Friday, March 19, 2010


Fess Parker (August 16, 1924 – March 18, 2010) and Peter Graves (March 18, 1926 – March 14, 2010) were two heroes of "classic TV." It was a simpler time, but to be a hero and star back then meant you had to have a few simple but difficult traits.
Parker's Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, and Graves' Jim Newton and Jim Phelps, weren't that handsome, that intelligent or even that brawny. What they had was the determination to get the job done. Do it with confidence, without weakness, and with a touch of humility rather than attitude. That made them heroes and that's what people wanted to see in the 50's and early 60's.

Did mimics do impressions of Parker or Graves? Of course not. That was another secret of their success: they were an approximation of the average man, just raised to a higher standard of heroism. You don't see this so much today, but back then, pretty average-looking guys were heroes: George Reeves, Lloyd Bridges, Richard Boone, Robert Stack and James Arness (Peter Graves' brother, who may have been supersized at 6'6" but never acted like a super-hero on "Gunsmoke.")

Fess Parker and James Arness were both up for the Davy Crockett role. Legend has it that Disney execs screening Arness's latest film ("Them" 1954) spotted Parker in a smaller role and were intrigued enough to give him an audition. Fess showed up with his guitar, demonstrated that he could sing as well as act, and that may have made the difference for Disney.

Davy Crockett became one of the biggest fads of the 50's, with kids wearing coonskin caps...and somehow accepting that their hero was not only long dead, but murdered by Mexican troops when he was outnumbered at The Alamo. Perhaps this bittersweet fact would later help baby boomers when their next hero, the real-life John F. Kennedy, quickly went from idol to martyr.

Everyone was singing the catchy Davy Crockett theme song (or parodying it, in the cases of Homer & Jethro and Mickey Katz). Fess put out a few albums to cash in, and you get his affable singing of the theme song below. He went on to virtually duplicate his success, on a slightly more adult level, by becoming "Daniel Boone," before retiring in the 70's to own a winery.

It was on an episode of "Daniel Boone" that he met up with Peter Graves, who had a guest starring role ("Run a Crooked Mile" in 1966).

Most probably know Peter Graves (born Peter Aurness) from his avuncular work hosting A&E's "Biography," and his stoic leadership of the "Mission Impossible" squad, but he had three earlier series as well, "Court Martial" (1965-66), "Whiplash" (1960-61) and around the time Parker was Davy Crockett, he spent five years on "Fury," a kid's show co-starring Bobby Diamond and the title-character horse.

Graves' show, like "Davy Crockett" and "Daniel Boone," was indebted to a super-catchy theme song. The download below gives you both "The Plot" and "The Theme." "The Plot" is that little triumphant march that was usually played at the end of every episode, when the bad guy was left sputtering and twisting in frustration, and the Mission Impossible bunch were seen driving off, smirking and giving each other knowing glances of satisfaction.

Nice men, both. A special mention for Peter Graves of one fight that he didn't exactly win. In his later years, he was one of a few actors who spoke out against noise pollution and the obnoxiousness of leafblowers. Unfortunately, the race card was played, and Mexican immigrants were quick to scream that they needed these noisy appliances to more effectively blow the same leaves into somebody else's yard. "Leafblowers," Shatner would later sneer in his rap "I Can't Get Behind That," "is there anything more FUTILE?" But in North Mexico (sometimes still called California), the impossible mission is to sleep late on a Sunday morning. Que lastima.

Peter Graves' end was very sudden. He was on his way home from brunch when he suffered a heart attack. His wife was there, one of his daughters tried CPR, but his life, to use the name of his character in "Airplane," was Oveur.

FESS PARKER and the DAVY CROCKETT THEME SONG No pop-ups, wait time or porn ads.
"THE THEME" and "THE PLOT" music from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE No pop-ups, wait time or porn ads.

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