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of Calamity Jane was a stylized fictional account of the life of American
frontierswoman, sharpshooter and storyteller Martha “Calamity” Jane Cannary (or Canary);
known for her compassion as much as her daredevil nature, addiction to alcohol,
and penchant for wearing men’s clothing.
Much of the
accounts of Jane’s life were full of exaggerations and inaccuracies; most of which
were dictated by Jane herself (she was illiterate). Born in 1852 in Princeton, Missouri as the eldest
of 6 children. While migrating with her family to Virginia City, Montana, she spent most
of her time hunting with men in the caravan becoming a remarkably good shot and
a fearless rider. Jane ended up having to care for her siblings by age 14 when
both of her parents died. Relocating the family to Piedmont,
Wyoming, she took on whatever jobs she could find before claiming to find
work as a scout at Fort Russell
and as a part-time prostitute at the Fort
Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch in 1874.
The animated Jane squaring off against John O'Rourke.
involved in several military conflicts with the Native Americans; one of which
she claimed is where she earned the nickname “Calamity.” She alleged that
during a 1872-73 campaign on Goose Creek, Wyoming (where Sheridan is now located), that Captain James Egan had
been shot and she rode back through hostile fire to catch him before he fell
out of his saddle without sustaining injury herself. Upon returning him to the fort,
he said “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.” John Wallace “Captain
Jack” Crawford disputed this claim, stating that she never saw any service
but “possessed a generous streak which made her popular.” It’s believed the
name instead came about due to her warnings to men that offended her that to do
so was to “court calamity”.
The animated Deadwood.
she settled in Deadwood, South Dakota
where she found occasional employment by her friend Dora DuFran, the leading
madam of the area, and nursed the victims of a smallpox epidemic. Between 1881
and 1893, she made a couple attempts at being an innkeeper before appearing as
a storyteller in Buffalo Bill’s
Wild Westshow (traveling vaudeville performances that romanticized the
American frontier) and the 1901 Pan-American
Exposition (where President
William McKinley was assassinated). Jane died in 1903 from inflammation of
the bowels and pneumonia, and was buried next to folk hero Wild Bill Hickok
Moriah Cemetery, South Dakota. Some claim this was a posthumous joke on
Wild Bill who had “absolutely no use” for Jane when she was alive, while others
say this was at her dying request lending credence to the unconfirmed rumor that she and Wild
Bill were secretly married before his death.
Sitting with Quanna.
animated series was set during her Deadwood years in 1876; denoted by the fact
that Jane (Barbara Scaff) was said to be 24 and that one episode took place at
International Exhibition in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. However, animated Jane had very little in common with the
historical figure. She was said to have grown up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island and Atlanta, Georgia, and claimed to be a
member of the Comanche
tribe. She had left home at age 14 to become a frontier adventurer like her father,
but ended up becoming haunted by the life she ended up leading and the lives
she took along the way. She had pale skin, green eyes and red hair with a
feather in it, preferred to use a whip over a gun (although she was handy with
both), was functionally literate, and drank milk. Jane spent her time
protecting the town of Deadwood from a variety of desperados, stopping bandits on
the plains, keeping the peace between the local tribes and the United States
army, and upholding law and order.
Joe fending off some desperados.
characters included Joe Presto (Frank Welker), an old man that served as Jane’s
occasional sidekick and preferred not to kill, carrying around a shotgun full
of rock salt; Quanna Parker (Michael
Horse), chief of the Comanche tribe and Jane’s blood brother who liked
existential philosophy; Lonely Sue (Miriam Flynn), Jane’s other
friend and the owner of the local saloon (likely based on DuFran); and Captain
John O’Rourke (Tim Matheson),
officer that often aided Jane and had romantic feelings for her, and who blamed
himself for the death of President
Abraham Lincoln after he convinced his brother to skip guarding him to sit
with him at the show at Ford’s Theatre.
Wild Bill talking down a sore loser.
