In 1954, Fess Parker donned a coonskin cap to play the historical character Davy Crockett for a three-part Walt Disney television show: “Davy Crockett Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress” and “Davy Crockett at the Alamo.” As a result, Fess became an instant celebrity. And when Disneyland Resort opened on July 17, 1955, his appearance on horseback in character as Davy Crockett, was a huge crowd pleaser.
Fess had great appeal, and to a generation of television fans he will always be remembered as Davy Crockett. The coonskin hat, the hit song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” Davy Crockett bubble gum cards and comic books were all very popular. More than forty 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.”
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 16, 1924, Fess grew up on a farm in San Angelo, Texas. He went on to study law and business administration at the University of Texas, where he was also an athlete prior to graduating 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.”
In 1954, Walt Disney saw Fess in the science fiction film “Them!” and quickly signed him to a studio contract. He went on to star in other Disney films such as “Westward Ho the Wagons!” “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 Davy Crockett, Fess tried the frontiersman role once again in the TV series “Daniel Boone,” where he played the starring role for six years. Fess retired from Hollywood in 1973 and went on to become a successful businessman and real estate developer. Fess founded the Fess Parker Family Winery and Vineyards in Los Olivos, Calif., where he could often be found signing his autograph for wine lovers and Disney fans alike.
Fess was named a Disney Legend in 1991. And on December 15, 2004, the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the Davy Crockett television show, he was honored with a window at Disneyland park. Appropriately located in Frontierland, above Bonanza Outfitters, the window’s inscription reads: Davy Crockett, Coonskin Cap Co., Fess Parker – Proprietor.
Fess died on March 18, 2010, at his home near Santa Barbara, Calif.