Friday, March 19, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: FESS PARKER's DAVY CROCKETT


By Steve Crum

"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee" he was not, yet FESS PARKER, who died yesterday at age 85, will forever be DAVY CROCKETT, the frontiersman, congressman, and legendary hero of the Alamo. Thanks to Walt Disney and the millions of children who watched Davy Crockett and his adventures on TV beginning in 1954, Fess Parker (Aug. 16, 1924 in Ft. Worth, Texas-March 18, 2010) is THE coonskin hat wearer of all time.

After graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in History, and working toward a Master's in Theater History, Fess Parker veered toward acting. After small roles in Warner Brothers films beginning in 1950, Parker was discovered by Walt Disney, who was casting the lead role of Davy Crockett in an upcoming miniseries on the Disneyland TV show. Disney, the story goes, caught Parker in a minute role in the sci fi classic, Them!, and soon selected Parker over Buddy Ebsen as Crockett. Ebsen was recast as Crockett's sidekick, Georgie Russell.

Only three episodes were planned for the Davy Crockett saga, ending with Crockett's death at the Alamo. It was one of the few, literally overnight sensations in the history of show business. The nation, and eventually the world, became Crockett crazy. Caught off guard, the Disney corporation had no Crockett merchandise ready to peddle. However, it did not take long for Davy Crockett toys, games, and coonskin hats to hit the market and sell in the millions. The Ballad of Davy Crockett, sung throughout the three TV episodes, was in the Top 10. In fact, there were no less than three singers of the same song in the Top 10 at the same time: Bill Hayes, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Fess Parker himself. Disney rapidly released two prequels of the Crockett story, and they were ratings hits as well. Soon all five TV episodes were edited into two feature length movies.

Still under contract to Disney, Fess Parker starred in The Great Locomotive Chase, Old Yeller, and Westward Ho! The Wagons. Post-Disney, Parker starred in the short lived series, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Typecast as a frontiersman, Parker signed with NBC-TV for the series, Daniel Boone. From 1964-70, Fess Parker wore the moccasins, fringe leather, and cookskin cap once again. Before retiring from acting, Parker turned down the role of modern lawman cowboy McCloud. Instead, Dennis Weaver successfully took the role. Soon after, Parker opened the Fess Parker Family Winery & Vineyards in Los Olivos, California. His logo on the award winning wines produced under his name: "The Golden Coonskin Hat." Fess Parker died of natural causes on his wife's 84th birthday.
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The photo at right of the younger Davy Crockett was taken on May 28, 1955, when yours truly, then Stevie Crum, turned seven. For most of that day, I channeled Fess Parker's Davy Crockett as I scouted our neighborhood for bears and cantankerous keelboaters like Mike Fink, King of the River. It was a joy portraying my hero, The King of the Wild Frontier. (from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection)
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Here is Fess Parker as Davy Crockett in a scene from Davy Crockett at the Alamo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Tu8NskR-E

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