I have gone here and there and made myself a motley to the view.
Let us have done with stories of Buffalo Bill! We know them now by heart. Now let us have a theory of Buffalo Bill. Let someone come forth, blasting though the accumulation of tales of Cody’s derring-do-- endlessly reported by the Cody “establishment” of writers, readers, researchers, and cat skinners-- to tell the inner story. For all the turning over and over of the same old stuff, we still are not sure what made this great man tick.
It dawned on me, back in the twenty years of my obsession, that Cody, on stage for ten years, was unique among all the actors who had ever acted.
He played only himself, exclusively; only in rough and ready plays about himself; depicting, more or less, what he had lived through or was going through during his summers scouting out on the prairies.
Apparently, I was the first to notice this most peculiar condition of Cody the actor, and so, I set out to try to understand it and thought that the advanced insights into performance as we think of it today could be revealing. I studied, wrote, and published.
But no one paid any attention; no one seemed to have read my stuff. I was disappointed. My work was published twice and received in an utter void of response-- while the story-tellers kept on telling their tales to popular acclaim.
(How much of this complaining can one blog bear before it shuts down, bows before the Cloud, its master, and goes slithering off to hide its face from me?)
Anyhow, one editor of a leading scholarly journal to whom I submitted a manuscript, called up the full forces of her old guard of Cody specialists to howl their outrage at my suggestion that their man, their Cody, might have about him something that they had not noticed, let alone understood.
(My father said that when he was twelve and Cody rode through the streets on parade, he thought, “Oh, if only I could look like him.”)
In memory of my father, then, I declare that there are today Six Codys in whom I can believe:
Mine, of course.
William Mooney’s grand monologue in which Cody himself tells his story. Mooney tricked me for a moment into believing in ghosts.
Robert Bonner’s defining study of Cody’s late years as a business- man and developer in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin.
Arthur Kopit’s brilliant epic drama Indians,
where for me it all began.
Don Russell’s ground-breaking Cody biography of 1960.
And all the Cody material on display in the Buffalo Bill Museum
in Cody, Wyoming-- of course.
The museum has much of Cody’s wardrobe. I have urged the museum to have a tailor measure those suits of clothes and reproduce them in canvass. Then, as with Cinderella, we can seek a man whom the mock-ups fit and, once and for all, know just how big a man Cody was and what his figure. (I believe, on the evidence of his shoes, that he had unusually small, even dainty feet.)
But the museum, too, ignores me.
I think I shall not again return to this subject in any kind of print. I have taken my revenge and now must be content to recall how during most of my life I thought of Cody as only a showman. Then, in a 70’s production of Kopit’s Indians, I saw a deeply troubling image of the man. It seemed profoundly important.
I saw that I might always have been seriously wrong about Buffalo Bill.
I realized how strange a thing it was for a professor of drama to speak of anyone as only a showman. I corrected myself and see now that Cody was one of the truly indispensable people of his-- and my-- time.