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Fess Parker as Davy Crockett.“Davy Crockett”

Music notes.“Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so’s he knew ev’ry tree
kilt him a b’ar when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

In 1954-‘55 five one hour Walt Disney adventures on ABC starring Fess Parker as Davy Crockett—King of the Wild Frontier—ignited one of the most memorable pop-culture crazes in American history. Department stores around the country were full of Davy Crockett merchandise. Everything from coonskin caps and gum cards to pencil boxes and pajamas. Over 3,000 Crockett products were licensed by Disney. Over 10 million coonskin caps were sold. More than $300 million (over two billion by today’s dollars) was spent on Crockett merchandise.

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett with friend Buddy Ebsen as Georgie Russell.Fess Parker’s friend of 63 years, Morgan Woodward related, “I’ll tell you the straight story about Davy Crockett. They were going to screen ‘Them’ with James Arness because he was practically set for Davy Crockett. Fess had a small part in the movie. Walt Disney was late getting (to the screening). He came in just before Fess’ part played and Disney said, ‘By golly, you’re right, that’s our Davy Crockett!’ They tried to tell Disney—they didn’t even know who Fess was! They had to find out who he was because Disney had made up his mind right then. Talk about the luck of the Gods…well Fess took the ball and ran with it.”

Davy in Congress.The series began on “Disneyland” on December 15, 1954 with “Davy Crockett Indian Fighter”. The second episode on January 26, 1955 was “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress”. After learning of the death of his wife Polly (Helene Stanley) Davy wins a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives and later in the U.S. House. “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” aired on “Disneyland” on February 23, 1955. Crockett treks to Texas to battle General Santa Anna at the Alamo. Although Crockett and all the defenders perished at the Alamo, the Walt Disney organization acknowledged the surprise broad public appeal of Davy and scheduled two more segments. “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” aired November 16, 1955. Next was “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”, the fourth and final adventure aired on December 14, 1955.

The first three shows were edited and combined into a feature length movie in the summer of ‘55, “Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier”. The final two episodes were edited together as “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” in ‘56.

Initially filmed in color but first shown in black and white, the shows were all repeated on NBC in the ‘60s after Disney moved his program to that network. The ‘60 repeats marked the first time the programs were seen in color.

TV ad for Walt Disney's Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier!“The Ballad of Davy Crockett”, sung by the Wellingtons on the show, became a huge hit. The first version was recorded by Bill Hayes, quickly followed by Fess Parker and Tennessee Ernie Ford. All three versions made the BILLBOARD tradepaper charts in ‘55. Hayes’ version made #1 from March 26 through April 23; and #7 for the year. Fess’ version reached #6 on the weekly charts and #31 for the year while Ford’s version peaked at #4 on the weekly Country chart and #5 on the weekly Pop chart. #37 for the year. The Sons of the Pioneers also recorded a version. In all, over 10 million copies of the song were sold.

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