A number of
characters based on real-life people and groups showed up as well. Wild Bill (Clancy Brown), for one, was an old
friend and occasional ally of Jane despite his reservations about the law
(although the real Hickok became a peace officer in Deadwood, and relied on his
reputation to put an end to conflicts to compensate for his diminishing gun
skills and failing eyesight). William “Bill” Doolin
(Mark Rolston) was an outlaw
and founder of the Wild
Bunch, also known as the Doolin-Dalton Gang, which specialized in bank,
train and stagecoach robberies. John Wesley
Hardin (Robert Patrick)
was an outlaw and gunfighter who was well known to exaggerate or fabricate
stories about himself. He claimed to have killed his first man at the age of 15
in self-defense, and went on to boast a body count of 42; although newspapers
only accounted for 27. Jane was responsible for transporting him to the trial
that would see him jailed for 24 years in 1877. Eleanor
Roosevelt (Mae Whitman),
the future longest-serving first lady of the United States under President Franklin
D. Roosevelt and early civil rights activist, made an anachronistic
appearance (she was born 8 years after the series was set) as a little girl
infatuated with the legend of Jane. Jane eventually set her against adopting
her kind of lifestyle and instead pursue one of her own. President Ulysses S.
Grant (Welker) was an attendee of the Centennial International Exhibition where
Jane had to protect him from a plot to start a new revolution by Confederate
soldiers. Additionally, there were the Buffalo Soldiers,
army regiments comprised primarily of African American soldiers to serve on the
frontier, and Blackfoot
Jane transporting an uncooperative John Wesley Harding.
heavy promotion and anticipation for the series, the network pulled it from its
line-up after three weeks; replacing it with Superman:
The Animated Series. Although The WB clamed the show would return later
in the year, it never did. Instead, the complete series only aired in Canada,
Latin America and several European countries, particularly France. Although no
reason was given as to why the American broadcasts ceased, many speculate it
was due to the violent nature of the cartoon. The characters used real guns,
although nobody was ever visibly shot, and there were some fights despite the bulk
of that action happening off camera and only the results (bruises and such) eventually
Jane developed a cult following with those that remembered it and saw it
during its initial airings. It had never received any kind of home video
release and was considered lost media until VHS recordings of all but two
episodes began finding their way online in 2010. The final two were finally
uploaded in 2020. In 2022, in time for the show’s 25th anniversary,
a group called Comix.tv, a division of Piko Interactive, claimed to have
acquired the rights to the show and launched a Kickstarter
campaign to bring Calamity Jane to DVD for the first time. The special
edition version would feature the series, an all-new 28-page comic book, Jane’s
autobiography voiced by Scaff, and a walk-through of the official Calamity
Jane Flash website. In the interim, Invincible
Entertainment released their own complete
series DVD; however, it was criticized for poor image quality and being out
of order. At the beginning of 2023, Discotek
Media announced they would be
releasing the series onto Blu-ray. As this was sooner than Comix.tv anticipated,
to exchange their DVD for the Blu-ray to campaign backers. The entire
series also became available to stream on Tubi.
“Slip of the Whip” (9/13/97) – Bill Doolin sets the US Army
and the Comanche against each other to cover his robbery of a military train
full of reservation gold.
“An Army of Rogues” (9/20/97) – A Napoleon wannabe steals
the armaments from a cavalry fort to use in his bid to conquer the US.
“Like Father, Like Daughter” (9/27/97) – A series of bank
robberies happen just as a man claiming to be Jane’s father shows up.
“As Easy as One, Two, Three…” (3/24/98) – A group of bandit
triplets causes trouble for Jane.
“Train Kept a’ Rollin’” (4/7/98) – Bill Doolin escapes from
jail and steals a military train full of explosives.
“The Final Curtain” (4/14/98) – O’Rourke is convinced that a
travelling actor is really John Wilkes Booth.
“The Way of the Buffalo” (4/17/98) – Jane aids the Buffalo
Soldiers in diffusing a conflict between the Blackfoot and a racist settler.
“Troubled Waters” (4/21/98) – The Comanches are threatened
with losing their land because of the oil that can be found there.
“Waiting for the Cavalry” (5/29/98) – Desperados have Jane
cornered in a shack with Joe and Wild Bill Hickok.
“Dead or Alive” (6/5/98) – Jane faces off against bounty
hunters in order to get John Wesley Hardin to his trial.
“Protégé” (6/12/98) – Jane finds herself being followed around
by a little girl who idolizes her.
“I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia” (6/19/98) – Confederates
plan to assassinate President Grant during the Centennial International
“Without a Vengeance” (6/26/98) – Wild Bill seeks revenge on
the outlaw that managed to badly beat Jane.
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