Gail Davis

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Gail Davis
Davis in 1956
Betty Jeanne Grayson

(1925-10-05)October 5, 1925
DiedMarch 15, 1997(1997-03-15) (aged 71)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, California
Alma materHarcum Junior College for Girls
University of Texas at Austin
Years active
  • 1946–1961
  • 1994
Bob Davis
(m. 1945; div. 1952)
Richard Pierce
(m. 1959; div. 1967)
Carl Guerriero
(m. 1971; died 1982)

Gail Davis (born Betty Jeanne Grayson; October 5, 1925 – March 15, 1997) was an American actress and singer, best known for her starring role as Annie Oakley in the 1950s television series Annie Oakley.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

The daughter of a small-town physician, Davis was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but was raised in McGehee, Arkansas until her family moved to Little Rock.[when?]

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, and then completed her education at the University of Texas at Austin.[2] 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."[3]

In 1947, she made her motion picture debut in a comedy short film. She then appeared in minor roles in another four films, the first being The Romance of Rosy Ridge,[4] then landed a supporting role to that of star Roy Rogers in the 1948 The Far Frontier. From 1948 to 53, Davis appeared in 32 feature films,[4] 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,


Gene Autry and Davis in Toronto, c. 1956

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 1950s episodes titled "Buried Treasure," "Friend in Need" and "Spanish Gold" of The Lone Ranger and twice each on The Range Rider, The Adventures of Kit Carson and Death Valley Days.[5] Beginning in September 1950, through September 1954, she appeared in 15 episodes of The Gene Autry Show, 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?"[6] Davis became that star, but on television rather than in movies, as Autry originally envisioned.[6]

Between 1954 and 1957, Davis starred in the Annie Oakley series which ran for 81 episodes. An adroit horseback rider, Davis also toured North America in Gene Autry's traveling rodeo. She went on to manage other celebrities.[7] In 1961, she made a guest appearance on The Andy Griffith Show (season 2, episode 8, titled "The Perfect Female") as Thelma Lou's cousin.[citation needed]

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."[8]


While Annie Oakley was popular on television, Davis made some recordings for Columbia and RCA Victor. Some were targeted toward children, and 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."[9]

Later years[edit]

Davis and her third husband, Carl Edward Guerriero, retired to the San Fernando Valley.[10] 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.[10][11]


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.[4] During her tenure on Annie Oakley, she had an affair with Gene Autry.[12] On June 25, 1959, she married Richard Pierce, a recording executive, in Las Vegas, Nevada.[13]


Davis, then a widow, died of cancer in Los Angeles at age 71. She is interred there in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.[14]


For her contribution to the television industry, Gail Davis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6385 Hollywood Blvd.[15] In 2004, she was inducted posthumously into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas.[4] Davis' exhibit at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame recalls her impact on 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."[16]

Selected filmography[edit]

Selected television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1953 Death Valley Days Mamie Jaggers Season 1 Episode 5 "The Little Bullfrog Nugget"
1953 Death Valley Days Season 1 Episode 18 "Land of the Free"
1954-1957 Annie Oakley Annie Oakley 81 episodes
1961 The Andy Griffith Show Thelma Lou's cousin Karen Moore. Season 2, Episode 8, "The Perfect Female".


  1. ^ "ACTRESS GAIL DAVIS DIES AT 71; PLAYED ANNIE OAKLEY IN TV SERIES". Buffalo News. March 17, 1997. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  2. ^ "Gene Autry Collection: TV's Annie Oakley". Archived from the original on December 4, 2008. Retrieved January 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Annie Oakley Hits the Bulls-Eyes, Summer/Fall 1994 Trail Dust magazine.
  4. ^ a b c d Hendricks, Nancy. "Gail Davis (1925-1997)". The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  5. ^ Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, 1946-Present, New York: Ballantine Books, p. 47
  6. ^ a b "Gail Davis Called 'Perfect Western Actress' by Autry". Chino Champion. Chino Champion. April 22, 1954. p. 1. Retrieved May 15, 2015 – via Open access icon
  7. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, Ballantine Books, 1995
  8. ^ Oney, Steve (December 29, 1982). "Star's career shot after 'Oakley' days". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  9. ^ 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 December 27, 2016.
  10. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture website, see External Links
  11. ^ "The Golden Boot Awards". Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  12. ^ Rugh, Susan Sessions (2008). Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vactions. University Press of Kansas. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7006-1588-9.
  13. ^ "Actress Marries Recording Exec". Times Daily. June 26, 1959. p. Section Two-Page 7. Retrieved May 15, 2015.
  14. ^ "Find a Service, Grave or Obituary". Forest Lawn.
  15. ^ "Gail Davis". Hollywood Walk of Fame. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  16. ^ Gail Davis exhibit, National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, Fort Worth, Texas

External links[edit]