the best acting job of her career.

Hedwig Kiesler was a genius. Daughter of a Jewish banker, she had excelled in school, especially in math and science. She was born in Vienna on November 9, 1914. She quit school at 16 to study acting. In the late 1920’s Hedy was discovered and brought to Berlin by director and acting instructor Max Reinhardt. Following her training in the theater, she returned to Vienna and began to work in the film industry. She married Mandl, who was 30 years older than she, in 1933.

Eavesdropping Inside the Third Reich

When her husband and the evil dictators sat around talking shop, she sat there, looked pretty, and took it all in. She knew what they were talking about, and she knew what they were up to.

A favorite topic of Adolf Hitler was military technology, especially of the type that could control missiles and torpedoes by radio. Wireless control of weapons would be a huge jump from the hard-wired methods then in use. Wireless did come into use during the 1940s, by both Allies and Axis forces. But it was single-frequency radio, easy to monitor, detect, and jam.

According to one account, Mandl and Hitler engaged in a drunken menage à trois after a dinner party. Mandl was desperate to cement a big arms deal. The third party in the threesome was his gorgeous wife. That story is from a widely-panned book, What Almost Happened to Hedy Lamarr, and its truth is in doubt.

Even if it is true, that may or may not have been the final straw for Kiesler. As a Jew, she came to hate Nazis. She despised her husband’s business ambitions, and she did not share her thoughts about science and technology. If anything, she would share her information with the Allies who were fighting against the Nazis.

The radio-controlled guidance system for torpedoes that she heard discussed never got into production because it was too susceptible to disruption. Somewhere along the way she got the idea of distributing the guidance signal over several frequencies. This would protect it from enemy jamming. But she still had to figure out how to synchronize the transmitter and receiver. The solution would come to her later.

Hedy and Mandl

Hedy and Mandl

Mandl came to know how she felt about him, and he kept her locked up in his castle, Schloss Schwarzenau. He had also forbade her to pursue acting, and tried to buy up all copies of Ecstasy.

In 1937, Hedwig escaped by drugging her maid and sneaking out of the castle wearing the maid’s clothes. She sold her jewelry to finance a trip to London.

Hedwig made it out of Austria just in time. Hitler annexed the country in 1938 and took over Mandl’s business. Mandl was half-Jewish, so being an arms supplier to the Third Reich was no help to him. He had to flee to Argentina, where he eventually became an adviser to Juan Peron.

Into the Movies

In London, Kiesler arranged a meeting with the Hollywood film titan Louis B. Mayer. He knew of her, of course, and he too was captivated by her beauty. On the voyage to America she signed a long-term contract and became one of MGM’s biggest stars of the time.

Hedy and Paul Henreid in "The Conspirators"

Hedy and Paul Henreid in “The Conspirators”

She was in more than 20 films, costarring with Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Paul Henreid, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy and others. Algiers, White Cargo, and Samson and Delilah were among her biggest screen successes. Unfortunately for Hedy, she turned down the lead in both Casablanca and Gaslight.

She made and spent, by some accounts, at least $30 million. The mansion used in filming The Sound of Music in 1965 belonged to her at the time. Her film career went into decline after Samson and Delilah in 1949.

Film fame and the showbiz scene didn’t do it all for Hedy Lamarr. She didn’t care much for the world of glitz, parties, and paparazzi. She wanted more. She wanted use her money, power, and formidable intellect to defeat the Nazis. She found an ally in composer/musician George Antheil.

Her Only True Partner

George Antheil

George Antheil

Antheil was an interesting individual too. His 1945 autobiography, The Bad Boy of Music, was a best seller. He was born in New Jersey in 1900 and showed promise as a musician and composer. He lived in Paris, and then in Berlin, from 1923 to 1933 when he returned to America. He also wrote books and a nationally syndicated advice column, wrote regularly for Music World and Esquire, and was a major figure in American ballet.

Antheil made his way to Hollywood to write musical scores for movies. He thought that the movie industry was hostile to modern music, however, and had little personal regard for Hollywood. He also saw Nazism for what it was. One of his magazine articles, “The Shape of the War to Come,” accurately predicted both the outbreak and eventual outcome of World War II. He joined up with Oscar Hammerstein and others in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.

