Monday, November 23, 2009

The TV Show I Loved: Davy Crockett



Yeah, I know. It's a no-brainer. When Patti Abbot put out the call for folks to muse on this subject today, I knew this show would have to be the one. I loved a lot of others too, of course, and could just as happily have picked Zorro, or Maverick, or The Swamp Fox. But this, is, after all, Davy's Almanack, and he hangs around peering over my shoulder at everything I write. He'd make life a living hell if I denied him this honor.

Besides, Davy's was the first show that captivated me so thoroughly, and I reckon it's had the longest lasting effect. Yes, I still say "reckon" and "ain't" on a regular basis, and while those words were certainly not invented by Davy or Disney, it was this show that drove them so deep into my vocabulary that they ain't never coming out.

Another thing that stuck with me was Davy's attitude, and his motto: Be sure you're right, then go ahead. Davy relied on his own common sense. When told what to do, he'd do it - providing it made sense. But if orders or social conventions didn't jibe with his notion of common sense, he'd just grin and ignore 'em. And though I've sometimes struggled with the grinning part, I believe I have the ignoring down pat.

This show had everything. Action, adventure, humor, and a catchy theme song tying it all together. And there were so many great scenes: Davy trying to grin down the bear. Davy facing down General Jackson's cannon. His half-horse, half-alligator speech to Congress. Swinging his rifle as the last defender of the Alamo. Making Mike Fink eat his hat.

For all the effect it had on the culture of the time (1954-55), I'm still amazed it only lasted five episodes. In fact, Disney only planned to make three, finishing with Davy's last stand at the Alamo, but the public acclaim (and merchandising craze) was so powerful they brought him back from the dead for two more episodes. To further satisfy demand, the first three episodes were pieced into the feature film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) and the last two became Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956).

And the song! In 1955 alone, the Bill Hayes version made #1 on the Billboard charts, Fess Parker's version (the second of four he recorded) made #5 and Tennessee Ernie Ford made it to #7. I don't know how many times it's been recorded, but it must be close to a hundred. I have over 60 versions myself.

The Kentucky Headhunters did a great video rendition inspired by Beatles films, which you can watch on YouTube. I'd post it for you here on the Almanack, but it says "Embedding disabled by request", which I find pretty pissy. Instead, here's old Fess singing it himself:

9 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

This is a favorite of mine as well. I watched the episodes not to long ago for the first time in too many years. maybe the original broadcasts.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mine, too. Fess Parker was wonderful in that role: a true king of the wild frontier.

Laurie Powers said...

I remember this show but I don't think we watched it much. Being in a household with 4 girls meant that the Western and pioneer shows had to take a back seat to American Bandstand and the like. Great essay.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Loved it. The assault on the Alamo, while not accurate, was captivating. And as a fan of sidekicks, I became a Buddy Ebsen fan while watching those shows.

James Reasoner said...

I loved those episodes and also the juvenile book adaptations of them (early tie-ins!). I had not one but two, count 'em, two, coonskin caps. One of them was a merchandising item, bought in a store, but the other was the real thing, made by one of my uncles from a raccoon that he trapped. Now I feel sorry for the raccoon, but boy, I loved that cap then.

Richard Robinson said...

This is in my Netflix queue, and I did watch it as a kid. I had a coon-skin cap, with tail, purchased at Disneyland (the original, one and only in my book) - we went there two or three times per summer the first five years or so it was open. I had the 45 record of the song. Both the record and the hat are long gone, but the memories linger.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for looking, all.

Luckily for you, Laurie, the whole series is available on two DVDs, or as two separate films.

My fondness for Buddy Ebsen carried over into the Beverly Hillbillies, Cap'n, but not as far as Barnaby Jones.

And man, am I jealous of James and Richard. One wearing a real coon on your head, and the other a Disney deluxe. I had to settle for plain old store bought.

Drake said...

I think i first saw Davy Crockett at my elementary school (they used to show a Disney movie once a month, bet they don't do that any more!) back in the 60's, Fess by then was Daniel Boone on tv and i was a big fan. I never missed a repeat on the Wonderful World of Disney, great stuff you just don't see made anymore.

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