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Fess Elisha Parker Jr. (born F.E. Parker;[1] August 16, 1924 – March 18, 2010)[2] was an American film and television actor best known for his portrayals of Davy Crockett in the Walt Disney 1955–1956 TV miniseries and as Daniel Boone in a television series from 1964 to 1970.[3][4] He was also known for being a winemaker and resort owner-operator.

Fess Parker
Fess Parker 1968.JPG
Parker in 1968
Born Fess Elisha Parker Jr.
(1924-08-16)August 16, 1924
Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.
Died March 18, 2010(2010-03-18) (aged 85)
Santa Ynez, California, U.S.
Resting place Santa Barbara Cemetery, Santa Barbara, California
Alma mater
Occupation
  • Actor
  • Singer
  • Winemaker
  • Resort owner-operator
Years active 1950–2007
Known for
Home town San Angelo, Texas
Television
Spouse(s) Marcella Belle Rinehart (m. 1960–2010; his death)
Children 2
Website www.fessparker.com

Contents

Early yearsEdit

Parker was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and raised on a farm in Tom Green County near San Angelo.[5] His father, a tax assessor, had the same first name which had been given to him in honor of the educator and politician Simeon D. Fess.[1] The middle name “Elisha” was chosen by the future actor himself, when he was a teenager (around 1937), because it sounded rhythmic and matched his middle initial.[1]

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in the latter part of World War II,[6][7] hoping to become a pilot. He was turned down because he was too tall at 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m).[8] He then tried to become a radioman gunner, but he was found too big to fit comfortably into the rear cockpit. He was finally transferred to the Marine Corps as a radio operator and shipped out for the South Pacific shortly before the atom bomb ended the war.[8]

Discharged in 1946, he enrolled at Hardin–Simmons University on the GI Bill. After an automobile collision, he was stabbed in the neck by the other driver during an argument.[8] He was an active member of the H-SU Players Club and transferred to the University of Texas in 1947 as a history major and continued to be active in drama. Parker graduated from UT in 1950 with a degree in history. He had been initiated into the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Having one year remaining on his GI Bill, he studied drama at the University of Southern California, where he studied for a master's degree in theater history.[2][9]

CareerEdit

Parker began his show-business career in summer 1951 when he had a $32-a-week job as an extra in the play Mister Roberts,[9] although he is credited with the voice of Leslie, the chauffeur, in the 1950 film Harvey. Within months, he was on location with a minor part in Untamed Frontier with Joseph Cotten and Shelley Winters.

Parker became a contract player with Warner Bros., appearing in small roles in several films such as Springfield Rifle (1952), Island in the Sky, The Bounty Hunter and Battle Cry. In 1954, he appeared as Grat Dalton in the Jim Davis syndicated Western anthology series Stories of the Century in the episode The Dalton Brothers.

Davy CrockettEdit

 
Fess Parker as Davy Crockett addresses the city of Philadelphia in the Walt Disney television miniseries

According to Parker himself, when the Walt Disney Company was seeking an actor to play Davy Crockett, James Arness, later cast as Marshal Matt Dillon on CBS's Gunsmoke, was first considered for the title role. Parker had recently graduated to being a contract weekly actor, but listened to his agent and appeared in a Warner Bros. science fiction film about giant ants called Them!, which required only one day's work. He had a small scene as a pilot put into an insane asylum after claiming his plane had been downed by giant flying insects. Arness appeared in a larger role in the same film.[10]

During the screening of this film, Walt Disney looked past Arness and discovered Parker. Disney was impressed by Parker's portrayal of a man who was unswerving in his belief in what he saw despite the forces of authority against him. Parker was asked to drop by the Disney Studio. When he did, he brought his guitar, met Disney, sang a song, and then said goodbye. Several weeks later, Parker was informed that he had been selected over Arness and several others for the role, including Buddy Ebsen, who eventually played Crockett's sidekick, George Russell.[10]

Disney's three-episode version of Crockett depicted his exploits as a frontiersman, congressman, and tragic hero of the Alamo. The episodes have been called the first television miniseries, though the term had not yet been coined. Davy Crockett (1954–55) was a tremendous hit and led to a merchandising frenzy for coonskin caps and all things Crockett.[10]