Antheil and Lamarr were ideological soul mates. But that’s not what brought them together initially. He also claimed to be an expert on female endocrinology. He had written a series of articles about how to determine the availability of women based on “glandular effects” on their appearance. They had titles like “The Glandbook for the Questing Male” and another on “glandular criminology” titled “Every Man His Own Detective.”

Lamarr first sought out Antheil for help in “augmenting her upper torso,” as one web site nicely puts it. She had him over for dinner after scrawling her phone number in lipstick on his windshield after leaving a party. He suggested glandular extracts of some sort, but their talk evidently turned to technology and how it might be used to fight Hitler. Perhaps technology talk was unavoidable; she had a drafting table in her living room.

Antheil’s most famous musical work was the thoroughly avant-garde Ballet Mechanique. The work’s orchestration first called for 16 player pianos, along with two regular pianos, xylophones, electric bells, propellers, siren, and bass drums. It was hard to keep so many player pianos synchronized, so he scaled it back to a single set of piano rolls and augmented the regular pianos with several additional instruments. It produced an entirely new brand of stereophonic sound.

The Technological Breakthrough and Patent

Antheil’s expertise with player pianos was just what Hedy Lamarr needed. She wanted to design a system of controlling torpedoes that would also be hard or impossible for the enemy to jam. Single-frequency radio control was vulnerable to jamming, as she knew. If they could find a way to “change the channel” at random intervals, the torpedoes could make their way to the target.

Hedy incorporated Antheil’s method for synchronizing his player pianos. The coordination of frequency signals was done with paper player-piano rolls. Then she was able to synchronize the frequency changes between a weapon’s receiver and its transmitter. This “frequency hopping” used a piano roll to make random changes over 88 frequencies. It was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 for a “Secret Communication diagramSystem” was granted to Antheil and Hedy Kiesler Markey, which was Kiesler’s married name at the time. They turned the patent rights over to the U.S. Navy, and unfortunately they never made any money from their brilliant invention.

The Navy did not end up building radio-controlled torpedoes. They might not have taken the idea seriously; after all, it came from a gorgeous woman and a flaky musician. There were also some big additional hurdles to overcome before such a system could be used with waterborne ordnance. The Navy did ask her to use her good looks to sell War Bonds, though. She agreed, and bestowed kisses for a purchase price of $50,000.

But the Navy did use Lamarr’s system beginning in 1950. It first controlled sonobuoys, the floating listening posts that detect submarines. In the sixties, it was used for secure ship-to-ship communications during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis. Reconnaissance drones used in Vietnam also employed frequency hopping.

Every time you dial your cell phone, take a call on it, or log onto the Internet, you can thank Hedy Lamarr. Her invention, conceived to fight the Nazis and now called “spread spectrum,” is the foundation of all wireless communication.

“Long-term evolution,” or “LTE,” technology, is just an extension of Hedy and George’s frequency-hopping. Spread spectrum is also the key element in anti-jamming devices used in the government’s $25 billion Milstar system. Milstar satellites control all the intercontinental missiles in U.S. weapons arsenal.

Dozens of “citing patents” owned by the likes of Sony, AT&T, and Seagate now appear on the Patent Office page for Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communication System. The latest of them was filed in 2009.

After the Glamor Fled

Micro Times magazine with coverage of Lamarr's achievements in technology

Micro Times magazine with coverage of Lamarr’s achievements in technology

The last half of this remarkable woman’s life was not happy. True, the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr her a long-overdue award for her work in 1996. Her son Anthony Loder accepted it for her because she no longer appeared in public. She also received the prestigious Austrian Academy of Science Award from her native country.

All six of Hedy’s marriages ended in divorce. Some of her quotes about her experiences there are revealing:

“I must quit marrying men who feel inferior to me. Somewhere there must be a man who could be my husband and not feel inferior. I need a superior inferior man.”

“Perhaps my problem in marriage–and it is the problem of many women–was to want both intimacy and independence. It is a difficult line to walk, yet both needs are important to a marriage.”

“I have not been that wise. Health I have taken for granted. Love I have demanded, perhaps too much and too often. As for money, I have only realized its true worth when I didn’t have it.”

