(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 8/5/14)
For an entire generation, Fess Parker was a television icon. All it took was three hours – three one-hour Disney shows that aired in the mid-1950s – for his portrayal of Davy Crockett to make him a star. His subsequent depiction of frontiersman Daniel Boone ensured he stayed that way.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the “Daniel Boone” TV series, which aired as a 60-minute action and adventure show on NBC from 1964 to 1970. It depicted the life of a real-life pioneer who, at the turn of the 19th century, would become an intricate part of a young America’s expansion toward the west. Aside from donning the title role, Fess Parker was also a producer and even an occasional director.
To celebrate the hit show’s semicentennial, the late Mr. Parker’s family – son Eli, daughter Ashley and son-in-law Tim Snider – are hosting a gathering of the show’s biggest stars. The event, open to the public, will take place Saturday, August 16th at 5:30pm on the grounds of the eponymous winery Mr. Parker founded in 1985. A Q-and-A session with the actors will be followed by an outdoor sunset screening of clips from Daniel Boone.
Stars from the show scheduled to attend are Rosie Grier, Darby Hinton and Veronica Cartwright, as well as producer Barney Rosenzweig.
“I probably haven’t seen the episodes since they first aired, so I’m excited to see them,” Mr. Rozenzweig, 76, told me. But he’s also a bit nervous. “We didn’t make these shows for the big screen. The TV in my office was the biggest in the studio – 19 inches. So mistakes were minimized.”
Mr. Rosenzweig worked on the show’s pilot as well as its last three seasons. He’d go on to a prolific Hollywood career, including the Emmy-award winning creation of the 1980s TV drama, Cagney & Lacey. He’d also marry one of the show’s stars, Sharon Gless.
He remembers Fess Parker as “one of the most decent and warmest individuals you can imagine. What he was able to project on screen was real – it was not an act.”
And he has “the fondest of memories” of the show. “I was given the opportunity to introduce ideas and thoughts to people who hadn’t been exposed to them. We were in Vietnam. And I was doing shows for a conservative audience in the South – Fess had a huge audience in the South – about things like civil disobedience and the plight of blacks before slavery was abolished.
"Fess and I were politically different, you could say. But he allowed me to do shows like that. And it was a very exciting thing to do.”
|A Daniel Boone coloring book|
But his recurring role as Gabe Cooper during the show’s last two years on the air “was great for me because it drew something out of me. To be able to speak and say things from the inside. It made me free to become the speaker I am today.”
Mr. Grier, 82, would also host his own TV show, become a professional football player (for the New York Giants and then the Los Angeles Rams), get signed as a recording artist and, in 1984, become a Christian minister.
To him, Fess Parker “was a great guy. He was easy to work with, didn’t push and always took time to work on a scene with you.”
|A Daniel Boone leather wallet|
Memories of a very tall leading man are what linger for Veronica Cartwright, who was 15 when she was cast as Jemima, Daniel Boone’s daughter. She appeared in the pilot and in the show’s first two years.
“Everything in the house was over-scaled, built for a larger frame,” she recalls with a laugh. “I would sit on the couch and my feet would be dangling. It was hilarious.”
She remembers that Mr. Parker “would fly in on a helicopter from Santa Barbara to work. He’d sleep in his dressing room. And he used to have a Porsche. He was so big and wonderful in that thing. And to watch a man who was way over six feet step out of that little car – so funny!”
Fess Parker was 6-feet, 6-inches tall.
|A Daniel Boone inflatable canoe|
Ashley Parker Snider, who was born the year the show launched, was old enough when the show ended to understand that her father was a star. “We spent our summers going from rodeo to rodeo. And during intermission, Fess would come out on a horse, sing songs for the crowd and then ride off. And then he’d spend three hours signing autographs for kids lined up outside.”
Most are from Mr. Parker’s Davy Crockett days, including the guitar he used to audition for the role in front of Walt Disney. Some of the Daniel Boone-era relics include collectors’ items like coloring books, board games and even an inflatable canoe.
I spoke with Mrs. Parker Snider at the Parker family’s business headquarters in Santa Barbara, where dozens of memorabilia pieces are on display.
|Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone memorabilia at Parker headquarters|
The star-studded 50th anniversary evening is part of a three-day affair dubbed SummerFess. It features a wine-themed Santa Barbara Harbor cruise, limited to 80 people, aboard the well-known Channel Cat catamaran on Friday evening, August 15th. On Saturday afternoon, Eli Parker, Tim Snider and winemaker Blair Fox will lead a retrospective tasting of 93-plus-point wines. And on Sunday, August 17th, Rev. Grier will deliver a “morning message” in the famous rotunda of the Fess Parker Resort on Santa Barbara’s waterfront, ahead of a gourmet brunch.
For more information, and for tickets, contact Elaina at 888-877-3335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.fessparkerwines.com.