“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree. Killed him a bear when he was only three. Davy, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier.”
If you were a kid growing up in the mid 1950’s then these few lines from a television theme song may be one of your fondest memories. Davy Crockett was a five part series that ran on ABC from December 15, 1954 through December 14, 1955. When Walt and Roy were looking for investors to help, with the funding of Disneyland, one company they reached out to was ABC television.
In the 1950’s television was a growing medium and broadcasting companies were trying to get the most compelling and unique content to put on their stations. When ABC was approached to invest in Disneyland they agreed, but in return they wanted a weekly television show for their channel. One show to come out of that agreement was Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker and Buddy Ebson.
According to Fess Parker when Walt was looking for a lead for the show his original pick was James Arness from the show Gunsmoke. It just so happened that Parker had a small role in the movie THEM! with Arness. When Walt was screening the film he looked past Arness and was impressed with Parker’s acting abilities. Parker was later asked to come to the Disney Studios to meet with Disney. He brought along his guitar, met with Walt and sang a song. He was informed a few weeks later that he had been selected for the role over James Arness, Buddy Ebson and several other actors.
Parker catapulted to fame almost overnight when “Davy Crockett Indian Fighter”, “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress”, and “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” was televised on the “Disneyland” television series. Everywhere you went boys and probably some girls were wearing coonskin caps and carrying musket rifles around with them. “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was originally recorded by Bill Hayes with Fess Parker later recording a version in 1955. Both made the Billboard top 10.
The first three episodes of the series were edited into a theatrical movie. The next two episodes were “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”, they were also edited into a theatrical movie. The Davy Crockett series has become known as the first T.V. mini-series. The whole series caught Disney by surprise on its popularity. Production began immediately on coonskin caps, rifles, under wear. Almost anything that could be used for licensing was. Fess Parker has noted in the past that his contract called for a percentage of all merchandising but because his contract was with Walt personally and not the company his contract was null costing him millions in revenue.
To this day there are remnants of Crockett still in the theme parks. Head over to Frontierland and you can still purchase rifles and caps. When Disneyland opened in 1955 Fess made an appearance on horseback in character and the kids ate it up. In Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland there are the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes. In Disneyland Paris there are the Mike Fink Keelboats which have been in Disneyland and Walt Disney World in the past.
In 2004 Parker was honored with the highest award given by Disney, his own window in Frontierland in Disneyland. It reads “Davy Crockett, Coonskin Cap Supply Co. Fess Parker, Proprietor”. He was also named a “Disney Legend” in 1991.
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