Fess Parker Interview
Remember the Alamo?!
Remember Davy Crockett?! Then of course, you'll remember actor Fess Parker
who portrayed Davy Crockett on TV in the early 50's.As Davy Crockett, Parker
toured 13 foreign countries and 42 cities, the highlight of which was representing
Walt Disney (the man, and the studio Fess Parker was under contract to) at
the premier of Davy Crockett in Tokyo, Japan. Fess Parker participated, and
was a main attraction in the opening of Disneyland. "Davy Crockett" established
Fess Parker as one of Hollywood's top stars.
Beginning in 1964, and lasting six years, Parker portrayed "Daniel Boone" on
TV. The average weekly audience for that show was 25 million viewers.
In 1962, Parker began a second career, overlapping his acting, as a real
estate developer. He has been responsible for major developments in both the
Santa Clara and Santa Barbara areas of California. Real property developments
in the Santa Barbara area include three large mobile home parks, He has developed
Fess Parker's Red Lion Resort, a 23 and a half acre, 360 room hotel, conference
complex. The resort, opened in December 1986, is currently valued at more
than one hundred million dollars. Currently he's designing a second luxury
waterfront hotel and public park on the 12 acres of beachfront, adjacent to
Fess Parker's Red Lion Resort.
An airplane pilot, yachtsman, an avid tennis player, an author, a successful
songwriter, a recording artist Fess Parker's latest venture is the wine business.
He's launched the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard. His chardonnay was served
at Elizabeth Taylor's wedding to Larry Fortensky, and to five U.S. Presidents
attending the dedication of the Ronald Reagan Library.
Fess Parker took some time off from his very busy schedule to talk to "FamousInterview.com."
Q. Mr. Parker let's talk about the wine business. Ernest Gallo (Gallo Wines)
has advised winemakers to take steps to head off the anti-alcohol movement
before it puts them out of business. He also said that wine consumption
is down sharply since 1978, because of sin taxes, warning labels on bottles,
and public messages that say alcohol is bad for your health. And here you
are, launching your own wine. What are your thoughts on what Mr. Gallo has
A. Well, I didn't see the story, but I understand the key factors there.
First of all I can't dispute anything Mr. Gallo says about consumption.
I do think that even though the statistics may be down, the real problem
of the wine business is, if I may be so bold as a neophyte, and somewhat
of a Johnny come lately if you will, probably the reason consumption is
down is because there's been a real lot of emphasis on the intellectual
and the very finest of wines, a lot of intellectualizing about the product.
I happen to agree with the wine writer Forrester who said what we really
need to do is find the wines that people enjoy with chicken fried steak.
We have the tradition that I see all the time where we ask a very fine and
talented chef to create a once in a lifetime repast, to showcase the wine.
Quite often that is in a setting where the general public is completely
unaware of, and many of them can't afford it. They might even find some
of those things that are pre¬pared for more sophisticated palates, oh,
maybe rather unique, in their experience. I favor making as good a wine
as we can make. We need to make wine a luxury that should be enjoyed daily.
Just as we take bread, I think we should take a bit of wine.
Q. And the key word is bit.
A. Exactly. We are a nation that has developed a tendency to instant
gratification. We have people who breeze in, and in a few moments they're
in another world, one that clearly leads to destruction and distraction.
We have people ingesting pills that do the same thing. Television shows
are geared to people with short attention spans. What we need to do in
this industry is to do our part, stressing moderation, information, and
help in our small way for this country to mature.
Q. How do you find the time to manage and run all of the enterprises you're
A. I have some very, very nice people and very good
Q. Before you were offered the role of Davy Crockett, how much did you
know about Davy Crockett?
A. I knew a lot because I was born and raised in Texas and I was an early
reader from my generation. Our public library had a history of Texas that
was presented as if it was a cartoon. It was like a funny papers strip,
only it began with the British, French, Spanish, and the U.S. all becoming
involved in Texas, and the formation of the Republic. It was very detailed,
and it's still available. I got a copy of it a few years ago, and the copies
I have were probably done in the 1920's. They were in the public library
in big legal, ledger size bindings. That was my favorite book to read. Then
in junior high school in Texas, they almost teach Texas history before they
teach U.S. history. So, Davy Crockett was well known to me all of my life.
