Project Description

All materials ©2014 by Boxelder Productions, LLC

She had four husbands, but she only shot one of them… “Wanda the Wonderful” is a documentary about a 1920’s era gun slinging wild-woman, Wanda, and her journey from Indian Territory to sheep country, via the circus, Vaudeville, Hollywood and a brothel…

“Wanda the Wonderful” is a documentary about a 1920’s era gun slinging wild-woman, Wanda, and her journey from Indian Territory to sheep country, via the circus, Vaudeville, Hollywood and a brothel. It is a story about family, sacrifice, struggle and the American West; about what it means to forge your own way, and the realities behind a glamorous and exciting lifestyle.

Born in 1900 in the Chickasaw Indian Territory, Wanda grew up to be a rebel, a woman who toted guns and wore pants when skirts were the norm. Opting for career and independence over motherhood, Wanda joined the circus to escape a ne’er-do-well husband. She performed on the Vaudeville circuit and traveled the world as “Wanda Savage,” entertaining audiences large and small with her sharpshooting act. Along the way, she bore seven children by four different men, performed in Western movies as a stunt-double in Hollywood, and worked at “The Ritz Hotel”, a brothel in Thermopolis, Wyoming. It was at The Ritz that she met her fourth and final husband, a sheep rancher named Carl Hampton. Wanda and Carl lived happily ever after, until the mistakes of Wanda’s past caught up to her. In an act of passionate recklessness, Wanda shot Carl.

Filmmaker Carolyn Macartney never met her grandmother Wanda. She was a taboo subject in the family, about whom Macartney had only heard stories. She was inspired by the intrigue and wanted to find out more about who this mysterious woman Wanda really was. The film combines interviews, archival imagery, dramatic re-enactments, and 16mm film footage. By including media of the actual characters, places and stories of Wanda’s life, Macartney stresses the fact that Wanda was not just a character from a romanticized past, but a real woman, and that her actions still reverberate within her family today. There are truths to the mythologies of the Wild West and Wanda personifies these, while her story also reveals a darker side to what such a lifestyle required on a human level. Wanda followed her passions, at whatever cost.

Production Background and Stylistic Approach
The interviews with Wanda’s offspring and contemporaries provide the backbone of the story, upon which the archival, narrative, and 16mm “atmospheric” elements build. Macartney shot interviews with as many of Wanda’s descendents as she could find, travelling far and wide to do so. She scanned photographs and any other documents or memorabilia that her interview subjects had that pertained to Wanda. While travelling in the areas where the different parts of Wanda’s story took place, Macartney shot 16mm footage with her Bolex film camera using a lens that she made. The resulting evocative footage gives us a sense of place as well as a feeling of a past long gone.

Writing a script based on the information gleaned from the interviews and notes taken over the years, Macartney focused on character-driven scenes for the narrative elements. She wanted to see Wanda as a person, not just someone that other people talk about. Performance of Wanda’s character as well as references to actual past events allows the audience an intimate engagement with Wanda as a character and as a real person.

The dramatic narrative scenes were shot by Director of Photography Kimby Caplan, in a stylized aesthetic that references traditional American Westerns such as “Johnny Guitar” and “One Eyed Jacks”. Much of the dramatic narrative centers on Wanda’s relationship with her fourth and final husband, Carl Hampton, shot on location in Wyoming. The vast open spaces of the majestic Wyoming landscape are the primary backdrop for their life together. In addition to being the authentic location for much of the story, the uncompromising Wyoming terrain serves as a metaphor for that which is raw and untamable, a reference to Wanda’s persona.

Through this creative hybrid of elements we explore the complexity of Wanda’s story: Her adventurous life and passionate character; how the ensuing generations understand Wanda, are an extension of her and have been affected by her; and Wanda’s experience as a woman within the context of the Wild West. Together these elements coalesce to create a vivid and multifaceted portrait of an amazing yet fallible woman.

Themes & Point of View
Wanda’s story is about a woman who dared to be different. This drive and manic pursuit of her individuality is at odds with the social mores of the early twentieth century. Herein lies the dilemma – at what cost do people of extreme talent and temperament sacrifice other things – people and related responsibilities? “Wanda the Wonderful” explores the idea that an extreme and exciting life can come at great sacrifice. Mistakes made on the way up are generally covered over and left buried, yet Wanda’s are laid bare when the secret of her first three children is uncovered. The choices women had in those days were few, and it is easy to pass judgment from a modern perspective.

The pathos that Wanda experienced in pursuit of her independence is as vital an aspect of her story as the story itself. It is through Wanda’s human fallibility that we gain insight into her wild life and magnetic, volatile persona.

The stories and accomplishments of strong female characters of the past have been left behind in favor of their male counterparts. It is critical that we begin to uncover these hidden stories of women’s lives that reach beyond the confines of beauty and husbands. By bringing her own grandmother’s amazing story to light, Macartney aims to chip a little bit away from the usual stereotypes of women presented by the media and offer up a different, exciting and challenging option.

Target Audience and Distribution:
The principal audience for this film will be women, people interested in: Biographies, history of the American West, Native Americans, and Western Movies. More specifically, women, men and girls interested in stories of daring, glamorous women of the Wild West will want to see this film. Guns are an important element of the film; hence those interested in guns and sharpshooting will also be a viable audience. People with an interest in Wyoming, sheep ranching, homesteading, life in the Old West, documentaries about Native Americans, documentaries about the West, pioneer women of the West, Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Native America, and Western lore in general are a potential audience.

Famed musician James McMurtry is featured in two of the narrative scenes of the film, he does the voice over for Carl Hampton, and his music plays under the final credits. James’ involvement will bring an additional audience to the film due to his extensive fan base.

The film is currently available for distribution. Please contact Carolyn Macartney for more information:

Writer, Producer, Director: Carolyn Macartney
Starring: Arianne Margot as Wanda, Zach Rose as Carl, and featuring James McMurtry as James
TRT: 79 min.
Genre: Documentary
Shooting formats: HD video, 16mm film
Screening format: Bluray, QT file, DCP
Completed: 2014
Contact: Carolyn Macartney,

All materials ©2014 by Boxelder Productions, LLC