Lamarr’s last movie appearance was in 1958. Her eye-candy roles had never required much acting anyway. She was usually cast as the mysterious and ravishing femme fatale. She’d often been called the most beautiful woman in the world. But when other, younger stars came along, she had fewer and fewer opportunities. She underwent plastic surgery that didn’t help. She had money problems and was twice arrested for shoplifting.

She also launched a number of lawsuits. These included going after Mel Brooks for his silly “That’s Hedley Lamarr!” in Blazing Saddles, and suing Corel Draw for using her image on packages. Both suits were settled out of court. She also wrote an autobiography, Ecstasy and Me, in the 1960s, and ended up suing the publisher.

Hedy lived her final years in seclusion in Florida, her eyesight failing and out of touch with the world that her scientific genius has helped immeasurably. She died in 2000 and was cremated. At her request, her ashes were scattered in the Vienna Woods of her native land.

I Wish I’d Known Her

Anthony Loder once said that his mother never got the chance to grow old gracefully. He also stated that he wished she had talked more to him. There was so much he never was able to ask her. She was frequently on the phone with show-business people, he remarked – Greta Garbo, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Louis Mayer, and many others. I wonder, though, if she ever truly revealed herself to another person. Much of what ought to be known about her remains hidden.

One of the greatest satisfactions I get in my work is to hear someone say, “You captured him (or her) in that article.” When I can discover and tell of things that should be known about people, I feel that I’ve done a good deed, both for my subject and for posterity.

How I wish I’d had the opportunity to capture the fabulous Hedy Lamarr. Yes, she was a rich and pampered glamor girl, and we have too many of them. Much of her biography reads like a supermarket tabloid.

But there was so much more to Hedy. She saw monstrous evil. She looked it in the face and escaped its clutches. She made it out of Adolf Hitler’s world, and could have lived an opulent and decadent life. But she decided to do something about the evil she’d seen.

There had to be enormous goodness in her soul, enormous strength in her character. I doubt that anyone was ever allowed to see that goodness and strength for what they were, and then to tell her entire story. We’re the poorer for it.

This blog post is the best I can do for her and for you, dear reader. Danke schoen, Hedwig Kiesler. Sie möge in Frieden ruhen.

A Profile from the Greatest Generation: James Maitland Stewart (1908-1997)

July 28, 2013

ImageThe real-life George Bailey didn’t stay home and fight the Battle of Bedford Falls.

Both of James Stewart’s grandfathers had fought in the Civil War. His father was in the Spanish-American War and World War I. James was eager to serve his country when World War II broke out, and he wanted to do so as a military flier. He had been a licensed pilot since 1935. Several times he’d flown cross-country from Hollywood to visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by railroad tracks.

It wasn’t easy for him, either to get into the service in the first place or to get assigned to combat duty. He was already an established film star – “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “The Philadelphia Story” and others – when he was drafted in 1940. He did not meet the height and weight requirement and was rejected. He sought out the MGM muscle man Don Lewis, bulked up, and was initially rejected again before persuading the enlistment officer to run new tests. He finally got into the Army in 1941.

Stewart enlisted as a private, but as a college graduate (Princeton 1932) and a licensed commercial pilot he applied for an Air Corps commission. Though he was almost 33, six years beyond the maximum age restriction for aviation cadet training, Stewart received his commission as a second lieutenant on January 19, 1942, His first assignment was an appearance at a March of Dimes rally in Washington, D.C., but he wanted to go to war rather than be just a recruiting symbol. He applied for and was granted advanced training in multi-engine aircraft.

His show business background still was needed and useful to the nation as well. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, he performed with Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Walter Huston and Lionel Barrymore in an all-network radio program called “We Hold These Truths,” dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. In 1942, he starred in “Winning Your Wings,” a film that helped bring in 150,000 new recruits.

Until well into 1943, he stayed stateside in various training capacities. After rumors that he would be taken off flying status and go out to sell war bonds, the 35-year old Stewart appealed to his commander, 30-year-old Lt. Col. Walter Arnold. His commander recommended Stewart to the commander of the 445th Bombardment Group, a B-24 Liberator unit then undergoing final training in Iowa.

