He may have been "born on a mountain top in Tennessee," but in the mid-1950s he was definitely a hero in North Lewisburg, Ohio. Davy Crockett, as portrayed by actor Fess Parker, hit the television screens (and remember, this was in the days of black-and-white TV) in 1954. The program was made especially for the television market by Walt Disney Productions, and was an instant success. From the time of the first episode, "Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter," the series made TV history. Within a matter of days people of all ages were singing the "Ballad of Davy Crockett." And one of the greatest mass-merchandising campaigns in history took off like a bat out of Hades - not to be equalled again until the "Star Wars" craze of the 1970s.
Boys - and girls - were attracted to the famous coonskin cap worn by Parker during the series. Within a relatively short time, over $100 MILLION in sales were generated by the cap! (And remember...that's 1954 dollars, and about 6 times that in today's money!) I was one of those kids who nagged my folks incessantly until I had one of those hats in hand - or rather, upon my head. I wore the thing to school, while playing both outdoors and in the house, and even (on a few occasions) to bed.
I even went to great lengths to emulate my hero. I soon owned a Davy Crockett lunch box and thermos, a Davy Crockett gun set (with cap rifle, belt, and powder flask). For Christmas, 1955, I asked for - and got - one of the Davy Crockett "Alamo" play sets, which was manufactured by Marx. It consisted of a bunch of plastic figures who were the defenders of the "Alamo," and a host of Mexican soldiers, horses, cannons, and other accessories to supplement the tin, lithographed "Alamo" building and mission walls. I spent hours on the floor of our dining room, setting up the battle scene and playing with the figures and accessories.
I once knew every verse of the "Ballad of Davy Crockett," from start to finish. I even had one of the 45 rpm records which I probably wore out on the phonograph.
Davy appeared in four more made-for-TV movie episodes in 1955: "Davy Crockett Goes to Congress," "Davy Crockett At the Alamo," and then the prequels "Davy Crockett's Keel Boat Race," and "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates." These shows were so successful on the "Disneyland" show that the Disney studios did some quick patching and other editing to bring two feature-length movies to the big screen as theatrical releases. These compilations were just as popular as the TV series had been. And remember, this was the first chance we had to see them in color! It was almost another decade before they returned to the TV screen in color.
Fess Parker, as "Davy Crockett," and his sidekick "George Russell", as portrayed by Buddy Ebsen, were forever associated with these characters. Fess Parker was considered an American icon of the acting world. He toured 13 foreign countries and 42 American cities promoting his role as "Davy." In later years, he took on the role of "Daniel Boone" in the TV series of that name, one of the highest-rated television programs of that era. Unfortunately, the fact that he played both "Davy" and "Daniel" kind of blurred history a bit; many people who grew up in this era confused the two characters or combined them as one. When he eventually retired from acting, he owned and operated a 714-acre winery in California. Fess Parker died of natural causes at the age of 85 in 2010.
Buddy Ebsen was a multi-talented entertainer (song and dance man, as well as actor) who was first slated to play the original Scarecrow in "The Wizard of OZ." He and Ray Bolger, who was first cast as the Tin Man in "The Wizard of OZ," decided to change roles. Unfortunately, Buddy was allergic to the special body paint which was necessary to give the character his "metal" skin. Buddy bowed out of the picture. He was replaced by Jack Haley. Ray Bolger fulfilled his role as Scarecrow. Buddy was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood in the 1940s, earning $1500 a week with his contract (about $24,000 per week in today's money). He went off to service in the Navy in World War II, and was later discharged as a Lieutenant. Buddy eventually went on to great personal success in three television series: "Northwest Passage," "The Beverly Hillbillies," and "Barnaby Jones." He suffered from lung ailments all of his adult life, which he attributed to his ill-fated role as the metal-skinned Tin Man. He died of pneumonia at the age of 95 in 2003. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were scattered at sea.
Folks who are celebrating their mid-to-late sixties birthdays undoubtedly remember the "Davy Crockett" series with fondness. There are probably some who can still sing all 21 verses of the "Ballad of Davy Crockett." There are probably others who still possess some of the merchandise which was marketed in the mid-1950s. And if they do, they are holding on to some genuine treasures.
Values have been placed on some of the items from that era. For instance, that old 45 rpm record that I wore out is now worth about $50 to collectors. The "coonskin" cap (which was probably rabbit) is now valued at $250. The metal lunch box and thermos now sells for about $400. And the Davy Crockett "Alamo" set - which I once lovingly spread out across the dining room floor - is now valued at about $1000. I sure wish I had held on to that set!
If you would like to exercise your vocal cords with your rendition of the "Ballad of Davy Crockett," I suggest you check out the lyrics (all 21 verses) on the Internet at http://www.fiftiesweb.com/tv/davy.htm Now, everyone join in...
"Born on a mountain top in Tennessee,
Greenest state in the land of the free,
Raised in the woods so he knew ev'ry tree,
Kilt him a b'ar when he was only three.
Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier..."