Friday, March 19, 2010

Remembering Fess Parker (1924-2010)

Fess Parker, the enormously popular actor who launched a coonskin cap craze in 1954 when he starred as Davy Crockett in the first of five hour-long episodes for Walt Disney's Disneyland TV series, passed away at his home in California's Santa Ynez Valley today, March 18, from age-related causes. He was 85 years old. Parker went on to play another iconic American hero in the popular Daniel Boone NBC TV series that lasted for six seasons and 165 episodes. In addition to his numerous successes in the world of entertainment, Parker became a phenomenally successful businessman, developer, and vintner through his Fess Parker's DoubleTree Resort (in Santa Barbara), and Fess Parker Winery (in Los Olivos). Commenting on Parker's passing, Disney President and CEO Bob Iger said, "Like many kids growing up in the 50s, Davy Crockett was my first hero, and I had the coonskin cap to prove it. Fess Parker's unforgettable, exciting and admirable performance as this American icon has remained with me all these years, as it has for his millions of fans around the world. Fess is truly a Disney Legend, as is the heroic character he portrayed, and while he will certainly be missed, he will never be forgotten."

Noted film critic and author Leonard Maltin, added, "Fess had an enormous impact on a whole generation of kids. It's almost impossible to overstate how popular Davy Crockett was, and it made him an overnight star. The nicest part about meeting him in later years was discovering that he was just as genuine and likeable as he seemed on screen."

Visual effects artist, Disney veteran and Parker family friend Harrison Ellenshaw said, "Fess Parker was an icon to generations of kids with coonskin caps. He was also a wonderful husband, family man, role model, and a gentleman beyond reproach. I have personally known Fess since 1954, and I will forever remember his kindness and generosity; he will be terribly missed."

Pete Docter, Oscar®-winning director of Disney·Pixar's Up, observed, "Meeting him was a real high point, and I don't think I've ever met anyone that better fit the word 'gentleman.' He was patient and kind, both with me and all my questions about his career and collaborators, as well as with our young kids who had been obsessively watching the Davy Crockett DVDs for months prior. Though I'm sure he was a busy man, he spent the entire afternoon showing me and my family around his winery, treating us to lunch, and talking about his life. It was a day we'll never forget."

In all, Parker starred as Davy Crockett in five one-hour episodes for the Disneyland TV series on ABC. The titles were: "Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter," "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress," "Davy Crockett at the Alamo," "Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race," and "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates." The first three episodes of the miniseries (the first in television history) were edited together as the 1955 theatrical film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.

According to Disney A-Z: The Official Encyclopedia by Disney archivist Dave Smith, "The Davy Crockett craze started a run on coonskins, both real and artificial, as kids across America yearned to dress like their frontier hero with the telltale cap. 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' rushed to the top of the Hit Parade, and remained there for 16 weeks. In all, the nationwide Crockett frenzy helped Disney licensees sell $300 million worth of merchandise."

In addition to his starring role as Davy Crockett, Parker also appeared in four other Disney feature films: Westward Ho the Wagons! (1956), The Great Locomotive Chase (1956), Old Yeller (1957) and The Light in the Forest (1958).

Born in Fort Worth, Texas and raised in San Angelo, Parker served in the United States Navy during WWII and then returned home to Texas to graduate from the University of Texas-Austin in 1950. He was honored as a distinguished alum of the university in 1969.

A desire to act took him to California in the early 50s where hard work and great good fortune led him to be cast in Walt Disney's Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, co-starring the late Buddy Ebsen. While under personal contract to Walt Disney, Parker made numerous pictures for the studio including the prequel Davy Crockett and the River Boat Pirates as well as The Great Locomotive Chase. A successful television career in the 1960's followed with NBC's long running Daniel Boone show co-starring his friend and neighbor Ed Ames.

The early 70's found Parker eager to explore the business world as a real estate developer in Santa Barbara, California. After successfully opening three high-end mobile home parks, the 360 room Fess Parker Doubletree Resort opened in 1985. It is one of the most successful hotels on the Santa Barbara waterfront. A 150 room luxury hotel is also in the final stages of planning on an adjacent piece of beach front property.

In 1989, Parker and his family turned an interest in fine wine into an adventure now 20 years in the making. The Fess Parker Winery is a highly regarded and popular destination on the Foxen Canyon wine trail in Los Olivos, California. The family also farms over 300 acres of vineyard in the Santa Ynez valley. Creating a successful business with his family was one of Parker's proudest achievements.

Parker and his wife Marcella celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in January of 2010. Their son Eli and daughter Ashley, as well as 11 grandchildren and one great grandchild spent a great deal of time with Parker in his final months and weeks. It should be said that Parker was always extremely grateful to his long time fans for their continued support and friendship over the years.

Article courtesy of D23.

1 comment:

Timon said...

When I heard the news yesterday, it really made me sad. But I'm so thankful that I was able to see Fess Parker at the WDCC Convention, getting his window in Frontierland at Disneyland, and to go to his winery and vineyard.

A true Disney legend who will be missed.