DANIEL BOONE: 50 Years of Fess as the famous frontier family man

Daniel Boone premiered on September 24, 1964, with Fess Parker (1924-2010) in the title role of the frontier family man. Parker had previously donned the coonskin cap to star in the Walt Disney-produced Davy Crockett television mini-series (often called the first one, though the term was not used at this point). The five part series was edited together for two theatrical releases, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.

The popularity of the series of programs surprised Disney, and created a franchise for the character and, in true Disney fashion, all manner of corresponding merchandise—although it was the cap that did the biggest business. It was a full-on, furry, Fess fan ‘50s fad, folks. The show made Parker a star, though as a contract player for Disney, Parker kept being cast in the same type of role. It’s said that he had a shot at some other roles (opposite John Wayne in The Searchers, for instance), but the studio refused to loan Parker out, causing quite a rift between the actor and the studio.

Ultimately, the actor left Disney and found an assortment of roles via Paramount Pictures from 1958 to 1962. He followed those up by landing the title role in the TV series based on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, as well as the role of Curly in a traveling production of Oklahoma. The Daniel Boone role arrived shortly thereafter, by which time, Parker, given the opportunity to produce and direct a number of episodes, was ready to portray a frontier hero once more. Parker’s Boone took a few liberties with history, and often focused on the family side of the famous pioneer. The series might have taken a different turn had it shown Boone and wife Rebecca as the parents of ten children (which they were in real life), rather than two, as portrayed in the series.  

Daniel Boone aired from 1964 to 1970, when changing tastes saw a lot of rural/historical/western programs running out of steam and making way for shows that were a little more day-glo and, well, groovy. But Daniel Boone did well in the ratings during its run, and Parker’s portrayal of both Crockett and Boone had made him a much-loved figure. 

The series’ debut episode is called Ken-Tuck-E, and in it, no less than George Washington sends Boone to scout a site for a fort amongst the warring Indian nations within “dark and bloody” Kentucky. Boone helps drive Shawnee warriors away and earns the trust of the grateful Cherokee, Mingo. Boone stays behind for further exploration the country, with Mingo at his side. Of course, it was singing star Ed Ames who starred as the wise, British-educated Mingo (1964-1968). And, at this point, rather than mentioning Ames’ famous tomahawk throwing lesson on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (though I suppose we just mentioned it there), how about we show a great clip from Ken-Tuck-E in which Parker catches a tomahawk thrown at him—it’s said this was a first take. No wonder he looks so pleased!

The first season of Daniel Boone was aired in black and white, but the changeover to color for all networks was in full swing in time for the second (1965-1966) season. There’s something about the color episodes, though. They just look great. As always, at MeTV we try to show the most up to date and technically pristine copies of the programs in our library. That the Daniel Boone episodes look so stunning is a tribute to not only the excellence of the digital restoration, but also to the original source material. These shows were great from the get go, and were framed and lit in a very cinematographic manner. We offer a respectful tip of our coonskin cap to those involved.

If you’re able, take some time tomorrow to tune in to the first episode of Daniel Boone, starting at 9 AM/8 C. And as ever, thanks for being a fan of the Memorable Entertainment Television on MeTV!

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