Stewart started out as operations officer but soon became the group’s commander. They flew to England and had their first combat mission on December 13, 1943, bombing U-boat facilities at Kiel, Germany. After missions to Bremen and Ludwigshafen, Stewart was promoted from group commander to squadron commander. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions as deputy commander of the 2nd Combat Bombardment Wing in February. In March, in his 12th combat mission, Stewart led the 2nd Bomb Wing in an attack on Berlin.

In all, Stewart flew on 20 official missions and on several others that were uncredited because he, as a staff officer, could assign himself as a combat crewman. He received a second Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre, and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters. He was promoted full colonel in 1945, making him one of a very few Americans to rise from private to colonel in four years.

After the war Stewart stayed with the Air Force Reserve and reached the rank of Brigadier General in 1959. He was one of 12 founders and a charter member of the Air Force Association. In 1966, he flew as a non-duty observer in a B-52 on an Arc Light bombing mission during the Vietnam War. He refused the release of any publicity regarding his participation, as he did not want it treated as a stunt, but as part of his job as an officer in the Air Force Reserve.

After 27 years of service, Stewart retired from the Air Force on May 31, 1968. But he kept working for democracy and human rights through the American Spirit Foundation, which he co-founded. He collaborated with Russian president President Boris Yeltsin to have a special print of “It’s a Wonderful Life” translated, and in January 1992, on the first free Russian Orthodox Christmas Day, Russian TV broadcast that film to 200 million Russians.

In tandem with politicians and celebrities such as President Ronald Reagan, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, California Governor George Deukmejian, Bob Hope and Charlton Heston, Stewart also worked from 1987 to 1993 on projects that enhanced public appreciation and understanding of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

If giving is what makes you rich, then James Stewart’s long life of service and giving of himself to his country undoubtedly made the real-life George Bailey the Richest Man in Town.

History I Never Knew: The Remarkable Annie Oakley

July 7, 2013

Little Sure Shot

Little Sure Shot

In April 1898, three weeks before the Spanish-American War broke out, President William McKinley received the following letter:

“I feel confident that your good judgment will carry America safely through without war. But in case of such an event I am ready to place a company of fifty lady sharpshooters at your disposal. Every one of them will be an American, and as they will furnish their own Arms and Ammunition will be little if any expense to the government. “

–Annie Oakley

President McKinley never responded to the 37-year old Annie’s offer to help. Nor did Woodrow Wilson or his Secretary of War Newton Baker nineteen years later when Oakley wrote “I can guarantee a regiment of women for home protection, every one of whom can and will shoot if necessary.” But she still gave soldiers of World War I shooting lessons, and she helped raise money for Red Cross and other organizations.

Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, with her horse Target

Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, with her horse Target

Annie Oakley, born in 1860, was a remarkable woman. Her name is familiar to my generation. We all remember the TV show of the mid-1950s that starred the glamorous Gail Davis. Gail was also a sharpshooter and expert rider too, but the 81 episodes of the Annie Oakley Show had no resemblance to the life and accomplishments of “Little Sure Shot.”

We boomers have also sung “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” They’re from Annie Get Your Gun, the popular musical that debuted in 1946. Some of us even remember Barbara Stanwyck as Annie in the 1936 biopic.

So we can thank the showbiz acumen of people like Gail Davis’s mentor Gene Autry and composer Irving Berlin for keeping the name of Annie Oakley alive. That’s a good thing. But she deserves to be remembered for far more than most of us know about her.

Annie Oakley was not just an entertainer with a rifle slung over her shoulder. She was the first bona fide American female superstar. Her story is an inspirational tale of a child who rose from stark and abusive poverty, who never forgot her roots or those who faced similar hurdles, who did everything in her power to better the lives of girls and women, and who was a staunch patriot in deed as well as in word.

During her career, Oakley taught more than 15,000 women how to use a gun, both for the inherent discipline of marksmanship and for self-defense. She even taught ladies how to conceal their guns in umbrellas. She said, “I would like to see every woman know how to handle firearms as naturally as they know how to handle babies.”

Up from Poverty, Rifle in Hand

Annie in 1903

Annie in 1903

Phoebe Ann (Annie) Moses was born in a log cabin in rural northwest Ohio, the sixth of seven children of Jacob and Susan Moses. Jacob had fought in the War of 1812. He died of pneumonia in 1866, when Annie was five. Annie taught herself how to shoot, using her late father’s old 40-inch cap-and-ball Kentucky rifle.

