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Remembering Ann Marston

5/2/2007

A new book by Alana Paluszewski reminds us of Ann Marston's pivotal role in making archery a mainstream sport for women.

When I received Alana Paluszewski's new book, Shooting Star: The Amazing Life of Ann Marston (Momentum Books, 2007, $19.95 paperback) it brought by a flood of memories of growing up in the Downriver Detroit area, where on occasion, I shot in tournaments with Ann — the first female professional archer, beauty queen and ambassador for archery to the world.

Born in the shadow of Sherwood Forest in England in 1938, Ann Marston won her first contest at 10 months —as a child model — foreshadowing her lifelong ability to win the public's eye.

In 1947, her father, Frank, returned home from WWII and picked up archery. Ann watched Frank shoot, and asked him to build her a bow. With a few months practice, at age nine, she won the English National Junior division champion. Frank, incidentally, won his division also.

Thus began a quest for bulls-eyes that led her to the cover of Sports Illustrated, worldwide fame and the distinction of being the first female professional archer.

A year later, Ann and Frank, became national celebrities when they were featured in a feature short film, Junior Toxopholist, that was screened throughout England.

Their fame led to a move to the U.S. in 1949, and they settled in the Detroit area where Ann, Frank, and her Ann's mother, Florence, soon became archery celebrities. The week of Ann's 11th birthday, the family participated in the National Target Archery Championships in Fond du Lac, Wis., and Ann won the National Cadet Girls title — resulting in her first appearance on American TV.

Thus began a string of National Titles and records set by Ann, but there was another side of Ann that did not get much press. In 1951, Ann was hospitalized for a week and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and she was insulin dependent the rest of her life.

Despite this illness, she pressed and kept winning tournaments and won a spot on the Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club, where she performed archery demonstrations — the first of hundreds of local, state and national media appearances.

Ann won the National Women's Freestyle Archery Championship at age 15, leading her to the cover of Sports Illustrated, and a life-long relationship with Fred Bear. She would have faired well in the Olympics, but in those days professional athletes were barred from competing, and she won the hearts of countless people around the world with her charm, looks and accuracy.

With fame came a steady flow of TV appearances: The Ed Sullivan Show, The Today Show, The Morning Show, You Asked For It, Ernie Kovac's Show, Who Do You Trust, Truth or Consequences, The Art Linkletter Show, Captain Kangaroo and many others.

She was not only talented as an archer, but excelled in horse riding, dancing, skating, acting, singing and music. Several times she tried to bridge in films, but it never seemed to work out.

Ann's most famous crowns came in l959 when she used archery as her talent to win Miss Michigan, and then months later, her archery skills led her to win the Talent Contest in the Miss America Pageant.

An Annie Oakley with a bow, Marston wowed audiences in person and on TV until her eyesight began to fail due to diabetes in the late l960's. And to make matters worse, in 1969, while performing at a rodeo, a Brahma bull broke loose and gored her, breaking three ribs and sending her to a hospital. Many wondered if the damage was worse than anyone was willing to admit.

When Ann could no longer see well enough to shoot accurately she still kept a hand on show biz in the Detroit area, as a talent agent, singer in nightspots and talent agent promoting rock and roll acts.

Living at home, Ann pressed on. Her will never faltered but her body finally gave in. Tragically, she unexpectedly passed away in 1971 of a stroke, a bright shining light tragically snuffed out at age 32.

In this new book, with careful attention to research, Anna Paulszewski has reignited Ann Marston's star so that she may continue to inspire young women for generations to come.

Personally, I remember her marksmanship and determination, as well as her stunning good looks and infectious smile. Her concentration was world-class. When she was competing, you could explode a bomb next to her and she would not respond until that arrow was on its way to the bulls-eye.

Ann was a knockout with or without a bow — blonde and very shapely. In the summer, when she was shooting outdoors at Lincoln Bowmen or the Straight Arrow Club, she liked to wear a two-piece white sun suit that made it hard for male shooters to concentrate on anything but her.

Ann Marston was a true hero living proof of an old Chinese saying of Confucius that a well-rounded person must learn the Six Arts — music, propriety, charioteering, writing, mathematics, and archery. And, that one cannot become proficient in the others until they have mastered the mental disciplines of charioteering and archery.

Perhaps someone will use this new book to make a film about Ann's life. If she could not be a film star in real life, maybe in retrospect she can finally be that screen star. Rene Zellweger would be a close casting choice.

Shooting Star: The Amazing Life of Ann Marston ought to be on the reading list for any Becoming An Outdoorswoman class, as well as for women archers, athletes and entertainers who seek inspirational role models. Ann was a true pioneer as well as an ambassador for archery.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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