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The Star of the Show

It bears repeating that though the men appearing in The Scouts of the Plains—the scout Buffalo Bill Cody, the cowboy Texas Jack Omohundro, and the lawman Wild Bill Hickok—would someday become bonafide legends, they were not, by the time this notice appeared in Rochester's Democrat and Chronicle newspaper in March of 1874, stars. That honor belonged to the female lead of the play, the Peerless Giuseppina Morlacchi, or Mrs. Texas Jack. Ned Buntline, who hired the beautiful and sophisticated ballerina for his "blood and thunder" play considered it a major coup, and boasted of making a huge success "with only one star."

It had cost an estimated $500 a night guarantee to convince the ballerina to leave Her Majesty's Royal Theatre in London and come to perform in America. If $500 a night sounds like a pretty decent paycheck, remember that this was in 1867, and a five hundred dollar night then is equivalent to $8,540 today. A journalist in New York at the time commented that "Morlacchi is worth more than Kentucky."

Even after audiences became well acquainted with her husband and his western friends, Morlacchi was lavished with praise and press coverage at every stop. Consider this irony: Without the considerable talents of a La Scala-trained ballerina from the cultural capitals of Europe, the first in what would become a long string of western dramas might never have become such a success.

Long before Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone were reviving the genre with their "Spaghetti Westerns," this diminutive Italian danseuse was ensuring they would someday get that chance.

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