Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History

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9780809032433: Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History
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A fascinating analysis of the first famous American to erase the boundary between real history and entertainment

Canada, and Europe. Crowds cheered as cowboys and Indians--and Annie Oakley!--galloped past on spirited horses, sharpshooters exploded glass balls tossed high in the air, and cavalry troops arrived just in time to save a stagecoach from Indian attack. Vivid posters on billboards everywhere made William Cody, the show's originator and star, a world-renowned figure.
Joy S. Kasson's important new book traces Cody's rise from scout to international celebrity, and shows how his image was shaped. Publicity stressed his show's "authenticity" yet audiences thrilled to its melodrama; fact and fiction converged in a performance that instantly became part of the American tradition.

But how, precisely, did that come about? How, for example, did Cody use his audience's memories of the Civil War and the Indian wars? He boasted that his show included participants in the recent conflicts it presented theatrically, yet he also claimed it evoked "memories" of America's bygone greatness. Kasson's shrewd, engaging study--richly illustrated--in exploring the disappearing boundary between entertainment and public events in American culture, shows us just how we came to imagine our memories.

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About the Author:

Joy S. Kasson, author of several books on American history, is a graduate of Radcliffe College who obtained her Ph.D. at Yale. Since 1990, she has been Professor of American Studies and English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she lives.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A fine, entertaining, scholarly study of one of the beloved (if, until now, little-understood) figures of American history--and of how he affected our image of ourselves.Mention the name Buffalo Bill (born William F. Cody), and a great circus-like show, with Indians and gunfighters, comes immediately to mind. According to Kasson (History/Univ. of North Carolina), that image constitutes only a fraction of Cody's influence upon American culture. In her captivating study, she is not content merely to give us a fresh biography of the man who was a writer of dime novels, a great showman, an energetic (if often frustrated) businessman, one of the nation's first celebrities, and (believe it or not) a figure of the 20th century. She also reveals the extraordinary influence and following he had among millions (including Queen Victoria), both here and abroad. It was Buffalo Bill's shows that indelibly inscribed on people's minds their image of the American West, of its native inhabitants, and of human character on the western trail. Cody's appeal and success seem almost foreordained, for his showmanship owed as much to his times as it did to his skill in sensing what his contemporaries wanted. A veteran of the Civil War and the Indians campaigns, Buffalo Bill (in Kasson's view) offered authenticity to Americans fearful about the closing of the frontier, the rise of cities and industry, and the decline of individual freedom. Here was a man of courage and integrity (he fought for us), a democrat of sorts (employing Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley with dignity and respect), and a self-made entertainer who, like P.T. Barnum, purveyed much bunkum while putting on a plain good show. One of Kasson's most significant contributions is her explanation of what today's world of entertainment, as well as our era's packaging of history as fun, owes to this single figure.A wonderful account that reveals as much about us as it does about the colorful man who is its subject. (132 b&w illustrations, not seen) -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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