Calamity Jane (1953)




Director:     David Butler

Starring:     Doris Day (Calamity Jane), Howard Keel (Wild Bill Hickok), Allyn Ann McLerie (Katie Brown), Philip Carey (Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin), Dick Wesson (Francis Fryer), Paul Harvey (Henry Miller), Chubby Johnson (Rattesnake), Gale Robbins (Adelaid Adams).

It is hard to imagine, but the sweet Doris Day plays the role of Calamity Jane.  Howard Keel plays the role of Wild Bill Hickok.



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 

Calamity Jane is riding shotgun on the Deadwood stage coach.  She sings a song about the Deadwood stage coach.  In Deadwood she goes into a saloon and goes over to Wild Bill Hickok.  She tells everyone that they were attacked by Sioux and she must have killed 30 of those painted varmints.  The men think she is exaggerating and laugh at her expense.  The men are all enthused about a new shipment of cigarette packages coming in, because there is a photo in each pack and the men hope to to get the one of the pretty showgirl Adelaid Adams. Only one of the guys gets the photo of Adelaid and the men try to buy it off him, but he refuses saying this picture of Adelaid is going to be sticking close to his heart. 

Calamity doesn't understand the fuss being made over the showgirl.  Hickok has a photo of her and shows it to Calamity.  She says she could look just as good as her, but she has certain ideas about modesty she wants to keep following.  Calamity adds that a gentleman wouldn't be looking at pictures like that.  Hickok teases Calamity by saying she means a gentleman like Lt. Danny Gilmartin.  Calamity says yes, like the lieutenant.  She asks Hickok where is Gilmartin because she thought he might be waiting for the stage?  To tease Calamity, Hickok says he saw Gilmartin last week in the saloon buying one of those $1 dollar cigarette packs.

A man off the stage tries to get the owner, Mr. Miller's, attention.  He says he is Francis Fryer and Mr. Miller hired him.  Miller says that he hired a Miss Frances Fryer who called him from Chicago in regard to his advertisement in the newspaper.  Francis says that the woman he is advertising is actually him, Francis Fryer.  Mr. Miller gets upset at this and fires Francis.  But he quickly takes it back as he says he is going to need somebody to entertain these folks who just might hang him for not providing the actress he advertised. 

Two older guys are brought into the saloon.  They have been in a fight with the Sioux Indians.  One of the survivors tells Calamity that there were five men at the start, including a lieutenant from the Fort.  The Indians jumped them at Eagle Pass.  The two surveyors and the lieutenant were killed.  Calamity questions the men about Gilmartin and finds out that they can't really confirm that the lieutenant is dead.  She scolds the survivors for not checking up on Gilmartin after the Indians had left and then runs out of the saloon to go after Danny. 

Gilmartin is alive and tied to a tree near the campfire of four Sioux.  Calamity comes riding in fast firing away.  She scares away the Indians and their horses.  She frees Gilmartin from his ropes, has him jump on her horse and then she jumps on behind the lieutenant.  Back in the saloon Calamity again exaggerates her accomplishments.  Hickok doesn't believe her and walks away from the bar.  She fires a shot close to his foot.  Bill turns around fast with a gun in his hand and shoots Calamity's gun out of her hand. 

Miller has Francis dress up as a woman and brings him out on stage.  He sings a song and things are going pretty well, until a trombone player catches Franicis's wig on his slide mechanism and takes it off Francis's head.  The men really get angry now.  Francis runs off stage as fast as he can.  Mr. Miller apologizes to his audience, who are yelling and screaming at him, and says the actor he hired is really good and they will see that if they would only give the actor a chance.  The clientele of the place start walking out. 

Calamity wants to stop the customers from leaving so she jumps on a table, fires her pistol in the air and starts telling the men to come back.  Now she tells the men that Mr. Miller made an honest mistake, but he has written already for another actress.  The men want to know which actress is coming?  Since Calamity can't think of any names, she tells everyone that he's hiring Adelaid Adams.  This pleases the crowd and they sit down for the upcoming actor. 

Miller thinks that Calamity signed his death warrant by saying the name of Adelaid Adams.  How can they ever get the lady to come to Deadwood from Chicago?  Wild Bill speaks up and says he knows Calamity and if anyone could ever get Adelaid Adams, it's her.  Bill leaves the table now.  Calamity comes and asks Hickok if he really holds her is such high esteem?  Bill says he does and then makes some wisecrack.  Miss Jane now sings that she can do without Mr. Hickok.  Hickok answers her back saying he too can do without her.  Bill says if she can get Adelaid Adams to come to Deadwood, he will dress up like an Indian squaw with a papoose on his back. 

