In the mid-1950s, when Fess Parker first donned a coonskin cap to play the historical character Davy Crockett for a three-part Walt Disney television show, little did he know he was about to become a hero to baby boomers across the nation.
More than 40 years later, in 1997, Fess described the profound influence his popular character had on young viewers.
“Folks tell me over and over how much that character shaped their lives,” he said. “I have to believe that the impact of those programs was due as much to the values inculcated in them as to their entertainment quality.”
Fess was catapulted to fame almost overnight after “Davy Crockett Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress,” and “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” debuted on the Disneyland television series, beginning in 1954. Even the ditty he recorded for Disney and RCA records, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” was on the lips of every child in America at that time, winning the actor a gold record. And when Disneyland opened in 1955, Fess’s personal appearance on horseback, in character as Davy Crockett, proved to be a huge crowd pleaser.
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 18, 1924, Fess grew up on a farm in San Angelo, Texas. Named after his father (“Fess” means “proud” in Old English), he studied law and business administration before graduating from the University of Texas in 1950. He then moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, studying drama at the University of Southern California. Shortly thereafter, he made his film debut in Untamed Frontier, starring Shelley Winters.
In 1954, Walt Disney spotted the actor in a film called Them! and quickly signed Fess to a studio contract. He went on to star in such Disney films as The Great Locomotive Chase, Old Yeller, and The Light in the Forest. He also starred in two additional Davy Crockett television shows, “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.” Much later, in 1978, Fess appeared in NBC Salutes the 25th Anniversary of the Wonderful World of Disney.
After leaving Disney, Fess donned his coonskin cap once again to play Daniel Boone. For six years, beginning in 1964, he starred in the popular television series of the same name and directed five of its most popular episodes.
Later, he went on to become a successful businessman and real estate developer. Fess founded the Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards in Los Olivos, California, where he could often be found signing his autograph for wine and Disney lovers alike.
Fess Parker passed away on March 18, 2011, at his home near Santa Barbara, California.