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HUCKABY: Remember the king of the wild frontier

The real David Crockett — Indian fighter, Congressman and hero of the War for Texas Independence, died at the Alamo in San Antonio on or about March 6, 1836. But my Davy Crockett, the one I grew up watching on a small black and white television set in Porterdale in the 1950s, died Thursday in Los Angeles. And he didn't go down standing on the ramparts of a Catholic mission, swinging at marauding Mexicans with the butt end of Old Betsy, his trusty long rifle. He died in bed of natural causes at the age of 85.

I am speaking now of veteran actor Fess Parker, who played a number of roles in television series and movies but will always be remembered — and I mean always be remembered — by a generation of baby boomer boys as the King of the Wild Frontier.

I know that John Wayne played Crockett in a celebrated movie rendition of the story of the Alamo, and I know Billy Bob Thornton gave his own unique interpretation of the man who, according to song and legend was "born on a mountaintop in Tennessee and killed him a b'ar when he was only three." John Wayne, well, he's The Duke and a manly man, and Billy Bob Thornton is an amazingly talented actor, but Fess Parker is, was and will always be Davy Crockett to me and my contemporaries.

In case you are of a different generation, or in case your memory is beginning to fade, let me take you back a few decades. Walt Disney had entered the Golden Age of television in a big way. His "Mickey Mouse Club" enthralled children every afternoon after school, and on Sunday nights his "Wonderful World of Disney" was must-see family TV long before shows like "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "American Idol" were even capable of becoming gleams in a studio producer's eye.

There are some who say that Disney's Sunday night show was little more than an elaborate effort to sell color television sets — and other Disney merchandise. I even teach from a history book that takes that position. The people who say that never gathered in the living room of our little mill village house on a Sunday evening, eating popcorn off the pages of the Sunday Atlanta Constitution, eagerly awaiting Tinkerbell's flight over Cinderella's castle.

It may have actually been Snow White's castle at the time and the picture on our screen didn't change into "living color" when Tink shook the pixie dust out of her wand, but you get my drift.

The Wonderful World of Disney was special, and the most special episodes of all were the ones that featured Fess Parker as Davy Crockett and Buddy Ebsen — who would later grow up to be Jed Clampett — as his sidekick, George Russell. There was "Davy Crockett — Indian Fighter" and "Davy Crockett — King of the Wild Frontier" and "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" — Mike Fink, another legendary figure, was in that one — and, of course, "Davy Crockett at the Alamo."

I loved each and every one and would watch them over and over and over, no matter how many times they might be repeated. In fact, I would sit down and watch them right now if I had access to them. In Disney's version of the Crockett legend, George Russell was always riding along with Davy, and he was always strumming his guitar and making up songs about his exploits — verse after verse after verse. And I knew every verse by heart and probably drove my mother crazy singing those songs at the top of my squeaky, off-key voice, day in and day out — and we're talking for years. In fact, I still drive my own children crazy from time to time singing those same verses when we go on car trips together.

And of course I had to have a coon skin cap — me and every other kid born between 1948 and 1960. I wanted a lot of the other Davy Crockett merchandise, too. I remember begging for a Davy Crockett lunch box until my mother threatened to make me go cut a switch — and the fact that I ate in the school lunchroom and never once carried my lunch to school didn't ease the pain of not getting that lunch box one bit.

You get the picture. I loved all things Davy Crockett and, like I said, Fess Parker and he were one.

Parker, as I also said, played other roles. He was the dad in the Disney classic "Old Yeller" and played another frontiersman, "Daniel Boone," in a TV series of the same name, but no matter what role I saw him in, in my mind he was old Davy, just pretending to be someone else.

Reports say that Parker was surrounded by his family, including his wife of 50 years, when he died, and I'm glad for that. I am also glad that he created a million memories for me — memories that will live at least as long as I do.

In the old television shows, whenever Crockett would wind up in a scrape, his sidekick would shout out, "Give 'em what fer, Davy! Give 'em what fer!"

I guess we can shout that one more time in honor of all the joy Fess Parker brought our way.

"Give 'em what fer, Fess. Give 'em what fer!"

Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. E-mail him at dhuck08@bellsouth.net.