Family of Hollywood actor/producer Bill Self gives Annie Oakley collection to Buffalo Bill's Wyoming museum. Print
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Tuesday, 01 November 2011 11:29
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Bill Self (1921 – 2010) appeared in more than 30 films between 1945 and 1952, including “Red River” directed by Howard Hawks, and went on to produce many feature films including “The Shootist” starring John Wayne. His love for the American West was kindled early on with a movie about a lady sharpshooter, Annie Oakley.

Once 15-year-old Bill Self saw Barbara Stanwyck star as Annie Oakley at the Keith Theatre in Dayton, Ohio, he was hooked. Oakley’s brother, who lived nearby, had loaned some of his Oakley memorabilia for display in the theatre lobby. The 1935 film and the memorabilia fired Self’s imagination, and his fascination with Oakley and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody took root.

As the story goes, Bill Self had embraced Annie Oakley’s work so much, that after that first movie, he contacted Oakley’s brother, and the two became friends. Then, at age 17, he started writing an Oakley biography and persuaded his family to travel to Cody, Wyoming, so that he could study the Oakley scrapbooks in what was then the original Buffalo Bill Museum.

He even went so far as to coax the museum’s founder and curator, Mary Jester Allen (Buffalo Bill’s niece), to name him Assistant Historian—complete with letterhead stationery and business cards! The book he started was never published, but Self’s love for Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill, and the West led to service on the Board of Trustees of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center from 1984 until his death in 2010.

On Friday, September 23, 2011, Self’s daughter, Barbara Self Malone, on behalf of herself and her brother, Edwin B. Self, presented a large collection of their father's Annie Oakley memorabilita to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. Over the years, the elder Self had given much of his Annie Oakley collection to the Center, adding to its extensive Buffalo Bill and western history holdings. Included in this bequest and previous gifts were clothing, letters, gear, firearms, photographs, and other memorabilia.

“Dad always loved heroes,” Malone says. “Even as a teenager, he was fascinated by Annie Oakley. She took risks; she excelled; and she had a strong connection to the American West. With his collection, he felt connected to Annie Oakley; and with his early experiences in that Buffalo Bill Museum, he never hesitated in his desire that the collection should one day go to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.”

Part of the bequest was a ca.1892 William Cashmore rifle produced by Charles Lancaster & Company. Malone and her husband, George, formally presented the English-made double rifle—thought to be the customized to Oakley’s measurements with a silver AO on the stock—at a luncheon of the Center's Board of Trustees in Cody.

The Historical Center has one of the most important Annie Oakley collections in existence including clothing, gear, saddle, firearms, posters, and photographs.

“We couldn’t be more pleased about this acquisition,” Executive Director and CEO Bruce Eldredge said. “With it, we add significantly to our Annie Oakley collection—much of it due to the generosity of Bill Self and his family. These latest treasures are truly extraordinary.”

Committed to connecting people with the Spirit of the American West, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, weaves the varied threads of the western experience—history and myth, art and Native culture, firearms technology and the nature of Yellowstone—into the rich panorama that is the American West. For general information, visit www.bbhc.org, or call 307.587.4771.

ADDITIONAL INFO BELOW:

WILLIAM E. "BILL" SELF BIO (1921 - 2010):

William E. “Bill” Self was born in Dayton, Ohio, on June 21, 1921. After his graduation from the University of Chicago in 1943, he made his way to Los Angeles to become an actor. His first role was that of Private Gawky Henderson in the 1945 film The Story of G.I. Joe. All told, between 1945 and 1952, he appeared in over 30 films.

In 1952, Self moved to the less glamorous side of the camera and launched his extensive career in television production, first with CBS Television Network, and later to a 15-year stint with Twentieth Century Fox. He left Fox in 1975 to join with Mike Frankovich in the development and production of television and feature films, a partnership that was short-lived but produced The Shootist (1976), John Wayne’s last film, and From Noon Till Three (1976) starring Charles Bronson.

Later, Self returned to CBS in several capacities, eventually being tapped as President of CBS Theatrical Film Production. He served in this capacity for three years, supervising the creation of 10 movies. After that, when CBS decided to discontinue its feature film business, Self created the independent William Self Productions to develop both television and feature films. In partnership with Norman Rosemont, Self produced several works for television’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. His Sarah, Plain and Tall, co-produced with Glenn Close, received the highest rating of any Hallmark Hall of Fame to that date.

