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Confessions of a coonskin cap kid: R.I.P. Davy Crockett aka Fess Parker, 1924-2010

ParkerFessBordered

As a self-confessed coonskin-cap-wearer (tail snapped on), we momentarily set aside our health-threatening talk about healthcare to fulfill a sentimental obligation to a childhood icon, Davy Crockett.

Crockett, who also used the non-cinematic name of Fess Parker, died of natural causes Thursday at the age of 85.

The problem for many of us is that we cannot separate Davy and Fess or vice versa. Nor, frankly, do we want to. Sure, Fess went on to a successful business career and grew grapes and hotels. But he'll always also be Davy. The link to politics here is that Davy actually served time in Congress, 1826-1835, back before the U.S. House of Representatives consisted of two partisan herds.

Yes, yes, the 6-foot-6 Parker later played Daniel Boone with the trademark hat. But for the first American generation to grow up with television, the fact was Parker looked and acted more like Davy Crockett than Davy Crockett himself (see drawing).Davy Crockett

Parker's mid-fifties portrayal of the legendary frontier figure (1786-1836) repeated the lessons that contemporary fathers were then attempting to instill in the minds of millions of baby-boomers.

In the days before Bart Simpson became a reverse role model, Davy held that you always said what you meant, meant what you said and went down swinging for what you believed in. Twenty-first century corner-cutting deal-making was not actually an option.

Davy was in the Tennessee militia, rising to the rank of colonel, and then entered the state legislature in 1821 before riding off to Washington like a prehistoric Mr. Smith packing saddlebags full of common sense.

But, turns out, Davy had different talking points than another Tennessean, President Andrew Jackson.

Davy particularly didn't like Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830, which was basically a land grab that resulted in the forcible eviction of tens of thousands of Indians from Southern and Eastern lands and their removal to the West. Davy didn't rightly see that as fair, seeing as how the Indians were there first and thought they had a bargain with the U.S. government and all.

For his outspoken opposition to the White House and because Indian rights were not a priority among white voters, Davy was defeated in 1834 and stormed off to Texas to join its Revolution. He died at the Alamo soon after, either swinging an empty Old Betsy at Mexican troops or, according to another version, while enduring later torture.

Eighty-eight years later Fess was born in the then-state of Texas and grew up in San Angelo, only 200 miles from the Alamo. He joined the Marines in World War II to become a pilot but was deemed too tall. He graduated on the G.I.Bill as a history major from the University of Texas and traveled to California to pursue acting.

After his short TV career, Parker disappeared from the entertainment world, becoming a real estate developer in and around Santa Barbara. Later he started his own winery. Thursday afternoon moments after talking with assembled family, he died peacefully in his own home, as if it was scripted.

It was the 84th birthday of his wife of 50 years, Marcella.

It was also 174 years and 13 days after the other Davy died in San Antonio.

(The full Parker obituary is over here.)

-- Andrew Malcolm

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"many of us is that we cannot separate Davy and Fess or vice versa." I can, as I was a big fan of Fess Parker and Daniel Boone as a kid in the mid to late 1960s.His show made my childhood a lot happier. I also liked his Disney movie as Davy Crockett. But he is first most Daniel Boone and I'm sorry to see him go.

When I was a kid, I would wear my coon skin cap in the summer heat. I would come in from outside sweating, my mom would tell me to take the furry thing off.
No way, I was inseparable from it.

I used to love watching him on the ABC 4:30 movies growing up. Thanks for reminding me how old I am getting!

(AM responds: Well, if I have to realize it, then you do too. :--)) )


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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