Q. Were there other actors who were being considered for the role?
A. Oh, there were about 20 of them.
Q. Well known names?
A. Well, Buddy Ebsen was a strong contender. People like Sterling Hayden
and George Montgomery. There was a list. There was a list of action players.
I saw the list years ago and I'm always sorry that I didn't keep it. The
person I owe my opportunity to was Jim Arness who was already starring
as a motion picture actor, and he was starring in a film called 'Them,'
about giant ants that grew out of the Atomic experiments in New Mexico,
and eventually got into the storm drains of Los Angeles. I had a very
small part in it. Walt Disney was looking at Jim Arness as a possible
player for Davy Crockett and he saw my little scene and called me over,
and within a few days I , was over at the studio.
Q. You turned down a Disney remake of Davy Crockett after reading a script
that you found to be offensive. What was offensive about that script?
A. Maybe offensive is not the word. I believe the Davy Crockett extension
that would involve me would not necessarily involve the same quality and
strong values that I think Bill Walsh and Walt Disney put into the original
film. I fond that the script that was presented was an anachronism. It was
built in a way that perhaps appealed to people who liked soap opera. It
just didn't have the authenticity if you can say that of something that
was fiction as we presented it, our film version of it. It was an impression
that the Disney films created and the values they had insinuated into the
relationships. And, I just didn't see that in that script. I think the public
just generally rejected that particular extension. I think someone will
do this again and do it extremely well and the public will enjoy it all
Q. You said, "For awhile I resented Davy Crockett. I wished that I
could have played Hamlet." You probably could have. But, in the eyes
of the public you were Davy Crockett. Were you then typecast?
A. I think so to a large degree. My career was very informally directed
by my instincts and by my agents at the time. There was a moment when, had
I had the very best agenting, I could have had films that were created for
me, to play to whatever strength I had. I would say, looking back in time
when you saw the wonderful, magnificent career of Gary Cooper... Gary Cooper
was a wonderful actor, and highly under-rated, in my view. People forget
that pictures like Sgt. York were magnificent. When they wrote a screenplay
they wrote it to take best advantage of Gary Cooper's charm and ability
and so on. The same for any of the other actors. When they wrote a John
Wayne script, a Cary Grant script... difficult to write it for a new player
but certainly helpful if the person is going to get that kind of attention
as a follow-up. In my case I just went along with what the studio wanted
to do. My career was part of the package of things they dealt with on a
day to day basis.
Q. Mr. Parker, how did you resist the temptations of success? How is it
that you avoided scandal?
A. I sympathize with people who are caught up in scandals, because sometimes
they're innocently caught up in scandals. Sometimes things can occur, and
circumstances are so shocking that whether there's any truth in it or not
the person in it is harmed. So, you have to attribute any good fortune to
simply good luck in that respect. People who leave a dinner party and maybe
are perfectly sober in their mind but chemically fail a test, they're branded
as driving under the influence. Yeah, maybe the influence was there, but
maybe also they were competent to drive. That's something that happens over
and over. It creates scandal.
Q. But how about the Hollywood Madam Scandal, why didn't we hear about
things like that in the past?
A. Well, the studios were protective and all the contracts had moral
clauses in them, that actors and actresses were aware of. The newspapers
and media were less oriented to the Fleet Street, British style of screaming
headlines, People were more conservative, more thoughtful I think. Because
of the way our entertainment has gone, many of our institutions have suffered
that relation as well. Anybody is fair game today. So, just hope you have
good fortune, that's all.
Q. "I'm a lucky fellow," you've said, "I've had so much
fun in various careers." So fun is important to you?
A. Well, yes. What I mean by fun is that I have to enjoy the challenge.
In that context, I never really have worked. When I started as an actor,
I did it because I was fascinated by it and I was willing to try and
do whatever I could to succeed at it. The same way with the other things
I've been in. I think people who are dissatisfied with their opportunities
in life and feel that they're limited, many times have not examined all
the possibilities. They sort of come to a conclusion that maybe someone
has layed on them. There's a lot of good fortune out there, you just have
to get a stick and stir it up.
© Gary James All Rights Reserved