Famous Arkansan: Gail Davis

Several well-known people have roots in Arkansas. The list runs the gamut from Johnny Cash to Jermain Taylor. Check here  as we highlight a new Famous Arkansan each month. Today, Meet: Gail Davis


 Did you know the first woman to star in a TV Western was from Arkansas?  The honor goes to Little Rock native and actress Gail Davis (1925-1997), who was known as television’s Annie Oakley in the 1950s. She starred as the legendary cowgirl and rifle shooting superstar from 1954 through 1956. The show ran on ABC and was seen in reruns well into the 1960s. What also stands out about her is that she did her own stunts.

davis2012According to an article written by Nancy Hendricks for the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, she was ” just over five feet tall and under 100 pounds, Davis was a charming heroine on Annie Oakley who wore pigtails and stopped criminals by outsmarting them or shooting the guns out of their hands. She rode horses and did many of her own stunts. She was the first woman to star in a TV western. Many young women later said they were influenced by watching Gail Davis as Annie Oakley, a female character in a traditionally male role. In the show, Gail took care of her younger brother, Tagg, in the fictional town of Diablo and solved crimes with handsome deputy sheriff Lofty Craig.”

The show was created for Davis by “singing cowboy” Gene Autry, who she had previously appeared with in several westerns. Davis ( who was from McGehee) was known as Betty Jeanne Grayson before the show but Autry ( who produced the show) changed her name to Davis for the series.

After the series ended Davis continued to make personal appearances with Autry. Over her career she also appeared in 32 films and had guest roles on shows like The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid. She was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and is a member of the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame.

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