With his lanky frame, humble demeanor and ruggedly boyish face, actor Fess Parker was for many Americans the personification of pioneer myths, thanks to his famous film and television portrayals of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. Originally a dependable contract player for Warner Bros., Parker was discovered by Disney Studios and starred in the three-part miniseries, "Davy Crockett" (ABC, 1954-55), which became a huge hit with children. Two film roles as the rugged frontiersman followed in 1955-56 before playing the title role in the iconic series, "Daniel Boone" (NBC, 1964-1970), which forever cemented Parker's Hollywood legacy.
Born in Fort Worth, TX on Aug. 16, 1924, Parker broke into theatre after service in the Navy and by 1951 was in the national company of "Mr. Roberts," which brought him to Hollywood. He was immediately cast in films with a Western or pioneer theme. His first effort, "Untamed Frontier" (1952), was about a range war in Texas, but Parker did not seem to click in movies. Instead, he could be seen as a potential beau for "My Little Margie" in several episodes of that popular sitcom from the early 1950s.
In 1954, Walt Disney hired Parker to play Davy Crockett on an episode of a new series his studio was doing for ABC as part of a deal through which the network would fund 35 percent of Disneyland's construction. Originally planned as a three- episode arc, with Crockett dying at the Battle of the Alamo in the final one, the viewer response was so great that Disney had to produce three more "prequel" installments of the tale of the Tennessee frontiersman and congressman.
Although many insisted that "Davy Crockett" was an ongoing series, it never was. Two installments were also released as features. Yet throughout America, boys wore coonskin caps and fringed cowhide jackets in homage to their hero. Parker, who was also a singer, did not get to record the famed "Davy Crockett" theme song - Bill Hayes enjoyed that success - but he did learn about the business of merchandising.
In 1956, Parker made a feature for Disney about Doc Grayson, the leader of a wagon train, called "Westward Ho the Wagons" which served as the basis for the "Doc Grayson" installments of the Disney show. In 1958, Parker made what was perhaps his most famous feature, Disney's "Old Yeller," with youth star Tommy Kirk as his son who enjoys a close relationship with their loyal dog. The film was Disney's first live action success and played as a classic family tale for so many years, it was considered - along with Disney's 1942 classic "Bambi" - as one of the greatest tearjerker films of all time; the yardstick by which all others would be measured.
After "Yeller," Parker changed his image a bit, singing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and on an Ethel Merman special in 1959. He tried a new approach by playing the junior senator role performed memorably on the big screen by James Stewart in the TV version of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (ABC, 1962-63). Like Stewart, Parker oozed earnestness, but the program lasted only one season. Parker was back in buckskin for his next outing, as the Kentucky pioneer "Daniel Boone" (NBC, 1964-1970). This time Parker also recorded the theme song to the show, although cast member Ed Ames had more of a reputation as a singer.
Following the 1972 NBC TV movie "Climb an Angry Mountain," in which he was a widowed sheriff, followed by an unsuccessful pilot for a comedy series "The Fess Parker Show" (1974), Parker retired from show business to concentrate on his businesses and extensive real estate holdings, much of it in the Santa Barbara, CA area, including the DoubleTree Resort and the Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos. He passed away at age 85 on March 18, 2010.
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Credited as the voice of Leslie, the chauffeur, in the film "Harvey"
Made stage debut in the national company of "Mister Roberts"
Had a small role in the western, "Springfield Rifle," starring Gary Cooper
Made feature film debut in "Untamed Frontier"
Discovered by Walt Disney while acting in the B movie, "Them!"
Played the title role in a series of Disney programs, "The Adventures of Davy Crockett" (ABC)
Starred as John 'Doc' Grayson in film, "Westward Ho the Wagons!"
Reprised film role of Doc Grayson' in the TV version, aired as part of "Walt Disney" on ABC
Played the father in the Disney classic, "Old Yeller"
Starred in the TV version of "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (ABC)
Played the title role in the NBC series, "Daniel Boone"
Made TV-movie debut in "Climb an Angry Mountain"
Final film or TV appearance was the unaired pilot of "The Fess Parker Show"