Fess Parker of the soft and kindly voice died today at age 85. Playing Davy Crockett made him a legend among boomers, and made him rich (or at least started him on the road to more riches), and cast an easy, friendly glow upon everything he said and did for the rest of his life. Some guys have all the luck and the modesty.
Parker became a political conservative and a friend of Ronald Reagan‘s when he got older, and that’s not cool in my book. But he projected such a soothing vibe that it was hard to think of him in a negative light.
My favorite Parker performance was in Don Siegel‘s Hell Is For Heroes, which costarred Steve McQueen. He was also strong and compelling in three Disney features — The Great Locomotive Chase (’56), Westward Ho, the Wagons! (’56) and Old Yeller (’57). And he delivered a memorable supporting performance in Them! (’54), the classic giant-ant movie.
Parker’s gentle southern accent originated in Texas, where he was born in 1924. I never knew until today that he was the victim of a “road-rage knifing” in 1946. Or that his birthday, 8.16, was only one day removed from Crockett’s on 8.17.
Parker was discovered by actor Adolphe Menjou — an especially despicable conservative said to have encouraged and supported the persecution of alleged Hollywood lefties and former Communists during the late ’40s and ’50s. Menjou reportedly met Parker in Texas, urged him to go to Hollywood, introduced him to his agent, etc.
I have to say I didn’t care for Santa Barbara’s Fess Parker hotel when I stayed there three or four years ago. Too big and sprawling and nouveau riche-y — too tailored to the tastes of people with not much taste.