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Calamity Jane by James D. Mclaird

The Real Calamity Jane

A review by Margot Mifflin

As author James D. McLaird confesses in his conclusion to Calamity Jane: The Woman and the Legend, historians sure know how to ruin a good story. In this case, somebody had to do it. Calamity Jane -- 19th century gunslinger, drinker and cross-dresser -- was so barnacled over with myth that it had become impossible to see the lady for the lore. From dime-store novels of the 1870s and '80s chronicling her frontier fearlessness, to Doris Day's G-rated Jane in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane, to Jane Alexander's feminist reanimation of her in a 1984 ABC special, to Robin Weigert's blowsy portrayal of her on the HBO series Deadwood, Calamity Jane has served as a Rorschach blot for devotees of unconventional women for over a century. Then again there was Larry McMurtry's Buffalo Girls -- published in 1990 -- which trashed the myth altogether, casting her as a drunk, a liar and a hermaphrodite.

Love her or hate her, you probably don't know her at all. Nee Martha Canary, she was less -- and ...



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