Parker became a contract star for Disney and appeared in The Great Locomotive Chase, Westward Ho, the Wagons!, Old Yeller, and The Light in the Forest. He complained that they were all basically the same role. Disney refused to loan Parker for roles outside that persona, such as Jeffrey Hunter's role opposite John Wayne in The Searchers and Marilyn Monroe's leading man in Bus Stop.[11]

Parker was dissatisfied with Disney's proposal to only use him in a small role in Tonka. He was put on suspension for refusing the role, and subsequently left Disney.[12]

After Walt DisneyEdit

Parker made guest appearances on many television programs, and composed and sang. He performed the occasional role of Tom Conrad, editor of the Diablo Courier in the syndicated western series, Annie Oakley (1954–1957), starring Gail Davis, Brad Johnson, and Jimmy Hawkins.[13]

Parker was contracted to Paramount Pictures from 1958 to 1962. He appeared in a small assortment of Paramount movies, including a cameo as an unnamed frontiersman in Bob Hope's Western comedy Alias Jesse James and supporting roles in The Hangman (1959) with Robert Taylor, The Jayhawkers! (1959) with Jeff Chandler, and Hell Is for Heroes (1962) with Steve McQueen.

In 1962, he starred in the title role of the TV series Mr Smith Goes to Washington, portraying the same idealistic character that James Stewart had played in the 1939 film. Parker took to the stage in 1963, in a traveling production of Oklahoma! as Curly. The movie roles he sought were elusive.[10] In 1966, Parker starred in the movie Smoky, directed by George Sherman where he played the role of Clint Barkley, who finds a black stallion named Smoky a wild stallion who eventually becomes a wonderful cutting horse and the best friend an old cowboy could ever want.

Daniel BooneEdit

 
Fess Parker as Daniel Boone with Brock Peters

Parker's Daniel Boone television series portraying another historic figure of America's frontier days began filming in 1964. Over its six years (1964 to 1970) as one of the highest-rated shows of its time, Parker was not only the star of the series, but also the co-producer and director of five of its most popular episodes.[14]

Parker became interested in opening a Davy Crockett-themed amusement park. In the late 1960s, he optioned land in northern Kentucky at the confluence of Interstates 71 and 75, with the intention of building Frontier World. However, when the Taft Broadcasting Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, began building Kings Island Amusement Park in nearby Mason, Ohio, less than a 2-hour drive from Parker's site, financing for Parker's venture dried up.

Turning down the title role of McCloud, Parker retired from acting at the age of 49 after a sitcom pilot called The Fess Parker Show was broadcast on March 28, 1974, but was not subsequently picked up by the network.

AwardsEdit

Fess Parker was nominated for best new personality Emmy in 1954, but lost to George Gobel. He was never nominated again, nor was his show Daniel Boone.[15]

In 1991, he was named a Disney Legend.

In 2003, Parker received the Texas Cultural Trust's "Texas Medal of Arts Award", established only the year before.[16][17]

For his work with Disney, Parker was honored in December 2004 with his own tribute window on a façade in the Frontierland section of Disneyland.[18]

Fess Parker WineryEdit

 
The Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos, California
 
Fess Parker in 1985

After his acting career, Parker devoted much of his time to operating his Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards in Los Olivos, California.[19] The winery is owned and operated by Parker's family, and has produced several different types of award-winning wines. Parker's son, Eli, is President and Director of Winemaking and Vineyard Operations, while daughter, Ashley, is Vice President of Marketing and Sales.[19]

The Parker operation includes over 1,500 acres (610 ha) of vineyards, and a tasting room and visitor center along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. In addition to wine, the winery is known for selling coonskin caps and bottle toppers inspired by Parker's Crockett and Boone characters, and for its appearance under another name in the movie Sideways.

In reminiscence of his acting days, Parker's wine labels have a logo of a golden coonskin cap.[20] The Fess Parker Winery is one of the wineries along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.[citation needed]

PoliticsEdit

In 1985, Parker briefly flirted with running for the US Senate as a Republican for the seat of incumbent Democrat Alan Cranston.[21] He considered himself a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan.[22]

Personal lifeEdit

Parker married Marcella Belle Rinehart on January 18, 1960. They had two children, Fess Elisha Parker III and Ashley Allen Rinehart, along with 11 grandchildren and a great-grandson.[14]

DeathEdit

Parker died of natural causes on March 18, 2010, at his home in Santa Ynez, California, near the Fess Parker Winery.[2][23]

