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Gene Autry and Davis in Toronto, circa 1956.
|Born||Betty Jeanne Grayson
October 5, 1925
Little Rock, Arkansas, U.S.
|Died||March 15, 1997
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Alma mater||University of Texas at Austin|
|Occupation||Actress: Annie Oakley|
|Spouse(s)||(1) Bob Davis (1945-1952)
(2) Richard Pierce
(3) Carl Guerriero
Life and career
She had been singing and dancing since childhood. After graduating from Little Rock High School, she studied at the Harcum Junior College for Girls in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, before completing her education at the University of Texas at Austin. She had a younger sister, Shirley Ann Grayson (August 26, 1937 – February 23, 1971).
Betty Jeanne and her husband, Bob Davis, moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career. She told an interviewer how she acquired her professional acting name. "I went under contract to MGM around 1946. They told me 'we can't have a Betty Davis, because of Bette Davis, and we can't have a Betty Grayson because of Kathryn Grayson'.... Then a guy in the casting department said 'how about Gail Davis?' So that's where it came from."
In 1947 she made her motion picture debut in a comedy film short. She then appeared in minor roles in another four films, the first being The Romance of Rosy Ridge, then landed a supporting role under star Roy Rogers in a 1948 Western film, The Far Frontier. Between 1948-53, Davis appeared in 32 feature films, all but three of which were in the Western genre. Twenty of the Western films were with Gene Autry, produced by his company, Gene Autry Productions, released and distributed by Columbia Pictures,
In 1950, Davis began to guest star in television Westerns, notably in The Cisco Kid, in which she appeared six times in two roles, including that of a niece whose uncle is trying to stop her pending marriage to a gangster. She guest starred in 1950's episodes entitled "Buried Treasure," "Friend in Need" (3/1/1951) and "Spanish Gold" of The Lone Ranger and twice each on The Range Rider, The Adventures of Kit Carson and Death Valley Days. Beginning in September 1950, through September 1954, she appeared in fifteen episodes of The Gene Autry Show which aired on CBS sponsored by Wrigley's Doublemint gum.
Gail Davis was the answer to a long-held dream of Autry's -- providing Western programming with a star to whom girls could relate. He said: "Little boys have had their idols ... from the beginning of the picture business.... Why not give the girls a Western star of their own?" Davis became that star, but on television rather than in movies, as Autry originally envisioned.
Between 1954 and 1957, Davis starred in the syndicated Annie Oakley series which ran for 81 episodes, later rebroadcast on ABC. An adroit horseback rider, Davis also toured North America in Gene Autry's traveling rodeo. She went on to manage other celebrities. In 1961, she made a guest appearance on The Andy Griffith Show Season 2, Episode 8 The Perfect Female as Thelma Lou's cousin.
She believed her success as Annie Oakley undermined other opportunities she might have had for other roles in the future. In 1982, she told a reporter, "I tried to find other acting work, but I was so identified as Annie Oakley that directors would say, 'Gail, I'd like to hire you, but you re going to have to wait a few years, dye your hair and cut off your pigtails.' Directors just couldn't envision me in a sexy part or playing a heavy. I was always going to be Annie Oakley. So, as they say, I retired."
While Annie Oakley was popular on television, Davis made some recordings for Columbia and RCA Victor. Some were targeted toward children, while others were aimed at adults. However, Bob Leszczak wrote in his book, From Small Screen to Vinyl: A Guide to Television Stars Who Made Records, 1950-2000, "Even with two different musical avenues, none of the records caught on with the public."
Davis and her third husband, Carl Edward Guerriero, retired to the San Fernando Valley. During her retirement Davis made guest appearances at western memorabilia shows and film festivals. Her last public appearance was in 1994, when she received the Golden Boot Award from the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
While at the University of Texas at Austin in 1945, she met and married her first husband, Bob Davis, with whom she had a daughter, Terrie. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1952. On June 25, 1959, she married Richard Pierce, a recording executive, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For her contribution to the television industry, Gail Davis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Blvd. In 2004, she was posthumously inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. Davis' exhibit at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame recalls her impact of young girls through the Annie Oakley series:
"Back then I knew the show was having a positive impact, especially on little girls. It wasn't until years later that I realized just how much. Little girls had turned into influential women, thanking my portrayal of Annie for showing them the way."
- "Gene Autry Collection: TV's Annie Oakley". autrycollection.com. Retrieved January 9, 2010.
- Annie Oakley Hits the Bulls-Eyes, Summer/Fall 1994 Trail Dust magazine.
- Hendricks, Nancy. "Gail Davis (1925-1997)". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
- Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present, New York: Ballantine Books, p. 47
- "Gail Davis Called 'Perfect Western Actress' by Autry". Chino Champion. April 22, 1954. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
- The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, by TIm Brooks and Earle Marsh, Ballantine Books, 1995
- Oney, Steve (December 29, 1982). "Star's career shot after 'Oakley' days". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
- Leszczak, Bob (2015). From Small Screen to Vinyl: A Guide to Television Stars Who Made Records, 1950-2000. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 86. ISBN 9781442242746. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
- The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture website, see External Links
- "Actress Marries Recording Exec". Times Daily. June 26, 1959. p. Section Two-Page 7. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
- Gail Davis at Find a Grave
- "Gail Davis". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
- Gail Davis exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas
- "The Golden Boot Awards". B-Westerns.com. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
- Gail Davis at Find a Grave
- Gail Davis on IMDb
- Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture web article, encyclopediaofarkansas.net
- The Colt Revolver in the American West—Gail Davis' Single Action Army, theautry.org
- "Winsome Annie Oakley", a feature about Gail Davis, Radio and Television Mirror September 1955
- "Golden Girl", a feature about Davis, Radio and Television Mirror, January 1957