When Barney set up Andy with Thelma Lou’s cousin during an episode on “The Andy Griffith Show,” little did fans know it would be a legendary actress’ final onscreen appearance.
The actress playing Karen was TV’s very own Annie Oakley, also known as Gail Davis. In the episode, she plays guitar, sings, and even reveals she likes to shoot— all the same interests as Andy.
Although Andy is smitten, Karen feels his ego is a bit too big, and she’s decided to shoot it down. By the end of the episode, after he made it to the final round of the shooting clays tournament, Karen becomes his biggest competition.
From 1954 to 1957, Davis starred in the classic western, “Annie Oakley.” She was the perfect actress to take on the part seeing as she learned to sharpshoot when she was young.
She later met country music pioneer Gene Autry when she was in college. He was so impressed with her that he told her to call him if she ever came to Hollywood.
Why Annie Oakley’s Appearnce on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Would Be Her Last
After graduation, she headed west to California. Once there, Autry kept his promise and got her started in show business. The Charlotte Observer once described Davis in 1956 as she appeared at a local event, writing, “With her yellow hair and pigtails down her back, wearing her flat cowgirl hat, she was as tiny and dainty as a Dresden China doll, with a six-gun on her hip and toting a shiny-barrelled .22 rifle.”
During live shows, fans would watch in awe as Davis would shoot Christmas ornaments off of a revolving wheel. The real kicker came when she shot over her shoulder while sighting in a mirror, then hitting a bullseye behind her.
During her final TV appearance, Davis recreated this act for the last time on “The Andy Griffith Show” in 1961. When she appeared as Andy’s cowgirl crush, Davis was ready to transition from her Annie Oakley character and explore other roles.
Unfortunately, Gail was afraid she had become typecast and would never break out of her gun-slinging, horseback riding roles.
“I tried to find other acting work, but I was so identified as Annie Oakley that directors would say, ‘Gail, I’d like to hire you, but you’re going to have to wait a few years, dye your hair and cut off your pigtails,'” Davis later described to The Chicago Tribune in 1982.
“Directors just couldn’t envision me in a sexy part or playing a heavy. I was always going to be Annie Oakley. So, as they say, I retired.”
As a result, her last onscreen appearance would be alongside Barney Fife and Andy Griffith. She passed away from cancer in 1997 at 71.