'Davy Crockett' star Fess Parker dies

12:25 PM PST 03/18/2010 by Duane Byrge, AP

Was named a Disney legend in 1991

Fess Parker, who starred as the coonskin-capped Davy Crockett in the 1950s, becoming a lifelong favorite of the baby boomers, died Thursday of natural causes at his home in California's Santa Ynez Valley. He was 85.

He later attained a second stardom as owner of the Fess Parker Winery and the Doubletree Resort along Santa Barbara's beachfront.

The 6-foot-5 Parker was hugely popular among kids in the late '50s, starring as Crockett on TV and in such Disney films as "The Great Locomotive Chase" (1956), "Westward Ho the Wagons!" (1956), the classic tear-jerker "Old Yeller" (1957) and "The Light in the Forest" (1958). He was named a Disney legend in 1991.

His appeal peaked with the nationwide "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" craze as tykes bought the coonskin caps and belted out the popular refrain of the title song. The first installment of "Davy Crockett," with Buddy Ebsen as the frontiersman's sidekick, debuted in December 1954 as part of the "Disneyland" TV show.

His casting by Walt Disney as Crockett was a bit of a fluke. Disney had requested to screen the 1954 sci-fi movie "Them!" which starred James Arness, whom Disney was considering for Crockett. Instead, Parker caught Disney's eye in a bit role as a man frightened by an alien encounter.

Parker was studying drama at the University of Texas when he was discovered by actor Adolphe Menjou, who was a guest artist at the school.

Before attaining stardom with "Crockett," Parker appeared in a string of Westerns and family films, beginning with "Springfield Rifle" (1952), starring Gary Cooper and Lon Chaney. His athleticism and size won him the role of a baseball player in "The Kid From Left Field" (1953), his first notable screen appearance.

Following his late-'50s stardom, Parker roles became less frequent, reaching their high point with his portrayal of Boone in a TV series that ran from 1964-69. When that show concluded, Parker was embroiled in a drawn-out suit against the its producer, who Parker claimed reneged on the profits-percentage agreements.

Later, Parker hit gold with his winery and sprawling resort just east of the Santa Barbara pier. Through his hotel, Parker was supportive of the arts, donating rooms to the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and his winery played host to Shakespeare Santa Barbara for several years.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Marcella, who turned 84 on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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