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Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, and the Beginnings of Superstardom in America

A-ColonelLittleMisseFor most of his life, Buffalo Bill Cody ("the Colonel") was as famous as anyone could be. Annie Oakley ("Missie") was his most celebrated protégée, the so-called slip of a girl from Ohio who could (and did) outshoot anybody to become the most celebrated star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. And this show, in turn, handled with sensational marketing, helped shape the popular image of the Old West. This dual biography tells an engaging story of Americana as McMurtry explores the facts and the folklore surrounding these larger-than-life characters.
Simon & Schuster. 245 pages. $26. ISBN: 0743271718

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What makes this volume a delight is McMurtry’s singular prose style. He’s clearly well-informed about his subject, but he offers no notes, documentation, or bibliography. That may seem strange, given that the author is a self-proclaimed bibliophile, but in the world of the well-made essay it is hardly unusual." Clay Reynolds

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"McMurtry has crafted a convincing case that these two performers more or less laid the ground—in Wild West fashion—for today’s ubiquitous celebrity worship. … Although The Colonel and Little Missie does not carry the heft or import of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove—and neither should it; it does not reach to be a literary work, but rather playful biography—readers will nevertheless enjoy the book because of McMurtry’s seasoned and intimate way of telling a story." Cathie Beck

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"In the tradition of Buffalo Bill, McMurtry never lets mere facts get in the way. … McMurtry’s affectionate and thoughtful meditation on Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, and the beginnings of superstardom is a pleasure to read, and he is right about the big stuff."
Christopher Corbett

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"... Mr. McMurtry’s book is popular, even impressionistic, rather than scholarly history. … The Colonel and Little Missie is a quick and enjoyable read, but it adds little to our understanding of the significance of these people and events." Tom Pilkington

San Antonio Exp-News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The book’s narrative sometimes is repetitive. The casual, humorous tone is entertaining, though, because of McMurtry’s trademark dry wit."
David Hendricks

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Organization is not the strong suit of The Colonel and Little Missie. But the author’s passion for the West and sure storytelling skills carry this amiable but loose-limbed tale." Peter Rowe

Boston Globe 2 of 5 Stars
"But in this book, McMurtry raises a dispiriting question about whether his relationship with readers has changed over time, and about his publisher’s decision to sell this slender book."
Michael Joseph Gross

Critical Summary

Having attained celebrity himself by popularizing the Old West in countless works of fiction, from Lonesome Dove (1986) to The Berrybender Narratives (2002-2004), Pulitzer-Prize winning McMurtry should offer more insight into the West’s enduring appeal than he ever attempts to do. Although he does support the subtitle’s premise that superstardom began with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, his comparisons to today’s pop stars (Martha Stewart, Courtney Love) are sometimes forced. The Colonel and the Little Missie doesn’t always sidestep myth and contributes little to history, but McMurtry writes an entertaining, full-volume essay on these two legendary icons, and the book should be approached with that understanding.