-- e.e. cummings
Like many historical figures of the American West, William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, became a legend within his own lifetime. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, Cody engineered the process himself, carefully crafting the persona of Buffalo Bill for his own ends. His flair for showmanship led him to create the Wild West show that entertained people all over the world and perpetuated many of the images of the Old West that we still see in films and other media today. At the center of that show was the man himself, larger than life, dressed in decorated buckskin and tall boots and crowned with flowing locks. Cody, who died in 1917, even appeared in some early film footage promoting his show; if he had lived to see the way cinema would continue his legacy he would no doubt have been pleased. Like other icons of the West, Cody has been depicted in numerous films, although most of them have succumbed to the lure of his public persona and few have looked into the facts of his actual life. An overview of Cody's appearances in classic movies reveals the extent to which Buffalo Bill looms over our imaginary Western landscape, but it also shows how much of Cody's real life has yet to be depicted on film.
Cody actually plays himself in the first entry for depictions of Buffalo Bill on IMDB, a 1915 three-reel silent known as The Circus Girl's Romance or Patsy of the Circus. (There is also a 1912 production called The Life of Buffalo Bill, in which he is credited as himself, and a host of other shorts and documentary shorts, mostly depicting the Wild West show. Look for these under William F. Cody as an actor rather than Buffalo Bill as a character.) This was not a new tactic for the showman, who had been playing himself in stage shows starting in 1872, when he alternated between having real adventures out West and then starring in fictionalized versions of them for the stage back in Chicago. He even took to wearing his stage costume on his frontier expeditions. The plays served as tie-ins to the huge number of dime novels that starred Buffalo Bill as their hero; in all, some 1,700 stories would be produced.
William F. Cody Archive for a longer biographical account.)
If you want to learn more about the real William F. Cody, add a visit to Cody, Wyoming, to your bucket list. Cody founded the town, which is named in his honor, and it's there that you'll find the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The museum includes a large wing devoted to the story of the man and his myths, where you'll find not only a talking hologram of Buffalo Bill but also countless artifacts and personal items from his family and Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. While you're there, pop into the historic Irma Hotel for a buffet lunch. Cody built the hotel and named it for his daughter in 1902; the huge bar was a gift to Cody from Queen Victoria. The town will give you a palpable sense of Cody's legacy beyond his depictions on the silver screen.