The next day Calamity takes the stage coach to Chicago.  Hickok tells her that while she's in Chicago, she should pick up some feminine clothing for herself because there might be a pretty girl under all those buckskins she wears. 

In Chicago Calamity goes over to the theater to see Adelaid, who is on the stage singing a song along with a lot of pretty chorus girls.  It turns that this is Adelaid's last performance at this theater.  After the act is over, she tells her maid Katie to pack up her things.  She wants to go to Paris among other cities of Europe and says that Chicago is just a dreadfully boring place to be.  Katie says she dreams of being up on stage.  Adelaid tells her to hurry up because she can't keep Mr. Kingsley waiting. 

Katie says she can sing a dance a little.  But Adelaid doesn't encourage Katie.  She tells her that her voice won't carry beyond the footlights and her figure is just not adequate to attract the males.  Adelaid leaves.  Katie is mad.  She decides to put on some of Adelaide's clothes that Adelaid let her have to do with what she wants.  Katie sings and dances before the mirror.  Calamity comes into the dressing room and frightens Katie so that she starts screaming.  Calamity pulls her gun and asks where the varmint is at?  Katie thinks Calamity is a man and she is very hostile to her and tells her to get out.  Calamity finally figures it out and starts laughing at "Adelaid" for thinking she was a man.  She says:  "Come to think of it, that ain't so funny."

Calamity tells "Adelaid" that she wants to hire her for performances at a hotel in Deadwood City.  Katie doesn't realize that Calamity thinks she is Adelaid.  She says to tell the people in Deadwood that Adelaid is going to Europe. When Calamity asks her can't she put Europe off awhile for the sake of Deadwood where the people really want her to come?   Katie realizes that Calamity really thinks she is Adelaid.  So Katie decides to take advantage of the opportunity and says she's going to Deadwood.

A Sioux hunting party sees the stage coach coming and chase after it.  Calamity shoots one of the Sioux off his horse. The Indians stop chasing the stage.  Now Calamity slips through the window of the coach and tells "Adelaid" that she told her that she would have nothing to fear as long as Calamity Jane was riding with the stage.  Katie just faints away. 

As they pull into Deadwood the street fills with men cheering for Adelaid and Calamity Jane.  Wild Bill and Lt. Gilmartin are the first to welcome her to Deadwood.  They escort her into the hotel/saloon.  Calamity gets jealous and mad at all the attention Wild Bill and Lt. Gilmartin are giving "Adelaid".  Nevertheless, at the saloon she's a big deal because she brought the actress to Deadwood.  The men figure that Calamity could even bring in Sitting Bull to Deadwood City if requested. 

There is a possible problem for Katie, because Francis knows Adelaid Adams and he knows that Katie is pretending to be someone she is not.  Francis tries to tell Miller, but figures he has to support Katie, because the crowd could get ugly and Francis himself might be hurt.  Katie is so nervous about performing that she regrets taking Adelaid's identity. 

Miller starts introducing Adelaid, but a baby starts crying.  Calamity looks up and in one of the boxes she sees Bill Hickok dressed as an Indian squaw and taking care of a baby.  Calamity starts laughing her head off and is joined in by the men in the audience.  Hickok starts getting mad at Calamity for keeping the laughing going.  Miller has to come down from the stage to tell Calamity to stop or she is going to ruin the show.  Hickok threatens to ventilate the head of the next man who laughs at him.  Finally, Calamity stops laughing and Adelaid is ready to come out.  Francis tells her:  "Go on out there and give them everything, Katie."  Katie is a bit shocked at this revelation of her identity, but she goes out anyway. 

Katie as Adelaid is very nervous and her singing voice isn't as good as it usually is.  Calamity wonders what's wrong with her.  She's bad and the men start razzing and laughing at her.  Francis now feels sorry for the kid.  Katie breaks down and confesses that she is not Adelaid Adams.  Calamity Jane is embarrassed and tells her that she shouldn't joke with this audience.  Katie says she wishes this was a joke, but it's not.  Calamity rushes up on stage to get the real story from Katie.  Meanwhile, the crowd grows hostile and men start suggesting that Calamity was the mastermind behind this hoax and she should be run out of town.  They get so rowdy that they threaten to come after Calamity.  She kicks one guy back into his seat and then fires her pistol into the ceiling two times.  A guy tries to throw at bottle at Calamity but she shoots the bottle smashing it to pieces.  Now the men sit back down in their seats.  Now Calamity makes the guys fell a bit guilty because they are not giving a pretty young lady a chance to be a success.  She says Katie is just like them, looking for that pot of gold.  Now the men say to give the lady a chance. 

