Annie Get Your Gun
Annie Moses was an Ohio farm girl whose skill with a rifle saved her
impoverished family from starvation. It is true that she beat touring sharpshooter
Frank Butler in a competition and became his partner. They married in 1876, and she
took on the stage name "Annie Oakley." It is also true that Annie was
befriended by Chief Sitting Bull, who adopted her and named her "Little Sure
Shot." From the 1880s through 1901, Annie, Frank and Sitting Bull toured the
world with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The Butlers continued to give exhibitions
(mostly to benefit women's & children's charities) until both died within days of
each other in 1926. Two key things: it is unlikely that Annie would ever
throw a match to appease a man's ego, and there is no record of Frank Butler
ever expressing resentment of Annie's superior talent. In fact, he adored
her for it.
P.T. Barnum was one of the most colorful characters in American history, and most of
Barnum is an inspired riff on the facts. However, the affair with opera star Jenny Lind
All reliable sources suggest that Barnum was devoted to his wife Charity.
The real Arthur (if there was one) was a barbaric war lord who ruled part of Britain
in the pre-Christian dark
ages. He bore no resemblance to the medieval Christian monarch depicted in this musical,
which was based on T. H. White's delicious fantasy novel The Once and Future
King. Librettist Alan Jay Lerner based his script on only a portion of the novel
-- rights to the early chapters had already been purchased by Walt Disney, who turned
out the animated charmer The Sword in the Stone (1964). Lerner sticks to White's
original characterizations, but changes Lancelot into a handsome hunk the novel
(in accordance with the traditional legend) depicts the French super-knight as powerful
but remarkably ugly.
Catch Me If You Can
In the 1960s, teen con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. passed $2.5 million worth
of bad checks, passing himself off as an airline pilot, doctor and
attorney until the FBI nabbed him at age 21. After serving time in prison
(in several countries, no less), Abagnale worked for the bureau as an
anti-fraud consultant, and published a best-selling (and admittedly
embellished) autobiography. Like the hit 2002 film, the musical pits him
against Hanratty, a fictionalized compilation of several agents who pursed
the young con. Abagnale's stint impersonating a doctor lasted no more than
a few days, and he barely mentioned his parents, whose failed relationship
is tagged a the root cause of Frank's crime spree. (Some sources suggest
the writers based this on conversations with Abagnale, but that has yet to
In 1924, Chicago housewife Beulah Annan shot and killed her lover, Harry
Kolstadt. Beulah's husband Al lined up prominent defense attorney W.W.
O'Brien to keep his wife from hanging. After a highly publicized trial, and
announcements to the press that Beulah was pregnant, the all-male jury
needed only two hours to reach a verdict of "not guilty." The pregnancy
proved a hoax, the Annans divorced, and Beulah wound up dying in
an asylum in 1928. Inspired by this and several other murder cases, reporter Maurine
Dallas Watkins took a playwrighting course at Yale and penned the hit
stage drama Chicago (1927). There was a silent screen version, and
Twentieth Century Fox later eventually filmed a sound version entitled
Roxie Hart (1942). Watkins resisted all attempts to turn her story
into a musical, right up to the time of her death in 1969. The Watkins estate
finally sold the rights to producer Robert Fryer, and Bob Fosse, John Kander
and Fred Ebb took it from there. The corruption and media madness depicted in
both the stage and screen musical version of Chicago were very much
a part of the 1920s -- just as they are all too much a part of our own time.
The Civil War
Presented as a series of unconnected scenes, this Frank Wildhorn musical made
no attempt to follow the war's progress. For example, the finale depicted the
battle of Gettysburg, ending with the ensemble lying dead onstage until Frederick
Douglass strode out over the corpses to announce that the war ended and Lincoln was
assassinated within a month. Huh? As if the final two nightmarish years of the
war don't really matter? Aside from Douglass
and the disembodied voice of Lincoln, the characters in the show were fictitious.
The Civil War's three librettists mauled history in the name of
providing entertainment, then forgot to provide anything that might
entertain. What was their inspiration, Springtime for Hitler?
While the basic
order of events in Evita is historically accurate, Webber and Rice opted for
the most unsavory version of every episode. Mind you, that does not mean they got it
wrong. Power has changed hands often in Argentina over the last fifty years,
and with each change the "official" version of Eva Duarte's life story
seems to mutate into a fresh set of fictions. Che Guevara's revolutionary ideals may
have been a reaction to corrupt movements like Peronism, but he never had any
personal contact with Eva. There is no doubt that Eva's foundation provided the Peron's
and their cohorts with millions in graft; it
also built hospitals and schools and provided desperately needed services for the poor.
After cancer took Eva's life at an early age, her funeral was every bit as spectacular as
the stage musical suggests, and the film version includes an accurate re-enactment of this
ghoulish event. Peron proceeded to indulge his obsession with teenage girls, recruiting
them from various government run schools. Within a few years of Eva's death, the old
reprobate was deposed and forced into exile in Spain. Peron returned in triumph in the
1970s, with his new wife Isabel as vice president the job once denied to Eva. Peron
died soon afterward and Isabel took control of Argentina. In a desperate attempt to prop
up her sagging regime, Isabel located Eva's long-hidden mummified body and brought it
back to Buenos Aires. For better or worse, Isabel Peron was
deposed before plans for a new tomb could be executed. Eva's corpse is currently locked
away in the Duarte family's Buenos Aires vault Peron's remains lie beside it.
This almost forgotten show proves that accurate history can be turned into excellent
entertainment. Except for a brief prelude, the action takes place long before LaGuardia's
turbulent years as mayor of New York. It concentrates on his years as a crusading
attorney for the downtrodden, depicting his earliest attempts to enter the corrupt world
of New York politics. While a few of the supporting characters are fictitious, many of
the people and incidents in Fiorello come directly from the "Little
Flower's" life. His first wife did die at an early age, after which he married
his longtime secretary.
Floyd Collins exploring another cave,
shortly before his fatal accident.
In 1925, America was transfixed by the true story of this cave explorer who
became fatally trapped while searching for
a tourist-worthy cave. Collins, his family and the
reporter who exploits their tragedy really existed, but at least one
supporting character ("Ed Bishop") is fictional.
We've had so many questions on this show (and film) that the
answers rate a separate page click here
for the true dish on Fanny Brice.
Return to: Musicals vs. History