March 25, 2023



(Canal+, WB, September 13, 1997-June 26, 1998)
Gangster Productions, Contre-Allée, Canal+, Warner Bros. Animation



            The Legend 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.

Calamity Jane.

            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.

            Jane was 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.

            In 1876, 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 West show (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 in Mount 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.

            The 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 the Centennial 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.

            Other 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), a cavalry 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 tribe.

Jane transporting an uncooperative John Wesley Harding.

            The Legend of Calamity Jane debuted on The WB as part of the Kids’ WB programming block on September 13, 1997; after being delayed a week by the funeral of Princess Diana. The original concept was developed by Françoise Boublil and Jean Helpert, with original designs by Pascal Ropars. As an American-French co-production, it was produced by Warner Bros. Animation with Gangster Productions, Contre-Allée and Canal+, with the participation of France 3 and Centre National De la Cinematographie. The series was written by Mark Zaslove, Ken Pontac, David Bleiman, Jeremy Cushner and Michael Patrick Dobkins, with Zaslove serving as story editor and voice director. La Belle Equipe composed the music, and Hanay Geigomah served as the Native American consultant. Originally, Jennifer Jason Leigh was cast to play Jane; however, two weeks before the series was set to air, she was replaced by Scaff and all of her lines were re-recorded. Due to the last-minute change, Leigh’s dialogue remained in all of the footage used by the promos preceding the debut.

Jane comforting a young Eleanor Roosevelt.

            Despite the 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 seen.

            Calamity 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, 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 anticipated, they offered 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 Exhibition.
“Without a Vengeance” (6/26/98) – Wild Bill seeks revenge on the outlaw that managed to badly beat Jane.

No comments: