Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fess Parker, the "King of the Wild Frontier" dies at 85

Fess Parker, the American film and television actor known for his 1950s portrayals of Davy Crockett, the "King of the Wild Frontier", in Walt Disney's TV series and his late 1960s portrayals of Daniel Boone dies today March 18th at 85. He was also known as a wine maker and resort owner-operator.

Parker was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and grew up on a small farm outside San Angelo. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps at the end of World War II. He joined to become a pilot, but was turned down for being too tall at 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) to fill such a position. Parker began his show-business career in the play Mister Roberts in 1951, although he is credited with the voice of Leslie, the chauffeur, in the 1950 film Harvey.

Parker became a contract player with Warner Brothers appearing in small roles in several films such as Springfield Rifle (1952), Island in the Sky, The Bounty Hunter and Battle Cry. In 1954, he appeared as Grat Dalton in the Jim Davis western anthology Stories of the Century in the episode The Dalton Brothers.

There is an interesting story from Parker himself. When Walt Disney Company was looking for an actor to play Davy Crockett, they originally considered James Arness for the title role. Parker had recently graduated to a contract weekly actor, but listened to his agent, so he appeared instead in a B movie called Them!, that required only one day's work. He had a small scene in the movie, that of a pilot put into an insane asylum after claiming his plane had been downed by giant flying insects. Arness appeared in a larger role in the same film.

It was during a screening of this film that Walt Disney looked past Arness and discovered Parker. Disney was impressed by Parker's portrayal of a man who was unswerving in his belief in what he saw despite the forces of authority against him. Parker was asked to drop by the Disney Studio. When he did, he brought his guitar, met Walt, sang a song, and then said his goodbye. A couple of weeks later he was told that he had been selected over Arness and several other actors considered for the role, including Buddy Ebsen who eventually played Crockett's friend, George Russell.

Disney's portrayal of Crockett in three episodes depicted his exploits as frontiersman, congressman, and tragic hero of the Alamo, in what has been called the first television miniseries though the term had not yet been coined. Davy Crockett was a tremendous hit with children, and led to a merchandising frenzy for coonskin caps and all things Crockett.

On this next picture Fess "Davy Crockett" Parker is at Disneyland while the park was in construction early 1955.

On the picture below Fess and Walt are riding horses during a Disneyland parade.

Parker became a contract star for Disney appearing in many films such as The Great Locomotive Chase, Old Yeller, and Westward Ho, The Wagons! but complained they were all pretty much the same role.

After his acting career, Parker devoted much of his time to operating his Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards in Los Olivos, California. The winery is owned and operated by Parker's family, and has produced several different types of award-winning wines. The Parker operation includes over 1,500 acres (6.1 km2) of vineyards, and a tasting room and visitor center along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.

For his work with Disney, Parker was honored in December 2004 with his own tribute window on a facade in the Frontierland section of Disneyland.

Believe it or not, but the Davy Crockett frenzy happened also in France in the early sixties. And yes, when i was young i too had a coonskin cap! I have childhood memories of Davy Crockett, and it's good one. So, rest in peace Fess Parker, with all my thanks for these good childhood memories.

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All pictures: copyright Disney


DisWedWay said...

Davy Crockett lives on in Fronteirlands around the world. Paris Disneyland's Thunder Mesa was the last assignment for Davy and his old sidekick George Russel. So if you find yourself in the Fort Comstock, check out the boys performing and watch out for that flying lead ball. It's a hot one.

Marco Antonio Garcia. São Paulo, Brazil. said...

How sad, he was a great icon of the 1950's, the title character in one of the best (if not the best) Disney television series and one of the reasons for Disneyland enormous initial success. He was the biggest star in the heydays of the Disney Co and will forever be the king of the wild frontier.
Rest in Peace Fess.

Marco Antonio Garcia said...

Disney could do some new quality TV series like Davy Crockett, Zorro or the Scarecrow, instead of Hannah Montana and others similar.