“ANNIE GET YOUR GUN” IN RETROSPECT

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The musical “Annie Get Your Gun” has a interesting and turbulent history. The idea for the musical occurred to Dorothy Fields, the daughter of a Polish immigrant named Lew Fields who worked in vaudeville and became a respected and successful Broadway producer.

Dorothy Fields was a lyricist who wrote the words to such songs as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “The Sunny Side of the Street” with composer Jimmy McHugh.

Her work with Jerome Kern produced the successful song “Lovely to Look At.” They worked together again on “The Way You Look Tonight: which earned an Academy Award for best original song in 1936.

In 1935, the movie “Annie Oakley” starring Barbara Stanwyck came out based on the story by Dorothy Fields’ brother, Joseph Fields. Soon Dorothy became interested in seeing Annie’s story become a musical that would star her friend Ethel Merman. Mike Todd turned her script down, so she approached Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II who were freshly invigorated with the success of their musical “Oklahoma” . Rogers and Hammerstein had decided to become producers of both their own works and the works of others. They agreed to produce the musical and asked Jerome Stern to create the music. Dorothy Fields would do the lyrics and she would write the book with her brother Joseph who would later write “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “The Flower Drum Song”, among many other famous screenplays.

This selection began the rocky path that eventually led to “Annie Get Your Gun”. Kern collapsed with a stroke and died in 1945. Rogers and Hammerstein had to replace Kern, so they asked Irving Berlin to step in and take over the play. Knowing that Irving Berlin wrote both the music and words, Dorothy Fields stepped down as lyricist, but Berlin was not certain that he could write the songs that had to fit into a specific scenes in the show. Oscar Hammerstein convinced him to try anyway, so Berlin came back the songs “Doin’ What Comes Naturally”, “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”  Berlin mistakenly did not think that Richard Rogers liked the show business song and dropped it from the libretto. However, during the development of the show, the song was added back and has become a timeless classic.

Ethel Merman played Annie on Broadway and in three years missed only three performances.

The musical was a great hit, It started on Broadway in 1946 and ran for 1147 performances. It had more hits songs than any other Broadway play and was Irving Berlin’s greatest success.

When the time came to make a movie of “Annie Get Your Gun”, Dorothy’s friend Ethel Merman was not even considered for the movie by MGM. Though Doris Day and Judy Canova wanted the part, MGM wanted Judy Garland for the lead role. MGM producer Arthur Freed had paid $650,000 to Irving Berlin for the movie rights just to cast Garland into the title role. Garland shot some scenes as the lead actress, so MGM thought they could bring in an unknown to play Frank Butler. Both John Raitt and Howard Keel auditioned for the role, but Keen got the part. The director, Busby Berkeley insisted that Keel ride his horse on the set over a slick floor and on the second day of shooting, Keel broke his leg while they were shooting by falling off his horse on the set. They had to shoot close ups of Keel and Judy Garland was offended that the unknown actor was getting so much attention. Judy was having severe problems with drugs and alcohol addictions as well. Freed eventually fired Busby and brought in Charles Walters who had successfully directed Garland in “Easter Parade”. Judy Garland was convinced that she could not get the performance right after watching the rushes. She could not conquer her addictions nor get to the set on time. MGM felt they has no choice but to fire her. Since Garland was a super star at the time, firing her was something no one expected. Garland went into a mental hospital and the movie was put on hold.

To add to the confusion, Frank Morgan (the Wizard in “The Wizard of Oz”) was playing Buffalo Bill. He suddenly died in the middle of the film. Only a few shots could be saved from the production. George Sydney suddenly replaced Charles Walters as the director by orders from MGM. They basically had to start all over again with the film, this time with Betty Hutton in the lead role.

The movie had good box office success, but Betty Hutton did not get the best of reviews when compared to the original Broadway role played by Ethel Merman. A dispute between the Irving Berlin estate and MGM kept the film out of circulation from 1973 to 2000. By that time. Merman’s performance was history and Hutton was accepted. A new production with Bernadette Peters and Reba McIntire brought Annie back to a new generation.

The hit songs generated by “Annie Get Your Gun” is quite staggering. Few, if any musicals, have come close to the mass appeal of the songs on this production.

YOU CAN’T GET A MAN WITH A GUN

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton

DOIN’ WHAT COMES NATUR’LLY

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton

I’M AN INDIAN TOO

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton

I GOT THE SUN IN THE MORNING

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton and Howard Keel

THEY SAY IT’S WONDERFUL

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Betty Hutton and Howard Keel

THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Ensemble

COLONEL BUFFALO BILL

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Chorus

MY DEFENSES ARE DOWN

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Howard Keel

THE GIRL THAT I MARRY

Written by Irving Berlin

Performed by Howard Keel

2 thoughts on ““ANNIE GET YOUR GUN” IN RETROSPECT

  1. Saw this musical by the Kenley Players at Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio. Was not aware of all the drama that came about during production of musical. My favorite song was The Girl that I Marry. I am a fan of good music- not this noise that they call music now.

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  2. Frank Sinatra has the hit version of that song. I always liked it myself, but the words ran so counter to the woman’s lib movement that it quickly fell out of favor and became embarrassing for a man to sing. “As soft and as sweet as a nursery” “wearing satin and laces and smells of cologne”. Polished nails, gardenias, a doll I can carry … it hit the nail on the head in the 40s. Today, I suspect, it is considered sexist.

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