Actor Fess Parker dies at 85, offering a look back at the man he portrayed and preserved.
|Few did more to keep the memory of American naturalist Col. David Crockett than did actor Fess Parker, who embodied not only the great Tennessee bear-killer but also Daniel Boone. Today, many people cannot tell the one historical figure from the other, in large part to them being portrayed so famously by the same man, but Parker cannot be held accountable for the cloudy American memory. It is thanks to Parker and, largely, the Disney corporation that Americans remember either Crockett or Boone at all.
Crockett was a great American; a politician, best-selling author, explorer, businessman, Indian fighter and, ultimately a martyr, although it is likely Crockett himself would have blanched at such a high mantle. When he arrived at the Alamo, for example, he insisted on fighting with the rank of high-private, even though he already held the rank of colonel. But Crockett was also a master of the media and what we would now call "spin" -- and Crockett had eyes on no less than the White House had events at the Alamo not gone so disastrously for the norte americanos (an outcome that was in no way certain as the conflict festered.)
There is much complexity in Crockett's actions and motivations, and this is not the time to explore them all (my book, THE TRIAL OF DAVY CROCKETT, does this in detail.) Of Parker, we can say that his portrayal reduced the boiling kettle of Crockett as a man to the bare essence of Crockett as an ideal; sturdy, confident, moral and courageous. This was America as it wanted to see itself in Crockett's time and in Parker's. Aside from General Eisenhower himself, there is no single image that more encapsulates America in the 1950's than Fess Parker, staring determinedly out from under that beaver-skin hat.
In our currently divisive and tumultuous political climate, Americans struggle to redefine themselves and their country; still sturdy and moral, still courageous; but the simpler times now evoke feelings of backwards thinking, resistance to change or liberal thought. Are the virtues for which Parker's Crockett stood now becoming red flags on a regressive course that could cost our country years of progress? Or have these virtues simply been co-opted by one or more clever political fronts, pretending to represent a people they all but disdain, perverting the principles upon which the country was founded? Let's hope that Fess Parker, like Col. David Crockett, finds peace in his rest even as his image continues to be a symbol and a rallying point, often times for groups that cannot match the ideals for which Crockett and now Parker will ultimately stand.
THE TRIAL OF DAVY CROCKETT a fact-based novella by Fletcher Rhoden