Wednesday, March 24, 2010
♫♫♫ Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free,
Raised in the woods so's he knew every tree,
Kilt him a bar when he was only three,
Davy, Davy Crockett king of the wild frontier.♫♫
--George Bruns / Tom W. Blackburn
For those of us of a certain age and era, part of that era died last Thursday with the passing of Fess Parker.
In December, 1954, Walt Disney aired the first of a three part miniseries on Davy Crockett, starring little known actor Fess Parker. The three episodes of the original Crockett miniseries were "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter," "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress" and "Davy Crockett at the Alamo". The show was a mega hit, but there was a problem: Davy had been killed off at the Alamo in the third episode. However, the series (TV's first miniseries) was too big a hit to let it die such a quick death. And, of course, being television Davy was resurrected for pre-Alamo adventures.
Well-known people die all the time. Sometimes their passing affects us in a deep way; sometimes we simply have a brief flash of memory about some movie or song they were involved in that intersected our lives at a certain point. When I heard that Fess Parker died last week I had much more than a brief memory flash. It was the passing of youth, the collective youth of the Baby Boomers.
The passing of Fess Parker, an icon of a generation, affected many of that generation. Author and novelist Darrell James said: "...it affected me too. I was thinking about some of the episodes and scenes that I can replay in my head, and so much of my early values of justice, heroism, loyalty and right vs. wrong, came from the character and Fess Parker's portrayal."
The Davy Crockett craze led to a marketing boom in all kinds of related items, especially coonskin caps, like Davy wore. Almost every child in that era had to have one, including me. When I mentioned Parker's passing to my mother the first thing she said was how she remembered me running around in my coonskin cap. And when I sent out a private e-mail to a fairly large group of friends almost every boy (uh man) and many of the girls (women) who were children then remembered having a coonskin cap. Even when my wife and I went to Disneyland not long after we were married I bought a new coonskin cap. Unfortunately, one of our cats attacked it but it still survives – the hat that is. (Wish that cat was still around too!)
Only a couple of weeks ago I had pulled out my Disney Davy Crockett DVD set and put on the Alamo episode. It might not be totally valid as a historic document and it is from an innocent 1950s Disney point of view, but it was a lot of nostalgic fun. The disc set is still sitting on the piano, as I was too lazy to put it away. Maybe I'll play another episode or two before it goes back on the shelf.
I collect toys, among other things, and some of the toys I collect are from the 1950s, including some Crockett toys. Marx, a well-known playset manufacturer of the era, created a Davy Crockett playset, complete with a character figure of Fess Parker as Crockett and a tin Alamo building.
Parker moved on to become a vintner and hotelier in and around Santa Barbara. A while back, my wife and I stayed at his Santa Barbara hotel and bought a bottle of Fess Parker wine...with a junior-sized coonskin cap on it -- fun kitsch.
It all seems like yesterday and it all seems so very long ago at the same time in this changing country of ours. Our world is changing at an accelerated pace in a lot of ways. It's sad that a lot of younger people today don't know who Fess Parker was. Many don't even know who Davy Crockett was or anything about the Alamo. A sad state of affairs. But for some of us it's a moment to think about our childhoods and memories. People we've known and things we've done.
Everything I've heard about Fess Parker in his personal and off-screen life is positive and says he was a decent person, which cannot always be said for Hollywood celebs. He is also known for playing Daniel Boone on television and various characters in a variety of movies, including Disney's "Old Yeller," a great one. But for many kids who grew up in the 1950s, Fess Parker will always be the one and only Davy Crockett.
What did Fess Parker and Davy Crockett mean to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
So long, Davy.
((( Links: Fess Parker singing "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" -- the song was originally sung by Bill Hayes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw4xNGHxaJw
Davy Crockett singing farewell at the Alamo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wuOhxyYAP8&feature=related
Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen singing "Old Betsy" at Disneyland opening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvKV37VbJYk&feature=PlayList&p=01D4383159A135DD&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=21
Trailer for Davy Crockett Mike Fink episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2HmWak4I_c
Alamo final battle scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Tu8NskR-E&feature=related )))