From childhood, Self was described as having “enthusiasms”—keen interests that became life-long pursuits. After he won a citywide contest in Dayton to appear in a magic show, he developed a love for magic and had memberships in several magic organizations. His early love for movies served him well later in film and television. And, after meeting a champion tennis player in the lobby of a theatre in 1932, Self convinced his parents to buy him a tennis racket—leading to many a match with the likes of Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, and Jack Warner, among other Hollywood notables.

Because of his affinity for Buffalo Bill, his Wild West show, Annie Oakley, and the American West, Self was appointed to the Buffalo Bill Museum Advisory Board of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in 1982 and became a member of the Center’s Board of Trustees in 1984, a position he held until his death in 2010.


ANNIE OAKLEY BIO (1860- 1926):

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses—Annie to her family—on August 13, 1860, in Darke County, Ohio. After the death of her father and stepfather, the 9-year-old Oakley lived with the superintendent’s family at the Darke County Infirmary, which housed the elderly, the orphaned, and the mentally ill. In exchange for helping with the children, Oakley received an education and learned the skill of sewing, which she would later use to make her own costumes.

As a young teen, she returned to her family after her mother had married a third time. To help with family finances, Oakley used her father’s old Kentucky rifle to hunt small game for the local grocery store for resale to hotels and restaurants. Her hunting enterprise was so successful that she was able to pay the $200 mortgage on her mother’s house with the money she’d earned…and she was just 15 years old!

One of her “customers”—who was impressed with her shooting—invited her to participate in a contest against well-known marksman, Frank E. Butler. Oakley won the match with 25 shots from 25 attempts; Butler missed one, but that didn’t stop him from being totally enamored of his opponent. Eventually, the two shooters were married on August 23, 1876.

The Butlers traveled with their shooting performances, signed up with the Sells Brothers Circus for one season in 1884 as “champion rifle shots,” and then joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1885. Oakley became a star attraction, and Butler was content to be her manager and assistant. The two prospered with the Wild West and remained with the show for 16 years—including two trips to Europe that secured her position as a seasoned performer and star of the Wild West. In truth, Annie Oakley may have been the first woman celebrity.

Because of a desire for less travel, the Butlers left Buffalo Bill in1901. They did continue to perform, however, finally retiring from shooting exhibitions in 1913. Eventually they moved to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Oakley wrote a touching eulogy for Cody in 1917, noting “the passing of a golden era.”

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Oakley unsuccessfully offered to raise a regiment of woman volunteers to fight in the war and went so far as volunteering to teach marksmanship to the troops. She gave her time to the National War Council of the Young Men's Christian Association, War Camp Community Service, and the Red Cross. She had, by all accounts, a very philanthropic soul.

In 1926, after 50 happy years of marriage, the Butlers passed away within three weeks of each other: Annie Oakley died on November 3, and Frank Butler died November 21. Both died of natural causes after a long and adventuresome life.


THE COLLECTION:

Annie Oakley about husband Frank Butler, June 30, 1926, five months before his death

“He is so gloomy and looks so queer and bad. And he will sure go if he does not think of more pleasant things and stop reading all the murders and things that pray on his mind.”

-Affect. Missie

Annie Oakley to husband Frank Butler, October 21, 1926, two weeks before her death

“Jimmie. Sorry you fainted, but you are in the best hands you could get into. Don’t try to write any of your checks. Just sign…So glad you are getting some sunshine there. Hope you feel better.”

-Lovingly. Missie

Annie Oakley to husband Frank Butler, undated

“Don’t tell me anything about the house. Just tell me about yourself.”

The latest additions to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center’s collections include several personal letters between Annie Oakley and her husband, Frank Butler—evidently the last ones they wrote to each other. Literally touching that correspondence, seeing the handwriting, and sampling the sentiment—as brief as it was—gives new insight into the life of Buffalo Bill’s star, Sitting Bull’s “Little Sure Shot,” and Frank Butler’s “Missie.”

But, this recent acquisition also provides a window on Bill Self, the collector. Simply put, his collection of Annie Oakley photographs, clippings, film, letters, and objects is extraordinary. Witness:

  • a wig Oakley used when she became prematurely gray-haired
  • powder horn
  • spurs
  • film
  • historic news clippings about the Butlers
  • and, of course, the ca. 1892 William Cashmore rifle produced by Charles Lancaster & Company

In this collection, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center can celebrate the spirit of the American West anew and join the Self family in commemorating Bill’s Self love for the West.