Fess Parker reigned as one of TVs tallest heroes

Dear Ken: I read where actor Fess Parker died recently. What can you tell us about the man who played both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on TV?

Of the hundreds of actors I interviewed over the years, Parker, who died March 18 at age 85 of natural causes, was easily one of the nicest. An astute businessman and humble about his craft, he once told me that his movie credits didn’t amount to “a hill of beans.” Born in Fort Worth, he grew up in San Angelo, Texas, where his family raised cattle and crops. He served in the Navy in the Philippines near the end of WWII. It was his appearance in the 1954 film “Them!” that caught the eye of Walt Disney who recognized the 6-foot-5 tall actor would be a perfect fit as his Crockett. Sure enough the Crockett trilogy that ran on TV in late 1954 and early 1955 was one of the small screen’s first sensations, and Crockett-mania swept the world as every American boy (and girls as well) wanted a coonskin cap. Parker made such films as “The Jayhawkers,” “Old Yeller,” “The Great Locomotive Chase,” “Hell is for Heroes” and “The Light in the Forest,” but it will be as Crockett from the ’50s and Boone from the ’60s that he will be remembered best. The actor made his home in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area where he developed hotels and a winery. He leaves behind two children, 11 grandchildren and millions of fans who were children of the ’50s.  

As for Disney’s “Davy Crockett” miniseries, Middle Tennessee filming locations in the fall of 1954 included the Sam Davis Home in Smyrna, the exterior of the Hermitage,Belle Meade Mansion, Fisk University, Fort Nashboro, the State Capitol, Peabody College and Percy Warner Park. They also filmed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And did you know that in the 1970s, Parker strongly considered building a Daniel Boone-themed entertainment park in Kentucky? He did.

Dear Ken: I remember a TV commercial from my childhood with a musical slogan that went “The one and only cereal that’s made in the shape of animals.” What was that cereal and about what year would it have debuted in super markets?

That was Post Cereal’s Crispy Critters, and it came out in the early 1960s with Linus the Lionhearted as it mascot on the box. The critters were sugar-frosted oat cereal pieces shaped like miniature rabbits, rhinos, camels and other animals. The cereal failed to be a hit with kids and came off the shelves. Post reintroduced the cereal in 1987 but the critters never became a breakfast favorite.   

Dear Ken: How old is Italian actress Sophia Loren and how many movies has she made?

Born Sofia Villani Scicolone in Rome, the star is 75. It may be hard to believe but as a child she was so skinny that her nickname was “The Stick.” She has made a bit over 80 films.

Dear Ken: What happened to the singer Oliver, who had such hits as “Jean” and “Good Morning, Starshine” in the late 1960s?

Oliver was born William Oliver Swofford in North Wilkesboro, N.C., and you named his two biggest hits. By the mid-1970s he returned to his folk music roots and toured college in the South and East using his name of Bill Swofford. For a brief time in the late ’70s, he and Karen Carpenter were a team. He left show biz to be a family man and worked in home construction and pharmaceutical industries. He died of cancer in 2000 at age 54. Last June his hometown held its first OliverFest, a street festival, to honor his music. And so we end with these lyrics from the summer of ’69: “Gliddy glub gloopy, nibby nabby noopy, la la la lo lo.”

If you have a trivia question about actors, singers, movies, TV shows or pop culture, e-mail your query to Ken Beck via www.sherlocksbooks.com where you can also find classic films and TV shows on DVD or visit Sherlock’s Book Emporium in Lebanon, Tennessee.