50’S FLASHBACK – DAVY CROCKETT

by RANDAL HILL

While numerous historians have portrayed Davy Crockett as a brave folk figure, many others have blasted the 19th century pioneer, soldier and politician as being a self-serving con artist and braggart.

In the mid 1950s, though, Baby Boomer kids embraced only the positive Crockett image, thanks to Fess Parker, a 29-year-old, ruggedly handsome Texan who stood tall (6’ 5”) and starred in ABC’s Disneyland trilogy about the fabled frontiersman.

Each episode of Davy Crockett was shown one month apart, from December 1954 until February 1955, and became arguably television’s first mini-series. Two more
shows ran in late 1955. The shows hit an unexpected ratings home run when they
attracted 40 million viewers. In order to milk all they could from the Crockett
craze, Disney edited the three episodes into one theatrical release, Davy Crockett,
King of the Wild Frontier later in 1955. In 1956 they wrung things dry with a second theatrical release, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.

Corporate America responded accordingly. In a feeding frenzy of epic proportions, manufacturers rushed a multitude of Crockett products onto the market—much to the chagrin and frustration of the Disney organization. (Since Crockett was a historical figure and in the public domain, it was impossible to copyright his name.) Anybody could—and did—put a load of Crockett stuff on the market.

Kids flocked to buy “official” Crockett regalia (buckskin jackets, leggings,
moccasins) as well as 3,000 other items that included (deep breath here) lunchboxes, guitars, wristwatches, coloring books, trading cards , bedspreads, pajamas, bath towels, underwear, jigsaw puzzles, bubble gum, T-shirts—and
14 million hastily printed books.

Fess Parker

Essential to any self-respecting
young fan was the coveted coonskin cap, a faux fur creation
that included a luxuriant raccoon
tail that dangled from the back. Girls could show their Davy devotion when they donned the Polly Crockett caps of all-white faux fur.

Then, without warning and after
sales of $300 million—$100 million
from the caps alone—the Crockett
fad died. Davy Crockett had suddenly become uncool. Parents rejoiced, merchants groaned, kids turned their attentions elsewhere.

The craze cannot be dismissed as
a frivolous, childish fad, though. It
had become an unprecedented event in the early television age, an example of the power of a TV-product tie-in.
For the first time, Baby Boomers had, unknowingly, flexed their collective
commercial muscles.

Randal C. Hill, a former disc jockey, English teacher, record collector and author,
confesses to being hopelessly stuck in the past. He lives on the Oregon coast
and can be reached at wryterhill@msn.com.

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