Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Friend Fess

I hope Fess Parker never finds out, but no one in my household really cares that he and I are friends on Facebook.

My spouse, who was born in Havana the same year the three-part series Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier premiered on ABC, glanced up at me tolerantly when I told her the news, and silently returned to the book she was reading. 

I'm fairly certain none of our six adult children have seen the Disney classic, which in 1954 demonstrated the power of television to galvanize a generation of tiny boomers. Perhaps my four younger siblings, who grew up with me in the 1950s on Cedar Street in Morrisville, N.Y., will be impressed, but they may connect Fess Parker with later Disney films, such as The Great Locomotive Chase, Old Yeller or Westward Ho! the Wagons.

For me, Fess will always invoke the image of Davy Crockett. And when I impulsively searched his name on Facebook last week and discovered a Fess Parker page, I was intrigued. Immediately I sent him a friend request, and a few days later I was ecstatic to receive the message: "Fess Parker confirmed you as a friend on Facebook."

Fess, you made my day.

Of course, I know the Facebook network is virtual, not real, and not everyone who has a Facebook page reads it every day. Probably President Obama has better things to do, and I know a few national church leaders who never see their page. They have interns who do all the work, confirming friend requests, commenting on friends' posts and taking quizzes to find out what Peanuts character they are. The interns make them look good, usually.

Maybe Fess reads his page and answers posts by himself, and maybe he has someone else do it. (Suspiciously, his email goes to some person named Kris.) And at 84 (the age he turns August 16, the day before Davy Crockett's 223rd birthday August 17), the big guy probably has more on his mind than corresponding with fans, including running his winery and new resort hotel in Los Olivos, Calif. (http://www.fessparker.com/)

But if any of Fess' 100 Facebook friends are worried he might not be reading their posts, they don't show it. Without exception, the messages they write on his wall are warm, admiring and respectful. As I re-read my post, it borders on sycophantic.

I was in a particularly receptive period of my formative years when the Davy Crockett boom began in 1954, and Fess' Davy was a superb model. He was honest, patriotic, hard working, family-oriented, and a champion of the oppressed. Davy never lied, exactly, but he taught a lesson I remembered all my life, which is, never let the truth get in the way of a great story.

No doubt PETA (founded nearly three decades after the Davy Crockett boom) would have frowned at Davy's buckskin clothing and moccasins, but even today I see a raccoon as a hat on the hoof. But that aside, there was no greater influence on my growing love of God's good earth than Fess' Davy. The rich foliage that Davy and Georgie Russell (the late Buddy Ebsen) rode through looked lush enough on our 12-inch black-and-white Admiral. I was lucky to grow up near a small but dense forest and I would spend hours wandering through the woods, pretending to track b'ar, listening to bird calls and pretending I was Davy. On a couple occasions I carried my father's crowbar into the woods to see what it would have been like to carry Davy's 10-pound "Old Betsy" rifle on a hunt. I was eight and found the crowbar too heavy to carry. And I learned a few years later that I had no stomach for shooting animals, so a camera is now my weapon of choice.

But when my age was still in single digits, Fess Parker and Davy Crockett were excellent teachers. They were the source of some of my greatest joys and one of my greatest childhood disappointments.

The three-part Davy Crockett series was so successful that Disney spliced it into a single movie for release in 1955. I quickly became fixated with the thought of seeing Davy and Georgie on the big screen, in living color. Major-release pictures did not stay long in the tiny Morris Theater on Main Street, and by the time films got to Morrisville they had been scratched by so many other projectors that it was like watching scenes through a steady rain. But none of that mattered to me. I placed seeing Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier at the top of my list of things to do before I was 10.

The day the movie came to Morrisville, I woke up throwing up. My father, who had already agreed to escort a group of kids to see the movie, had the hapless task of telling me I couldn't go with them. I cried with heartbroken desperation, assuring Dad between projectile vomits that I would be fine if only I was allowed to go.

Fortunately for people who went to the theater that night, Dad held firm. In the 54 years that followed, I have only seen the movie on the big screen once: in Rome in Italian, in 1967 when I was in the Air Force. The line I remember from that viewing is, "Buon Giorno, Chief."

But it doesn't matter. I have had many disappointments since I was 9, and many joys, so it's time to forget. Besides, I have a DVD of the movie, and can watch it in high def anytime I need to.

And this week it got even better. Fifty-four years after I was too sick to see my favorite movie, Fess Parker is my friend.


  1. In the interests of full disclosure, you should note that you only watch it in high (or any other) def when I'm far, far away.

  2. It was observant of you to note the corresponding email address for Fess facebook page.

    My name is Kristopher Parker. I manage Fess facebook page. He read the posts, and delights in the addition of new friends. (Incidentally, I am also his Grandson.)

    The greatest unpredicted benefit of managing the facebook site is having the opportunity to hear about the relationship that Fess managed to build with people through his portrayal of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. It pleases me that his impact was a positive one.

    Thank you for your post and friendship with Grandpa Fess on Facebook.

    Best Regards,
    Kristopher Parker