At age eight, she began trapping and hunting small game to support her widowed mother and her siblings. She would kill the animals with a head shot, preserving as much edible meat as possible. She sold the game to Katzenberger’s Restaurant in Greenviile, Ohio. The owner re-sold most of it hotels and restaurants in Cincinnati, 80 miles away. Annie so good that by age 15 she had earned enough to pay off her mother’s mortgage.

At age nine she was admitted to an infirmary in Darke County, Ohio along with her sister. The superintendent’s wife taught her how to sew and decorate. Annie was also “bound out” to a local family to help care for their infant son, on the false promise of fifty cents a week and an education. For two years she endured the couple’s mental and physical abuse. She would often have to do boys’ work. One time she was put out in the freezing cold, without shoes, to punish her for falling asleep over some darning. Annie referred to the family as “the wolves.” But in her autobiography, she did not reveal the couple’s real name.

Word of Annie’s prowess as a sharpshooter spread throughout the region. Her escape hatch from a grinding life of penury was that singular – but now forgotten – American institution, the traveling road show. On Thanksgiving Day, 1875, the Baughman and Butler shooting act was performing in Cincinnati. Traveling marksman and former dog trainer Frank Butler, an Irish immigrant, placed a $100 side bet – one worth more than $2500 today – with Cincinnati hotel owner Jack Frost. The bet: that Butler could beat any local shooter.

Frost arranged a match between the 25-year-old Butler and Annie, saying, “The last opponent Butler expected was a five-foot-tall 15-year old girl.”

Butler missed on his 25th shot, losing both match and bet. But he eventually won big. He began courting Annie. They married in August 1876 and stayed together until their deaths 50 years later. They first lived in the Oakley district of Cincinnati, and Oakley became her stage name. Offstage, she always referred to herself as Mrs. Frank Butler.

Poster for Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show

Poster for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show

Annie began as Butler’s assistant in the traveling act. But soon he stepped back from the limelight and let his more talented spouse be the star. They joined Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in 1885 and stayed with it for 17 years. Annie was the main attraction. Her most famous trick was repeatedly splitting a playing card, with the edge facing her, and putting several more holes in it before it could touch the ground. She did it from 90 feet away, using a .22 caliber rifle.

That feat prompted people in the theatre business to refer to complimentary tickets as “Annie Oakleys”. Such tickets traditionally have holes punched into them to prevent them from being resold. She could also hit a tossed-up dime from 90 feet, and one day she hit 4,472 of 5,000 glass balls tossed into midair.

How “Little Sure Shot” Got Her Nickname

Sitting Bull

Sitting Bull

In 1884, after a performance in St. Paul, Minnesota, Oakley befriended the fearsome Sitting Bull, chief of the Lakota Sioux. Eight years previously, in 1876, Sitting Bull had led the Indians in the rout of General George Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn. Sitting Bull fled to Canada, returned in 1881 and surrendered, and was still a political prisoner when he met Annie. Impressed by both her marksmanship and her self-assured demeanor, he gave her the Sioux name “Watanya Cicilla,“ which means “Little Sure Shot.”

Later that year Sitting Bull was allowed to join Cody’s entourage as a show Indian. He earned about $50 a week for riding once around the arena, and he became a popular attraction. But Sitting Bull stayed with the show for just four months. The poverty of the white men’s cities and their patronizing attitude disgusted him.

Sitting Bull was an admirable leader of his people, a superb military tactician, and a good guy. He gave speeches about education for the young and reconciling relations between the Sioux and whites. He earned a small fortune by charging for his autograph and picture, and he often gave his money away to the homeless and beggars. He said that Indian culture would take care of its sick and elderly, and was appalled that white society did not do the same for its own. But Sitting Bull loved Annie Oakley.

Fame, and Fortune Generously Shared

In 1887, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured England to join in the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Annie received a great deal of press coverage, and by the time Cody and his show returned to Europe in 1889, Annie had become a seasoned performer and earned star billing. The troupe stayed in Paris for a six-month exhibition, and then traveled around France, Italy, and Spain. Oakley was especially popular with women. Buffalo Bill made the most of her fame to demonstrate that shooting was neither detrimental nor too intense for women and children.

