News, notes and follow-ups

Category: Imagineers

One year ago: Fess Parker, TV's Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone

FesIf you grew up in the United States in the 1950s or '60s and watched television, you probably remember Fess Parker, the 6-foot-6 actor who first played Davy Crockett and then Daniel Boone for chief Imagineer Walt Disney. And you might have demanded your own own coonskin cap. Many kids did.

When Parker died one year ago at age 85, Times staff writer Dennis McLellan reminded readers in the obituary that Disney's Davy Crockett character became a marketer's dream:

[Ten] million coonskin caps reportedly were sold, along with toy 'Old Betsy' rifles, buckskin shirts, T-shirts, coloring books, guitars, bath towels, bedspreads, wallets -- anything with the Crockett name attached.Viewers also fell in love with the show's catchy theme song. Bill Hayes' version of 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' soared to No. 1 on the hit parade and remained there for 13 weeks.

It was a pop-culture phenomenon. As essayist Neal Gabler put it in The Times: "Before Elvis Presley, Beatlemania, 'The Simpsons,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' there was Davy Crockett."

After his acting career, Parker became known for his upscale hotels and winery in Santa Barbara County. Although Parker is gone, you can still visit the winery, where you can not only sample wine but also purchase a coonskin cap.


Photos: Fess Parker, 1924-2010

Saddle up at Fess Parker Winery

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Credit: Associated Press / Walt Disney Co.

Mouseketeer Lonnie Burr recalls Disney animator Bill Justice

Lonnie Burr, an original Mouseketeer on TV's "The Mickey Mouse Club," says he was saddened to hear about the death of former Walt Disney Studios animator and Imagineer Bill Justice, who died of natural causes Thursday in a nursing home in Santa Monica at age 97.

In an e-mail to The Times on Friday, Burr wrote:

"Most people do not know that the warm, funny raconteur Bill knew Walt liked to discover things himself, so when there was need for a 'Pencil Song' on the upcoming Mickey Mouse Club in 1955, Bill had his talented actor/singer/song-writing, tennis buddy, Jimmie Dodd, write the song and had him sing it for some execs and Walt in the latter's office.

"Walt said, 'He's our new Mickey Mouse Club host!'

"Bill smiled knowing that he had helped his buddy and helped Walt find him."

The Times' obituary on Bill Justice is here.

--Dennis McLellan 

Photos: Jimmie Dodd, Lonnie Burr and the rest of the Mouseketeers (top) and Disney animator Bill Justice (below). Credit: Walt Disney Co.


One year ago: Roy Edward Disney


Roy Edward Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, was so committed to his uncle's creative spirit that he mounted revolts that led to the unseating of two of the company's chief executives who he felt were leading the company astray. He died one year ago at age 79.

As chairman of Disney animation, Disney helped guide the studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box-office successes that included "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

But it was a long road to those successes. After 20 years of working on nature films for the studio, he quit in 1977 when he was denied a larger role in the company after the death of his uncle Walt and his father, Roy O. Disney. He remained on its board as a director but was largely a figurehead.

Disney went on to partner with lawyer Stanley Gold and became a successful financier through Shamrock Holdings, where he built up wealth to ease his reliance on his inherited Disney stock.

When he had accumulated enough money and influence independent of Disney, he made his move against the company that had increasingly frustrated him. He quit the Disney board in 1984, causing a stock turmoil that led the unseating of the company's management. Using his influence, Disney was able to bring in a whole new management team led by Michael Eisner.

The victory was short-lived. Tensions began building between Disney and Eisner when the company's president and chief operating officer, Frank Wells, died in 1994, leaving Eisner solely in control of the company. In 2003, Disney called for Eisner's resignation, saying the company had come to be perceived as "rapacious, soul-less and always looking for the 'quick buck' rather than long-term value." Eisner resigned in 2005.

Disney initially fought the hiring of Eisner's successor, Robert A. Iger, but relented when Iger made peace, offering Disney an office at the company's Burbank studios, a consultancy and the title "director emeritus."

Despite wealth estimated at $600 million, Disney remained shy and outwardly unpretentious, according to people who knew him. He also was involved in several philanthropic activities, including serving on the board of trustees of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where he helped carry out the dream of Walt and his father to build and sustain a top arts college in Southern California.

For much more on his turbulent career, creative passion and the sometimes tense drama within his family, read Roy Edward Disney's obituary by The Times. Also, view a photo gallery of his life.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Roy Disney, in the Shamrock Center in Burbank on December 1, 2003. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Francis Rogallo

Francis-RogalloFrancis Rogallo helped bring to reality the Icarus dream of personal flight for humans.

The inventor, who died one year ago, used old kitchen curtains and makeshift wind tunnels in his basement to develop a flexible wing that gave rise to such sports as hang gliding, paragliding, ultralight flight and kiteboarding.

"Suddenly, here was this idea that people had dreamed about for thousands of years -- to be able to fly like a bird with a personal set of wings," said Mike Meier, president of the Hang Glider Manufacturers Assn. and a principal at Wills Wing Inc. "All of a sudden, with a very simple apparatus...this was possible. It was profound."

Rogallo, who was a researcher at what is now NASA, tried for nearly a decade to interest the government and military aircraft builders in his wing design. It took the Soviet Union launching the Sputnik satellite in 1957 and the ensuing space race, however, for him to get their attention.

Beginning in 1960, NASA began testing the wing as a potential tool for bringing satellites back to Earth, an idea that was later abandoned in favor of standard parachutes and ocean recoveries.

For more, read Francis Rogallo's obituary by the Los Angeles Times.

Photo: Francis Rogallo with an implementation of his Rogallo Wing at NASA Langley Research Center. Credit: NASA Langley Research Center


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