Davy Crockett is a five-part serial which aired on ABC in one-hour episodes on the Disneyland series. The series stars Fess Parker as the real-life frontiersman Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen as his friend, George Russel.
The first three episodes of the serial were edited together as the 1955 theatrical film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, and rebroadcast in color in the 1960s when the Disney program went to NBC. This series and film are known for the catchy theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". It was filmed in color at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the Mountain Farm Museum adjacent to the visitor center at Oconaluftee near Qualla Reservation's entrance and Janss Conejo Ranch, California.
Both the complete miniseries and the compilation films were released to DVD, with a DVD of the full miniseries being released as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series in 2001 and the two films being released as a set on September 7, 2004.
The series began with "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter" (December 15, 1954): Crockett seeks a truce with Indians who assaulted a military outpost. He and Russell fight in skirmishes under the command of Major General Andrew Jackson, portrayed by Basil Ruysdael. Along the way, Crockett kills a bear armed only with his knife.
The second episode is "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress" (January 26, 1955): Crockett, with his companion Russel, travels to Tennessee, where he learns of the death of his wife, Polly Crockett, played by Helene Stanley. He wins a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives and later the United States House of Representatives.
The third episode is "Davy Crockett at the Alamo" (February 23, 1955): Crockett and Russel join a gambler named Thimblerig (Hans Conreid) on their trek to Texas, where they arrive to battle Mexico's General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna at the fortress, the Alamo. They see a bison stampede and watch a Comanche tribesman fall off his horse. Davy and Georgie nickname him "Busted Luck". Although Crockett and all the defenders perished at the Battle of the Alamo, two other segments followed. (Crockett's death is not actually shown; all we see is Crockett, the last survivor in the battle, on the parapet swinging his rifle at the oncoming hordes of Mexican soldiers. The picture fades and the flag of Texas is shown flying in the breeze as the male chorus reprises the last lines of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett".)
In "Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race" (November 16, 1955), Crockett and Russel are fur trapping in Kentucky when they meet Mike Fink, known as the best boatman around and portrayed by Jeff York. Fink challenged Crockett to a keelboat race to New Orleans.
In "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" (December 14, 1955), The men pick up a traveling minstrel (Walter Catlett) who unknown to them is in league with local river bandits. On their way to get horses from friendly Chickasaw tribesmen, Davy and Georgie are kidnapped by a group of Chickasaws because white men have been murdering members of their tribe. Crockett and Fink discover that the river pirates led by Samuel Mason (Mort Mills) are posing themselves as Native Americans.
Kenneth Tobey, later of the syndicated television adventure series Whirlybirds starred as Jim Bowie in the "Alamo" segment and then as Jocko in the two later episodes. Future Zorro star George J. Lewis portrayed Chickasaw chief Black Eagle. Thirty-three-year-old Don Megowan was cast as 26-year-old William Travis. Pat Hogan portrayed Chief Red Stick. William Bakewell portrayed Major Tobias Norton and in the final episodes as a Keelboat Race Master of Ceremonies.
York, Parker, Tobey, and Megowan met again as cast members for The Great Locomotive Chase.
The Walt Disney Company acknowledged that the broad public popularity of the first three segments came as a surprise, but Disney capitalized on its success by licensing the sale of various types of Crockett paraphernalia, including coonskin caps and bubble gum cards. In his Archive of American Television interview, Fess Parker noted that his contract called for a percentage of the merchandising sales from Disney's company but that this was voided by the fact that his contract was with Walt Disney personally rather than the company itself, costing him millions of dollars from the runaway bonanza of Crockett merchandising.
After the Crockett miniseries, Disney attempted to create other heroic characters, such as six episodes of "The Saga of Andy Burnett" (1957), starring Jerome Courtland as a pioneer who traveled from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains. "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca" followed in 1958, with Robert Loggia as New Mexico lawman Elfego Baca. Some thirteen segments of Texas John Slaughter aired in 1958-1959, based on a real law-enforcement officer John Horton Slaughter of Texas and starring Tom Tryon. Another Disney miniseries, The Swamp Fox, starring Leslie Nielsen as the American Revolutionary War fighter Francis Marion, aired between 1959 and 1961. Marion wore a foxtail on his three-cornered hat, but the headpiece failed to attract the attention of the Crockett coonskin caps.
As part of a deal that allowed him to build a theme park, Disneyland, Disney would produce weekly one-hour television programs for ABC. To represent Frontierland, as westerns were not well represented in the Disney catalog, Disney wished to highlight historical figures and his company developed three episodes on Crockett—Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter, Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, and Davy Crockett at the Alamo— starring Fess Parker as Crockett. According to historians Randy Roberts and James Olson, "by the end of the three shows, Fess Parker would be very well known, the power of television would be fully recognized, and Davy Crockett would be the most famous frontiersman in American history."
The shows sparked heated debate, with many questioning whether Crockett was really deserving of the amount of attention he was now receiving. Letter writers also questioned the series' historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the shows proved very popular. They were combined into a feature-length movie in the summer of 1955, and Parker and his co-star Buddy Ebsen toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. By the end of 1955, Americans had purchased over $300 million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise ($2 billion by 2001).
The shows were repeated on NBC in the 1960s after Disney had moved his program to that network. The 1960 repeats marked the first time that the programs had actually been shown in color on TV. Davy Crockett made a return with Disney in two further adventures: Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. In these two episodes Crockett faced off against Mike Fink, another early American legend. A three-episode 1988–89 revival was made entitled The New Adventures of Davy Crockett, in which Tim Dunigan took over Fess Parker's famous role. Johnny Cash played an older Davy in a few scenes set before he went to Texas.
- Dave Smith. Disney A to Z. Disney Editions, 2006. 161.
- "Davy Crockett". Internet Movie Database.
- "Davy Crockett". Internet Movie Database.
- Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 4th ed., p. 892
- Roberts and Olson (2001), p. 239.
- Roberts and Olson (2001), p. 240.
- Roberts and Olson (2001), p. 252–3.
- Roberts and Olson (2001), p. 245.
- "Walt Disney Treasures: Davy Crockett – The Complete Televised Series DVD Review". www.ultimatedisney.com.
- Heffernan, Virginia. "Davy Crockett – TV Series – Cast & Credits – Listings – NYTimes.com", tv.nytimes.com. Retrieved on May 1, 2010.
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