Annie and Frank Butler with Dave, the "Red Cross Dog" of World War I.

Annie and Frank Butler with Dave, the “Red Cross Dog” of World War I.

In Europe, Annie also performed for King Umberto I of Italy and Marie François Sadi Carnot, president of France. Shooting the ashes off a cigarette held in Frank’s mouth was a big part of the act. She was so good that the newly-crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II asked her to shoot the ash off his cigarette. She did so, but had him hold the butt in his hand. After World War I began, she wrote him a letter requesting a second shot.

Annie earned $700 a week while on tour in Europe. But she remembered the poverty of childhood and lived frugally. She sent money home to her mother and family, and gave money to orphans, widows and young women who wanted to further their education. Records show she provided funding and professional training for at least 20 young women.

She often said, “Aim at the high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, not the second time and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s-eye of success.”

Though she had no formal education, Annie instinctively knew all about cultivating her feminine image – today we’d call it brand management. Annie projected womanly allure and sex appeal without being sexy – the perfect little lady. She wore her hair unpinned, like a young girl. She made all of her own clothes, which she styled to hug and display her pleasing curves. But she never showed any skin, covering her legs with long stockings and wearing long sleeves and high collars.

In that uptight, repressed Victorian era, Annie Oakley was breaking barriers at the same time while helping to create an image of American womanhood – proper, attractive, and practical. The woman Annie represented didn’t need protection; she could protect herself.

Setbacks and Hardships

It wasn’t all glory and fame for Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. She left Cody’s show for a year when a younger rival shooter named Lillian Smith joined up and got higher billing. In 1901, she lost a shooting match to a nine-year-old girl, Ethel Nice. Shortly after that, Annie was in a train wreck, was temporarily paralyzed, and had five spinal operations.

She left Buffalo Bill’s show in 1902 and began an acting career. She was on the stage as Nancy Berry, The Western Girl, who got the better of the bad guys by using pistol, rifle, and lariat.

Annie had previously appeared in one of the earliest movies ever produced, “The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West.” A Kinetoscope film shot in 1894 by inventor Thomas Edison, it was the 11th movie made after commercial showings began in April of that year. In the film, Annie performed an exhibition of shooting at glass balls.

In 1904, the odious William Randolph Hearst published a scurrilous story that Annie had been arrested for stealing to support a cocaine habit. A coke-snorting stripper from Chicago had been nabbed by police, and she gave her name as “Annie Oakley.” That “evidence” was apparently enough for the scandal-mongering Hearst.

It took the real Annie six years and 55 libel lawsuits against newspapers to get back her reputation. She won 54 of those suits, but the judgments she collected didn’t even pay her legal bills. Hearst even sent punks from his papers to Ohio to try and dig up dirt about her, but they came back with nothing.

Annie in 1922

Annie in 1922

Following Annie’s change of career and despite her injury, her shooting prowess continued to improve until she was well into her sixties. In a 1922 contest, Annie hit 100 clay targets in a row from 16 yards away. She was 62 at the time.

Later that year, she and Frank were in a car accident that forced her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. But she recovered and set more records in 1924.

Annie’s health declined in 1925. She succumbed to pernicious anemia in Greenville, Ohio and died at age 66 in November 1926. Frank Butler was so disconsolate at her passing that he stopped eating and died just 18 days later.

After Annie’s death, her incomplete autobiography was given to a friend, the stage comedian Fred Stone. Soon it was discovered that her entire fortune had been spent on her family and on her charities.

Her Legacy

So how should we remember Annie Oakley? As one of America’s best. Ever.

Annie Oakley was a model for the Greatest Generation that followed her, and for all generations to come. She overcame poverty, mistreatment and physical injury with her determination and strength of character. She broke barriers for women with her talent and accomplishments in her sport. She loved her country and proved it with many good and patriotic works. She showed compassion and generosity to orphans, widows and other young women. She was a devoted and faithful wife.

Annie Oakley excelled in a man’s world by doing what she loved – winning fame and fortune as the little lady from Ohio who never missed a shot.