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ClassicsOnline Home » BERLIN: Annie Get Your Gun (Original Broadway Cast) (1946) / (Original Film) (1950)
Annie Get Your Gun began, like many of the
greatest musicals, with a series of unexpected
events – some happy, some not.
Dorothy Fields was a woman at loose ends
early in 1945. Her latest show, Up In Central
Park, had opened on 27 January, and although
the book she wrote with her brother Herbert
and her own lyrics had both been warmly
received, she felt restless.
Her good buddy Ethel Merman was
depressed after the recent closing of her first
flop, Sadie Thompson, and wanted Fields to
write a new show for her. Dorothy was willing,
but couldn’t come up with a single idea.
One night, she was wandering around
Broadway with Herbert when they passed by
one of those shooting galleries where the sharpeyed
and steady-handed can win stuffed animals
by the score. A young GI on leave was doing
just that and his lady love was positively
weighed down with a plush menagerie.
‘That might make a cute story,’ suggested
‘Why does it always have to be the man
who’s the marksman?’ bristled Dorothy. ‘Haven’t
they ever heard of Annie Oakley?’
She stopped dead in her tracks.
‘Oh my God! Annie Oakley. The Merm.’
That’s all she had to say. It had only been
fifteen years since Merman made her Broadway
debut in Girl Crazy, but she was already an
icon, with hits like “Anything Goes” and
“DuBarry Was A Lady” to her credit.
Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley: it was an idea
that everyone adored. Merman was the first to
sign on. Then Rodgers and Hammerstein agreed
to produce. Jerome Kern offered to write the
score and Joshua Logan was set to direct.
There actually was an Annie Oakley, by the
way. She was a farm girl from Iowa and her real
name was Annie Moses but she adopted ‘Oakley’
as her stage name. She fell in love with her rival
(who really was named Frank Butler) and they
toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show from
1880 to 1901.
Annie Oakley, as the team originally called
their show,was set to go into rehearsal early in
Then, on 4 November 1945,Kern suffered a
stroke, dying a week later.
The interesting thing is how no one thought
of abandoning the show; they all felt the initial
concept was that solid.
Rodgers and Hammerstein decided to start
their search for a replacement at the top – with
Irving Berlin, a man who had been riding high
since he wrote “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” in
The canny Berlin liked the show’s book as
well as the idea of composing for Merman, but
he shared his worries with Oscar Hammerstein.
‘Annie is a hillbilly and I’ve never written
country music in my life. I wouldn’t know
where to start.’
Hammerstein dryly suggested that all Berlin
had to do was drop the final ‘g’ from his lyrics
and he’d do just fine.
Berlin wasn’t convinced, but he vowed to
try. In the dead of winter, he went off to
Atlantic City for a weekend and came back with
five songs: Doin’ What Comes Naturally, You
Can’t Get A Man With A Gun, The Girl That
I Marry, They Say It’s Wonderful and
There’s No Business Like Show Business.
Needless to say, the show went ahead with
Berlin as its songwriter.
Merman got a strong leading man to play
Frank Butler when they cast Ray Middleton. At
that point he was a seasoned Broadway veteran
with shows like Roberta, Knickerbocker
Holiday and Winged Victory to his credit as well
as the distinction of having been the first actor
ever to play Superman. (In a 1940 radio
broadcast at the World’s Fair.)
Director Logan so admired their chemistry
together that he suggested Berlin write them a
challenge song. He did during a 5-minute cabride
and the result was Anything You Can Do.
They changed the title to Annie Get Your
Gun, and rehearsals proved to be a joy. The out
of town tryout was a love-fest and only two
problems occurred. Berlin was unhappy with
the original orchestrations of Ted Royal, so both
Robert Russell Bennett and Philip J. Lang had to
be enlisted to save the day.
The other difficulty happened when they
were hanging the lavish scenery of Jo Mielziner
in the Imperial Theatre just prior to the New
York opening. A structural beam snapped from
the weight and they had to delay the show two
weeks to fix it. They quickly booked it into
Philadelphia and buffed it to a high gloss.
Opening night on Broadway was 16 May
1946 and the critical reviews were love letters
for Merman. Brooks Atkinson of the New York
Times astonishingly derided Berlin’s songs as
‘undistinguished’, which is surely one of the bad
judgment calls of all time.
The show went on to run 1147 performances
and when someone told Berlin it was oldfashioned,
he had the last word.
‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘It’s a good oldfashioned
The show was recorded on the Decca label
in May of 1946, under the direction of the
Broadway conductor, Jay Blackton. Merman and
Middleton recreated their roles, of course, as did
the three backup singers on Moonshine
Lullaby, including a 24 year-old Leon Bibb,who
went on to a substantial career as a folk-singer
and a Tony-nominated Broadway actor.
The young juveniles,Tommy and Winnie,
who sing Who Do You Love, I Hope were
played on Broadway by Kenny Bowers and Betty
Ann Nyman, both known as dancers rather than
singers. They’re replaced on this recording by
the studio-savvy voices of vocal coach Robert
Lenn and big band singer Kathleen Carnes. This
was a not uncommon move from Decca’s boss
Jack Kapp, who liked all voices in his recordings
to be ‘first-rate’. Kapp also frequently left out a
show’s Overture so that as many songs as
possible could fit on a 78 rpm album. That’s
what happened with Annie Get Your Gun, but
in its place you'll find a 1950 medley recorded
by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops.
The 1950 film version of Annie Get your
Gun is best remembered now for the fact that
Judy Garland actually began production in the
leading role and even pre-recorded her vocal
tracks. But this was during the period when
Garland’s abuse of prescription drugs was
getting the best of her and she cracked under
the strain of delivering another big hit musical.
Production was closed down for four
months and when it resumed, the perky Betty
Hutton, best known for her comic skills,was
playing Annie. Big-voiced Howard Keel,
discovered by producer Arthur Freed in the
London production of Oklahoma!,was an
appropriate foil for her as Frank Butler.
Hutton brings a friskier, funnier quality to
Annie than Merman did, but anyone following
in Ethel’s considerable footprints will fail to
duplicate the same socko effect of the original
– something which obviously contributed to
Also heard on the selections featured from
the original soundtrack recording are actors
Keenan Wynn (Charlie) and Louis Calhern
Another bonus on this recording is the
1953 duet of Merman and Mary Martin singing
There’s No Business Like Show Business,
from the legendary television spectacular, The
Ford 50th Anniversary Special.
Martin played Annie in the first national
American tour of the show and later starred
opposite John Raitt in the 1957 NBC-TV version
There’s No Business Like Show
Business has classic status today, but this
legendary anthem of Broadway was nearly lost
to us forever. The hyper-sensitive Berlin thought
Logan and Rodgers hadn’t showed enough
enthusiasm for the song at an early meeting,
and so he instructed his secretary to destroy it.
Fortunately for everyone, she was a bit slow
at her job and when cooler heads prevailed, the
manuscript was still safe and the song went on
to thrill audiences to this day.
A fitting coda to a show that may have
needed some time to take aim, but sure knew
how to hit the bull’s-eye in the end.
Last Albums Viewed
BERLIN: Annie Get Your Gun (Original Broadway Cast...