Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remember The Alamo, And Fess Parker Too

Sadly, early today we lost Fess Parker, the actor who brought the character of Davy Crockett to life for Walt Disney. The role originated on Disney's Sunday night show and became a huge overnight hit, leading to Fess Parker becoming a major cult hero to the generation of kids who first watched the made-for-TV movie that was shown in 3 weekly installments. The film also led to an unexpected demand for spin-off merchandise, including the famous coonskin cap that made Disney's Davy Crockett such an iconic pop culture figure of the 1950s.

Fess only made a handful of movies for Disney after that, and a few films along the way for other studios, before he decided to pretty much retire from acting in the 1970s and devote all of his time and effort to operating his own vineyard and winery in California. Standing 6' 6'', Fess Parker was a gentle giant of a man, soft spoken and amiable to all who met him. I'm glad to know that he lived a long and happy life, passing away peacefully today at age 85. I know he has left behind a legion of longtime fans who will always remember him fondly. In fact, I'm going to dedicate this post to my good friend and former colleague in the Walt Disney world Art Department, Jim Story, one of Davy's biggest fans!

Here's a fun clip from a Disney TV special where Fess Parker reminisces with Buddy Ebsen, who played Davy's trusty sidekick, George Russel:


Floyd Norman said...

You never realized how tall Fess Parker was until you stood next to him. Lucky for me I did just that in the Disney studio commissary.

Parker was indeed a gentle giant. He fit the low key Walt Disney Studio perfectly. He was a star who didn't behave like one. It's no wonder Walt liked the guy.

I last saw Fess Parker on the Disney Studio lot when he was a guest at some function. Though wealthy and successful, Parker hadn't changed one bit from his Davy Crockett days when he was totally unknown. I'll sure miss the guy.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Floyd,
Thanks so much for chiming in on this topic. I'm glad you got to meet Fess personally, as he always seemed to be a very nice man whenever I saw him in interviews. There are several actors I will always strongly associate with the Disney live action films of my youth, and interestingly I tend to equate these guys with certain mainstream Hollywood stars from the other studios.

For example: Fred MacMurray, who found a second movie career as more of a character actor than traditional leading man once he'd signed on with Walt, always put me in mind of the befuddled Jimmy Stewart. His role in "The Absentminded Professor" bringing to mind Stewart in a film like "Harvey" for instance. The very pleasant and amiable Dean Jones, a highly underrated actor in my opinion, always seemed to me like Disney's answer to Cary Grant, (despite the lack of British accent). I'm not entirely sure why I think of him that way, but both men seemed to have a very comforting presence on the screen that made you want to see them through their misadventures.

And as for Fess Parker - I see him very much as Disney's answer to Gary Cooper. Both men standing tall with quiet dignity for what they believed in. I wonder whether anybody else has ever made parallels between Disney's stable of regular actors and the more famous stars of the Hollywood elite. Give examples if you have!

ADC said...

Thats a shame, I remember watching the Davy Crocket films on VHS tapes when I was about 8. Might still have those tapes in storage somewhere...

Fess Parker did a good job as Davy, heck it wanted me to be just like him at the time. He was like a hero among heroes, and his small role in Old Yeller was great too.

Cory said...

Buddy Ebsen was once in the Coast Guard - we visited his home in Los Angeles, met his wife, and took a donated foot locker to send to Coast Guard Historians in Wash DC.

Love this blog by the way!!! Amazing work.

Cory (A Coast Guard wannabe-artist)

Brian Sibley said...

Another great caricature!

BTW, the word verification code which I am using to post this comment today is... COMIC!! :))