With the news that actor Fess Parker died at 85, it is hard not to think back some fifty five years past his more current activities in real estate and wine making, and remember his TV roles as Crockett and as Daniel Boone and his movie roles in such films as “The Great Locomotive Chase” and “Old Yeller.”
While today’s kids eat the latest cell phones and MP3 players and designer running shoes like candy, Crockett fans could not only sing the “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” with the annoying frequency a later generation would sing “It’s a Small World Isn’t It,” we had our own (rather low-tech) memorabilia. We not only knew that Crockett was born on a table top in Tennessee, we carried our Davy lunch boxes to schools and parks and ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on our 1950s table tops dreaming of heading west and doing great deeds.
The lucky kids not only carried a Davy Crockett rifle, they boasted of the whole shooting match: bag, bandanna, bank, bathrobe, bead spread, belt, billfold, books, boots, bowls, buttons, caps, cap pistol, cards, China, clothes rack, cookie jar, coonskin cap, cuff links, cup, drums, flashlight, guitar, handcuffs, jacket, knife, lamp, moccasin kit, mug, nightlight, pajamas, pitcher, powder horn, puzzle, records (vinyl), ring, spurs, thermos, tie and wristwatch.
The faux coonskin caps were a must and we wore them bravely because there was danger in the back yard and the park, and in the dark rooms of the house after we went bed with our Davy Crockett flashlights and nightlights. We were not, however, allowed to wear the caps to school or to church, a risk that didn’t make any sense at the time.
Parker was tall, rugged, and seemingly pulled into Disney’s TV shows and films straight from 19th century days when the world needed a man, as the song reminded us, who “when Now, Injun fightin’ is somethin’ he knows, so he shoulders his rifle an’ off he goes.”
When I saw Parker as Daniel Boon in the 1964-1970 TV series, Jim Coats in “Old Yeller” with Dorothy McGuire and Tommy Kirk, and as James Andrews in “The Great Locomotive Chase” with Jeffrey Hunter and Slim Pickens, it was always the same guy; no, not a one-dimensional actor, but a dramatic, justice-seeking hero with or without his coonskin cap who “made hisself a legend for evermore.”