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Gail Davis

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Birth Name: Betty Jeanne Grayson
Born: October 5, 1925 in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
Died: March 15, 1997
Cause of Death: Lung Cancer

Spouse #1: Robert M. Davis (1944-1952) (divorced) (1 daughter, Terrie)

"Annie Oakley" TV Series (1954-1957)

Biography:  Gail Davis was born Betty Jeanne Grayson in Little Rock, Arkansas on October 5, 1925 to Dr. and Mrs. W.B. Grayson. Betty's hometown was McGehee, Arkansas.  Gail's father was a successful surgeon who later built the first hospital in McGehee.  Soon after, he became the State Health Officer and the family moved to Little Rock.

    I'm not sure when she changed her name to Gail Davis, so for the sake of confusion I'll refer to her as Gail for the rest of this brief biography.  Gail grew up in a neighborhood with girls, so she became something of a tomboy.  She did, however, win a "Most Beautiful Baby in Arkansas" award which tells you another reason why she was liked by the boys.  Gail was the first of her family to go into acting.  Her singing talents were acquired from her mother.  She started singing and dancing early in life and by the age of eight years was doing local shows.

    After graduating Little Rock Senior High School, Gail majored in Dramatics at Harcum Junior College for Girls in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and later attended the University of Texas in Austin.  It was in Austin that she became one of the popular Texas Blue Bonnet Belles.  By this time, she already had accumulated eight other beauty titles during high school and college.  It was sometime around this time that Gail did camp shows for the military in the vicinity.  During one of these shows, she was introduced to legendary cowboy actor Gene Autry, who at that time was in the Army Air Force.  This would prove to be a fateful meeting.  Gene was impressed with her looks and talent, but it came as a surprise to everyone concerned when they started working together a few years later.

    At the University of Texas she met and married 1st Lieutenant Robert M. Davis in 1944 (that's where she gets the "Davis" part of her name).  Shortly after WWII, they went to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune.  They had a daughter named Terrie, before divorcing in 1952.  In Hollywood, while living at the Hollywood Plaza Hotel she studied dramatics while working as a hat check girl at the Palladium, a haven for that era's big bands.  Gail was discovered by an agent at the Plaza and before you knew it, she was in an MGM film called "Romance of Rosy Ridge" with Van Johnson.  This was 1946.  Although not the female lead (that was Janet Leigh), Gail made her presence known.  Her contract was bought by RKO where she was there for about a year.  Billionaire Howard Hughes bought RKO and cancelled many existing contracts, including hers.  She freelanced from studio to studio which landed her film roles with many big time actors in popular shows including Roy Rogers movies and TV shows like "Lone Ranger".

    Armand Schaefer, producer of Gene Autry's films at Columbia, discovered her and she soon became the female lead in "Cow Town" (this was 1949).  The audience response was overwhelming and she soon became Gene's leading lady in 14 features and 15 of his TV shows.  She already had a strong fan base long before the legendary "Annie Oakley" TV series even started!

    Gene Autry, for many years, toyed with the idea of a western heroine.  There really was no such thing, at that time, as a woman who headlined a western movie or TV show.  So the "Annie Oakley" show was conceived.  He wanted a complete unknown for the role of Annie.  Gail was too famous, but she auditioned and luckily got the role.  It's funny what a hit show can do to your image.  Although she was already a bonifide movie and TV star, it would be "Annie Oakley" that everyone would identify her with for the rest of her life.  Gail Davis made history with the Annie Oakley TV show as it was the first time a western heroine was really spotlighted and got top-billing.  She wasn't the very first western heroine, but she WAS the first one to be given top recognition by her studio.  Autry liked Gail a great deal and called her the perfect western actress.  Gail herself loved the TV Annie Oakley and the real Annie Oakley.  She was as true to her role and to the high moral standards of Annie Oakley as Clayton Moore was to the Lone Ranger.  The TV series lasted from 1954 to 1957 which, at that time, was a pretty good run for a TV series.  They made a lot more episodes in a season back then, though, so "Annie Oakley's" run was as strong as a six to seven season TV series of our time.

    After "Annie Oakley" the TV series ended, "Annie Oakley" the traveling show occupied Gail's time.  Gail toured the U.S. and Canada as her western character.  She and Gene Autry did these shows before and during the TV series, and so it continued.  She also did things like visiting local hospitals.  Gail had a particular soft spot for children.  Besides her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Gail received scads of awards thoughout her life.  Her show business career simmered down by the late 1950s and after 1961 she was out of movies and TV completely, save for an appearance in a 1973 film called "Coffy".  Gail retired to the San Fernando Valley in order to spend more time with her family.

    Although Gail left show business, she NEVER left her fans.  For the rest of her days she answered fan mail and participated in many film festivals and collectors shows.  Her last public acceptance of an award came in 1994 when she won the prestigious Golden Boot Award for her positive contributions in the western tradition.  Gail was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996 and died on March 15, 1997.

    By the way, Gail Davis was 5' 2" tall; a good height for back then, but a bit impish nowadays.  Nonetheless, she was and still is a very attractive lady.  A lot of this biographical information comes from my own research and of course the website her daughter Terrie started called "TV's Annie Oakley".  Although that website looks nice, it hasn't been maintained in years.  In 2004 I tried e-mailing the site three times without one single response in a seven month period...and I was always very polite.  That's a bit disappointing.  I know there haven't been any updates as of October 10, 2005.  Below is the link to that site, but I don't know if it's still in operation or if you can still buy any of the Annie Oakley videos.  It is a good resource for Gail Davis info, though, with lots of pictures.  The pictures you see on this website of Gail do not come from that site.  I found them on my own and have them in my collection.

TV's Annie Oakley

Filmography: In progress.

"Annie Oakley" TV series (1954-1957):

    I could go on forever about how I admire this show.  It is a very loose interpretation of the real Annie Oakley from history.  TV's Annie Oakley and the real Annie Oakley were the same only by name and the fact that she is a sharpshooter.  She's a little woman who is very pretty and feminine, but tough when she has to be.  Annie doesn't take any flack from anyone.  She has a talent for shooting, which she uses (not abuses) in keeping law and order in her town of Diablo.  Gail's portrayal of Annie Oakley is endearing, because she is very funny and smart.  She also has a "can do" attitude.  In the 1950s, the "Annie Oakley" series was groundbreaking because it featured a female lead in a genre that never had before.  In fact, there weren't too many female leads in any TV program or film.  Plus, she has the cutest little pigtails.


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Gail Davis

Gail Davis