Katie starts again, but doing it her own way.  She's a big hit with the fellows.  She even goes out into the audience to interact with the men.  The people cheer for her, but Bill is still mad about having to dress up as a squaw.  He lassos Calamity, throws the other end of the rope over a beam and hoists her up.  The men start roaring with laughter and Bill keeps coaxing them to keep it up.

The next morning Hickok sees Katie in a buggy with Calamity.  He goes over to the women and tells Katie not to leave and go back to Chicago.  Katie explains that Calamity said it was a good idea if she stayed over at Calamity's cabin.  After all, there aren't many women in Deadwood.  Bill laughs at the idea of Calamity being Katie's chaperone.   Hickok says he might come over to the cabin to see Katie.  Katie says he's welcome, but Calamity tells him not to try it.  Calamity drives off.  Bill thinks he's in love with Katie.  In the saloon he sings to a life size portrait of Katie with whom he is in love.   

Katie is shocked by the run-down appearance of the cabin.  And it's worse inside the cabin with dust everywhere.  Calamity can tell by the shocked look on Katie's face that she can't stay here.  She grabs Katie's bags and starts for the buggy, but Katie says she's staying here.  She sings that the cabin just needs a "woman's touch".  Calamity joins in the singing. 

Katie and Calamity work on the cabin and then start working on their appearances.  Calamity looks very nice now compared to her buckskin look. 

Lt. Gilmartin comes into the saloon looking for Katie.   Bill don't like it and figures he can beat Gilmartin out to the cabin.  Bill leaves.  Gilmartin  catches up with Bill and now they race each other to the cabin.  They arrive at the cabin about the same time.  Calamity has just left the cabin to visit a sick prospector. The two men now compete with each other over Katie's affections.  Katie sends Bill out for some wood for the fire, while she tells Gilmartin that Calamity is in love with him.  He wants to go out with Katie, but Katie says she would never so that to Calamity because she has been so good to her. And she wants all four of them to go to the fancy ball for the new commander of Fort Scully, Gen. Stark.  The problem is that neither of the men want to go with Calamity.  So the men draw straws and Gilmartin wins Katie, who tells Bill that he is going to be surprised how nice Calamity is looking.  She looks out a window and sees Calamity coming home in her pretty yellow dress. But when Calamity enters the house she is covered in mud.  She fell into the creek and got all muddy.  Bill says that he is taking her and that she should wear something nice to the ball. 

Buggy after buggy are in a line headed to Fort Scully.  Bill is mad that Calamity chose to wear an old army coat, but Calamity says Gen. Custer gave her the coat and if it was good enough for Custer, it's good enough for everyone.  Bill and Calamity start singing a song in praise of the Black Hills of Dakota Country.   They arrive at Fort Scully.   Now Calamity takes off her coat and puts away her shawl.  When Bill sees her he can't believe she looks so good.  All the men notice the change in Calamity and say she looks good.  The army guys fill up Calamity's dance card, but she first tries to dance with Gilmartin, but he grabs Katie instead.  When Bill and Calamity go to check on the pair, they find them kissing.  Calamity is furious and now wants to go home saying this town ain't big enough for her and that "man-rustling petticoat"!

Calamity gets a pistol and shoots the punch drink right out of Katie's.  She leaves with Bill.  Back home, she packs up Katie's things and throws her satchels out of the cabin.

Katie and Francis perform a musical number.  Calamity comes into the saloon and approaches the stage.  Katie sees her and asks Calamity what does she want?  Calamity says there's a stage coach tomorrow for Chicago and she better be on it.  Katie borrows a pistol from one of the men.  She tells Calamity to hold up her glass of sarsaparilla.  Calamity hesitates, so Katie asks her if she is afraid?   Calamity raises her glass.  Katie gets ready to fire when Hickok shoots the glass out of Calamity's hand.  A man says that Katie did it and the men swarm around the singer.  Calamity becomes even more dejected.  She stomps out of the saloon.  Hickok goes after her and throws her into a buggy.  When they are far out of Deadwood Bill stops the buggy and asks Calamity:  "Who are you to tell people who to love? . . . You had to lose tonight, Calam, or you'd never win again."  Calamity gets out of the buggy.  Bill tells her that it's going to be tough but she will get over Gilmartin.  And he admits that it's going to be hard for him to get over Katie.  Calamity says she's sorry; she never knew Bill was in love with Katie.  Yes, he is or was, but he will get over it.  They sit down on a log bench and talks some more until they kiss each other.  Soon Calamity is saying she never heard to this fellow Gilmartin. 

