The TV miniseries that took 1950s American by storm, the focus of this episode is Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett franchise, starring Fess Parker as the titular frontiersman. Appearing on ABC’s Disneyland television show starting in 1954, this was the crown jewel of Walt Disney’s TV empire and the cornerstone of the beloved Frontierland in Anaheim’s Disneyland Theme Park, leading to the so-called ‘Crockett Craze’, which took the country’s youth by storm, leading to a deluge of coonskin caps and trading cards, all of which Dad was very much caught well up in. Comprised of five parts over several years, the series was unprecedented in its popularity, and I would argue, its influence, as it was one of the most popular Westerns ever produced. Does it hold up? Pretty much, although it’s tough to say for sure, as we’re both kind of overcome by a wave of nostalgia when it comes to this property. This episode dives into the series, and more than usual into the phenomena surrounding it, as it offers a pretty fascinating window into Walt Disney’s empire at the height of his influence. We talk about the Disneyland TV show and the the park as well, which we just so happened to have visited last week, as well as Dad’s childhood Disney fascination (and a chance encounter with Walt in the actual Frontierland). But the Crockett wormhole goes even deeper, offering a chance to explore the foundational American mythology as expressed in tall tales and folklore, branching into Crockett’s role as a legendary figure and how that influenced Manifest Destiny and the arranging of westward expansion as a tenet of the national identity! There’s even an extended discussion of Crockett’s death at the Alamo (and its representation by Disney), the blunt racial language that used to be par for the course when portraying Native Americans and way Cowboys and Indians defines the pioneer spirit of the America, the dangerous allure of the mythic Frontierland, Georgie Russell’s general inadequacy, Disney’s multiple attempts to duplicate Crockett’s success, the tradition of boasting and yelling in folklore, especially as represented by Mike Fink, King of the River, and of course, that part in Mr Toad’s Wild Ride where you go to Hell. It’s a pretty packed episode, our longest to date, but also some of the most fun we’ve had doing the show.
And then at the end we talk a little bit about the new Beauty and the Beast remake. It’s an afterthought. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at another significant one, maybe the most significant: The Searchers, starring John Wayne. You can reach us online at westernswithdad.com, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave ratings and reviews for us on iTunes!
Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier stars Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen. Davy Crockett and the River Pirates does too, plus Jeff Yorke as Mike Fink.