A Conversation with Fess Parker

17 min

Hello, I'm Leonard Maltin...

and I'm happy to be sitting

here at Fess Parker's...

beautiful winery

in Los Olivos, California...

with our host, our winemaker,

and our star, Fess Parker.

Thanks for letting us

come and visit you today.

It's a pleasure, Leonard...

and it's always great

to see you.

Thank you. I've just

been watching, again...

the Davy Crockett shows...

as they first

appeared on the air...

and it's taken me back

a long time...

and I wonder if you have

a specific recollection...

of the first time

you met Walt Disney...

and heard about this idea.

I certainly do.

When Walt Disney saw a bit

from the movie "Them"...

and that led to

a series of meetings...

with Bill Walsh,

who later produced the shows...

and Tom Blackburn

who wrote the screenplays.

And after I'd been out

a couple of times...

I was asked to come again,

and they said...

"Now you're going

to meet Walt".

And he came down the hall in

the writers' building there...

he came in and said,

"Why don't you come with me?"

We walked down the hall till

there was a desk and 2 chairs.

I was carrying

my little guitar.

He said, "Where are you from

and what have you been doing?"

He made me

feel comfortable right off.

He was not threatening.

I felt very comfortable...

and finally he said,

"I see you brought your guitar".

I said, "Yeah. I write

a little song or two".

And he said,

"Well, play me one".

So, I did, and he said,

"OK, thank you".

And we parted

and a few days later...

they said, "Come back.

"We're going to do

the thing with you".

Did you realize the importance

of that statement...

of that commitment

at that moment?

No, not really.

After all, I had just done

the leading male role...

in "Annie Oakley".

So, Walt Disney was...

that was a magic place...

and I'd been at all the studios.

I'd been a freelance actor

for about three years...

so I was familiar...

but there was something

about the Disney studio...

that was very special.

It was collegiate.


And calm and peaceful...

and the people

were more like family...

than any place I'd been.

And I don't imagine

as a working actor...

you necessarily met the boss

at every studio you went to.

No. Mr. Mayer

managed to avoid me...

and so did Jack Warner.

Did you feel or see

Walt's hand at work...

as the shows were

being prepared...

or was it the people

on the front line...

who were actually

getting the job done?

I think Walt was

very, very much involved...

although I didn't realize it

at the time.

First of all,

if I could just tell you...

that the company...

Disney did not have

a resident film organization...

so the people were...

independent cameramen

and directors...

and so forth

from the industry.

So they all came together...

and Walt Disney sent us

as far away from the studio...

as you could get...

Cherokee, North Carolina.

There was one telephone

in Cherokee...

a motel and a filling station,

and that was it.

And we were there

for two or three weeks.

It wasn't long

until it was apparent...

that we were

running over schedule.

But he liked

what he was seeing...

and then he visited us one day.

Pat Hogan, who played

Redstick the Indian...

had just been

beating me up all day.

And Walt and Lily showed up

with some friends of theirs...

and I think

from that moment on...

we felt pretty good...

that he'd come to see

what we were doing.

Do you remember getting

any instructions...

about how to play Davy?

There was a script

which indicated a lot...

but did you have

any kind of coaching...

or did someone say to you...

be more of this,

be less of that...

or did you sort of

feel your own way?

Actually, I had

quite a conflict...

with the director.

We became friends


but for a few weeks,

it was really difficult...

because he was

a stage-trained actor...

turned director.

Norman Foster.

My background was just the

few films that I'd been in...

and I tended to be

sort of low-key.

And he didn't think

that I was coming across...

so he was constantly

complaining and pushing me...

and maybe it worked.

Sometimes you have to get

people a little irritated...

to get enough energy...

so I've never known where

the equity was there...

but between us, it worked out...

and years later

we became friends.

But for a long time

we weren't comfortable.

The location filming

adds so much to these shows.

First, that

they look beautiful...

but obviously,

there's an authenticity...

you're not gonna get

on the back lot.

That's true.

That was another thing...

that Walt Disney

allowed us to do.

We traveled from

Cherokee, North Carolina...

into Tennessee.

There was

a beautiful river there...

and that's where we did

the bear wrestling scene.

You sure

spoiled things good.

Now I gotta do it

the old-fashioned way.


Give him what fer, Davy!

Then we moved on

to Nashville...

to Percy Warner Park...

which is a huge park right

in the middle of Nashville.

And it was just as natural...

as if we'd been

40 miles south...

so we shot a lot

of the film there...

but I think the high point

was Andrew Jackson's home...

the Hermitage,

was available for us...

and we were able to shoot

there on the grounds...

and then stop at the door...

and then there was a banker

who lived in Nashville...

who had done a replica

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Leonard Maltin

Leonard Michael Maltin (born December 18, 1950) is an American film critic and historian, as well as an author of several mainstream books on cinema, focusing on nostalgic, celebratory narratives. His review of the 1948 film Isn't It Romantic? consisted of the single word "No" and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the shortest ever film review. Maltin created the Walt Disney Treasures, a series of compilations of Disney cartoons and episodes released to mark the centenary of the birth of Walt Disney. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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