Calamity Jane has become a Wild West legend over the years. She was a woman in a man's world, but she wasn't like everyone else. She was a talented sharpshooter and true fixture of the American frontier. She was a gifted storyteller who joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West show towards the end of her life, entertaining audiences with tall tales of the Old West. Because she was prone to theatrics, some of her stories have been hard to prove over the years, but we do know that she lived in the famous western town Deadwood where she knew the equally famous Wild Bill Hickok.
She's such an interesting character it makes sense that Hollywood has brought her story to the screen various times over the years.
Robin Weigert in Deadwood
It's safe to say that of everyone who has played Calamity Jane to date, Robin Weigert is probably the standout performance. For three seasons on HBO's Deadwood and its subsequent film, she played the western icon to perfection. She was unrecognizable as she fully embodied her character, adding a believable frontier grit to Jane as she navigates life in Deadwood as a woman who really is one of the men.
Weigert told the LA Times that when she originally auditioned for the role, she didn't want to look like herself. She was a theater actress in New York, with only a few TV credits to her name when she was asked to read for the pilot, so she really wanted to make an impression. She rented a cowboy costume that she wore for the second and third auditions to feel as in character as possible, and it worked. She earned an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work, and if you ask passionate fans of the show, you'll hear that it was well deserved.
Doris Day in Calamity Jane
As fun as Doris Day's musical rendition of Calamity Jane's life was, it's definitely not historically accurate. It's an enjoyable story about Jane's life and relationship with Wild Bill, which alludes they actually were romantic. Doris Day is absolutely wonderful in her scout cap and buckskin, as Jane tries to save a Deadwood salon from going under by traveling to Chicago to bring back a famous singer.
Part of what makes this movie so good is the fact that Day literally got her start in Hollywood as a dancer and was a renowned singer, so it's no surprise that playing Calamity Jane took her career to new heights. If you're looking for a more realistic portrayal of Jan in the Wild West, this isn't it. But it's still a worthwhile watch.
Angelica Huston in Buffalo Girls
Anjelica Huston brought similar masculine energy to her performance that you see with Weigert in Deadwood, but the main difference is that anything goes on HBO, so Huston's mini-series Buffalo Girls is a bit more subdued. Based on the novel by Lonesome Dove author Larry McMurtry, the CBS two-part series follows Jane in the fading days of the Wild West, her relationships with other notable figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley, and even her daughter, part of Jane's life that isn't as frequently discussed. Huston earned an Emmy and SAG Award nomination for her emotional performance of the frontier legend.
Ellen Barkin in Wild Bill
In this Jeff Bridges film about the life of the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, Ellen Barkin plays his friend and sometimes lover Calamity Jane. To prepare for her role in the film, Barkin watched some of the old portrayals of Jane, like Doris Day, read autobiographies, and read personal letters written by Jane, herself, which are most likely tall tales that helped her become a legend over time.
As much as Jane was a crack shot, she was also a bit of a drunk, and Barkin expertly captures both sides of her personality. The relationship between Jane and Wild Bill has been heavily examined in pop culture over the years, and Barkin's performance feels somewhat accurate in the sense that she most likely had a crush on Bill, but was still able to be rowdy and hold her own in a saloon full of men.
Catherine O'Hara in Tall Tale
In this Disney fantasy film, a young boy befriends the folk heroes of his father's "tall tales," including Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Calamity Jane. Catherine O'Hara is pretty fantastic in just about anything, and her small performance in this film is a standout. She plays Jane as a jilted former lover of Pecos Bill who shows off her shooting skills in a saloon, mostly directed at Bill. She sports a sheriff's star showing she's some sort of authority figure, making her more of a mythical take on Calamity Jane than some of the other portrayals. She's only in a couple of scenes, but as usual, O'Hara is impossible not to love.
READ MORE: Were Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok Really in Love?
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