My father mentioned to me the passing of Fess Parker last night after we saw an obit on The Brian Williams Show for pilot Robert M. White, who made history in 1962 with a test flight into space. Parker, the popular TV actor who played both the heroic Davy Crockett (on a three-part “mini-series” on ABC’s Disneyland) and Daniel Boone on NBC (from 1964 to 1970 on NBC) was 85; his passing attributed to complications from old age.
The title of this post is an expression I tend to use both in my online scribblings and real-life conversation—and one night, Pam R asked me where I picked it up. To be honest, I thought I had gleaned it from Amos ‘n’ Andy but I was surprised to learn that it was a Daniel Boone-ism (according to Parker’s interpretation, anyway). I don’t remember watching Boone much as a kid but I do manage to catch the show every now and then on RTV, where it lives on in reruns.
Parker had a stab at another television show during his cathode ray tube career: a short-lived adaptation of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which was seen on 1962-63 as a sitcom on ABC. (Smith faced stiff competition from CBS’ The Defenders on Saturday nights…though I personally think changing the main character’s first name to “Eugene” didn’t do the show any favors.)
Although Parker’s TV fame as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone sort of curtailed his movie appearances, he still made some memorable features in Them! (1954; as the pilot who’s purposely grounded so as not to cause a panic about the giant ants), Old Yeller (1957), The Light in the Forest (1958), The Hangman (1959), and Hell Is for Heroes (1962).
I also missed the news of the passing of Peter Graves, another one of my television heroes who’s gone on to his rich reward at the age of 83. There’s a mortgage-refinancing commercial (AAG) that runs on some television stations featuring Graves in which he’s introduced as a “legendary actor”…and while I mean no disrespect, I think they padded his resume a tad. Graves appeared in two pretty important films—Stalag 17 (1953) and The Night of the Hunter (1955)—but I really don’t think that qualifies him to be “legendary” (unless you’re counting his late-career turn towards comedy in Airplane! ). Don’t get me wrong; Graves made his mark in quite a few feature films: The Raid (1954; a very underrated Civil War film that shows up on Fox Movie Channel every now and then and which you should see if you haven’t done so already), The Long Gray Line (1955), and The Court-Martial of Billy Mitchell (1955), to name a few of the better ones I’ve seen.
But for me, Graves was a creature of television—possibly even more so than Fess Parker. The brother of Gunsmoke’s James Arness, Graves starred in several series beginning with Saturday morning kid (and Linda of Yet Another Journal) fave Fury (“the story of a horse, and a boy who loved him”) in 1955; he played Jim Newton—owner of the Broken Wheel Ranch and father to adopted orphan Joey Clark Newton (Bobby Diamond), who owned the titular stallion. (The series was retitled Brave Stallion in syndication.) Graves then starred as a businessman attempting to set up a stage line in Australia’s “Old West” in the otherwise unmemorable Whiplash (1960-61). The actor’s third series was seen in 1965-66; a British-produced outing entitled Court Martial that paired him with television perennial Bradford Dillman as JAG lawyers during WW2.
But when Mission: Impossible star Steven Hill quit the hit spy series after its first season; Graves found the show that would be his meal ticket for his entire career. As Agent Jim Phelps, the actor appeared in 143 episodes of CBS’ popular “caper” series from 1967-73—and reprised his role when ABC revived the show in 1988-90. His last regular series role was on 7th Heaven, in which he played the recurring part of John “The Colonel” Camden.
R.I.P. Messrs. Parker and Graves. To two of my television heroes, you will be sorely missed.