 
The handprints of Fess Parker in front of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park

FilmographyEdit

 
Parker as Daniel Boone
 
George Sanders with Parker as Boone (1966)
Year Title Role Notes
1950 Harvey Leslie (voice, uncredited)
1952 No Room for the Groom Cousin Ben uncredited
Untamed Frontier Clem McCloud
Springfield Rifle Jim Randolph uncredited
1953 Man on a Tightrope Checkpoint Soldier uncredited
Take Me to Town Long John uncredited
The Kid from Left Field McDougal
Island in the Sky Fitch's Co-Pilot uncredited
Thunder Over the Plains Kirby
1954 Dragonfly Squadron Texas Lieutenant uncredited
Them! Alan Crotty
The Bounty Hunter Wild Cowboy at Finale uncredited
1955 Battle Cry Pvt. Speedy
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier Davy Crockett
1956 The Great Locomotive Chase James J. Andrews
Davy Crockett and the River Pirates Davy Crockett
Westward Ho, The Wagons! John 'Doc' Grayson
1957 Old Yeller Jim Coates
1958 The Light in the Forest Del Hardy
1959 The Hangman Sheriff Buck Weston
Alias Jesse James Davy Crockett uncredited
The Jayhawkers! Cam Bleeker
1962 Hell Is for Heroes Sgt. Pike
1966 Daniel Boone: Frontier Trail Rider Daniel Boone
Smoky Clint Barkley
1972 Climb an Angry Mountain Sheriff Elisha Cooper [24] -

TelevisionEdit

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Weaver, Tom. Sci-Fi Swarm and Horror Horde: Interviews with 62 Filmmakers, p. 148 (McFarland 2012).
  2. ^ a b c (March 18, 2010) Daniel Boone Actor Fess Parker Dies at 85” CBS News Accessed March 18, 2010
  3. ^ Obituary London Guardian, March 19, 2010.
  4. ^ Obituary London Independent, March 25, 2010.
  5. ^ “Disney Legends Award: Fess Parker-1991” Disney.com
  6. ^ "Davy Crockett actor Fess Parker dies, aged 85". BBC. 19 March 2010. 
  7. ^ Duke, Alan (March 18, 2010). "'Daniel Boone' star Fess Parker dies". CNN. 
  8. ^ a b c Seale, Avrel (July–August 2003). "Playing the Hero". The Alcalde. University of Texas. 91 (6): 34–37. Retrieved 19 March 2010. 
  9. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (March 18, 2010). "Fess Parker, who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on TV, dies at 85". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 18, 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d Richard Severo (March 19, 2010) "Fess Parker, Who as Davy Crockett Set Off Coonskin Cap Craze, Dies at 85", New York Times Accessed March 19, 2010
  11. ^ Fess Parker Interview Playset Magazine #34
  12. ^ http://www.michaelbarrier.com/Interviews/Parker/interview_fess_parker.htm
  13. ^ "Annie Oakley". tvacres.com. Retrieved January 11, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b Official Website Biography Page Accessed March 18, 2010
  15. ^ Tom O'Neil (March 18, 2010) "Fess Parker had that cool coonskin cap – who needs an Emmy?" , Los Angeles Times, Accessed March 19, 2010
  16. ^ Associated Press (7 February 2003). "Talented Texans to be Honored". The Houston Chronicle. p. 2. Retrieved 2008-01-22. 
  17. ^ (March 18, 2003) "2003 Texas Medal of Arts Award Winners to Be Celebrated Tuesday, March 25" PRNewswire, Accessed March 19, 2010
  18. ^ Heather Hust Rivera (December 18th, 2009) "Did You Miss It? Davy Crockett’s Window in Frontierland" Disney Accessed May 25, 2010
  19. ^ a b Official Fess Parker Website fessparker.com
  20. ^ Eric Lindberg (March 18, 2010)"Fess Parker, famed actor and hotelier, dies at 85" , The Daily Sound, Accessed March 19, 2010
  21. ^ Los Angeles Times, Fess Parker Has Eye on Senate
  22. ^ "People Magazine", He Died as Davy Crockett at the Alamo, but Actor Fess Parker Lives Oh as a California Hotel Baron
  23. ^ Orange County Register, Fess Parker dies – played Davy Crockett
  24. ^ Climb An Angry Mountain 1972, YouTube

External linksEdit