The next morning Calamity is still on a love high.  She takes her horse by a stream and sits down on a low handing branch of a tree and sings:  "Once I Had a Secret Love". 

Calamity rides into town, but nobody will talk to her except Francis.  She asks  him where Katie is and Francis says she's on her way back to Chicago.  And Lt. Gilmartin says it's all Calamity's fault. Calamity swears that she didn't really want her to go.  She was just loco the other evening.  So Calamity jumps on the back of a horse and rides out to bring the stage coach back.  She passes by Hickok and his prospecting partner, but turns around quick, gives Hickok a big kiss, turns around again and head after the stage. 

Calamity is on top of a hill and sees the coach down below.  She yells out to Rattlesnake to stop the coach, but he keeps on driving.  Calamity comes alongside the coach and hops off her horse and onto the coach.  She asks why Rattlesnake didn't stop and he says he thought it was Injuns.   Calamity lowers herself through a compartment  window to sit down beside Katie.   She tells Katie she is getting married, but not to Gilmartin.  She's going to be Mrs. Hickok.  Calamity asks her now will she come back to Deadwood or continue on to Chicago?  Katie says she wants to go home  -- to Deadwood.  The women hug each other.

A double wedding takes place. In her wedding dress Calamity sings "Secret Love" but now her secret is no secret any more.  Katie in her wedding dress sings that she's not going to Chicago because it doesn't have what she has in Deadwood. 

The two couples drive away in the stage coach with "Just Hitched" on the back of the coach.


In and of itself, the film provides two nice love stories.  It's an entertaining film.  Doris Day is much too cute and lovely to play the part of the rather plain looking Martha Jane Canary.  It's true that Calamity Jane told people that she married Hickock and she was in Deadwood when Wild Bill got assassinated, but there is no evidence of intimate relations between the two people.  The film is a musical, but most of the songs are not memorable except the one about "Once I Had a Secret Love".  Day and Howard Keel are both good singers, but it didn't make up for the score being so non-memorable.  The tune "Secret Love" became one of Doris Day's biggest hits.  The record sold over a million copies and earned Doris an Oscar for Best Song.  The film success of the musical "Annie Get Your Gun" (1950) with Betty Hutton inspired Warner Brothers to hire rising star Doris Day to play Ms. Canary in this film "Calamity Jane". Howard Keel was the love interest in both of these musicals. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


1852? -- born in Princeton, MO as Martha Jane Canary

1865  -- her family moved to Virginia City, Montana

1866  -- her mother dies

1867 -- her father dies; remaining family moves to Wyoming

1870 -- she joins Gen. Custer as a scout through Arizona territory.

1872 -- ordered out to the Muscle Shell Indian outbreak (involving Gens. Custer, Miles, Terry and Crook) that lasts until the fall of 1873; she earns the nickname "Calamity"

1874 -- serves at Fort Custer

1875 -- ordered to the Black Hills to help protect the miners there

1876 -- ordered north with Gen. Crook to join Gen. Miles, Terry and Custer at the Big Horn River. Hospitalized with a severe illness.

1876 -- meets Wild Bill Hickok at Fort Laramie; they were both heading for Deadwood, South Dakota; no proof of any intimate relationship; she works as a pony express rider.

1876, August 2 -- Hickok shot dead from behind by Jack McCall.

1877 -- Calamity leaves Deadwood for Bear Butte Creek with Custer's old 7th Cavalry.

1878 -- tries prospecting at Rapid City.

1879 -- drives mule trains from Rapid City to Fort Pierre.

1881 -- goes to Wyoming.

1882 -- goes to Miles City.

1883 -- goes to California.

1884  -- goes to Texas.

1885 -- marries Clinton Burk, a native of Texas, in El Paso.

1889 -- the couple leaves for Boulder, Colorado where they run a hotel.

1893-1896 -- Burk family moves around the west.

1903 -- she dies poor; buried next to Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood.   (She claimed that she had married Wild Bill.)


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