Saturday, March 20, 2010


Here's a reprint of the NY Times overview of the Daniel Boone legend as seen on TV.......

October 29, 2006

A Tubful of Coonskin and Corn

EIGHTEEN months after the premiere of the television series “Daniel Boone” in 1964, the Kentucky Legislature approved a resolution to express its displeasure with the show’s historical inaccuracies.

The actor Fess Parker responded in much the same way he played Boone: with a gentle firmness. Pointing out that his show was a mix of fact and legend, he described “Daniel Boone” as an entertaining and wholesome series for the whole family.

Then, with a wryness the real Boone (1734-1820) might have appreciated, Mr. Parker added that he was “certain that if Boone were alive today he would be as astonished as I that that august body of men, the Kentucky Legislature, has turned into a passel of television critics.”

The controversy faded, and “Daniel Boone” went on to a lucrative six-year run. The first season is now available in an eight-DVD collection.

Of course, the Kentucky Legislature was right. In the series, Boone and his wife, Rebecca (Patricia Blair), have but two children. In reality, they had seven surviving offspring by the mid-1770’s, the era in which these episodes are set. Boone did not explore Kentucky and establish Boonesborough at the behest of George Washington. He did not save Benjamin Franklin from hanging by the British. Unlike the strapping 6-foot-5 Parker, Boone stood 5-foot-10 by the most generous estimate. And he hated coonskin caps.

That cap is a telling link between Mr. Parker’s Boone and Davy Crockett, the role that made Mr. Parker a star in the 1950’s. John Mack Faragher, in his excellent 1992 biography, “Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer,” wrote that “Mr. Parker’s Crockett/Boone, in fact, is largely responsible for the persistent popular confusion that exists today between these two frontier heroes. Is it true, people ask, what they say about Daniel Boone’s death at the Alamo?”

Unlike Crockett, Boone was one trailblazer who avoided violence whenever possible. Mr. Parker’s Boone shares this philosophy, although he does raise Tick Licker, his trusty rifle, in self-defense, usually against attacking Indians. It’s unfortunate that over the opening credits, Boone shoots an Indian as the theme song declares, “He fought for America to make all Americans free.”

On the other hand, one of Boone’s closest friends in the series is Mingo, an Oxford-educated Cherokee played by Ed Ames. (Mr. Ames made broadcast history during a 1965 appearance on the “Tonight” show, demonstrating his prowess with a tomahawk by hurling one at the painted outline of a man — and embedding the blade in the figure’s crotch.)

Mr. Parker was correct when he told the legislators that his series was wholesome family entertainment. “Daniel Boone” at its best offers exciting stories of conflict that teach tolerance and stress a basic humanity among pioneers, Native Americans and Redcoats. Some incidents are grounded in fact, though filtered through the standard Hollywood simplifications. At its most routine, the series can be slow and contrived, with Daniel endlessly stalking an enemy or bear. Given that there are 28 black-and-white episodes in Season 1, the show’s batting average is solid. But what appeal “Daniel Boone” may have among kids in an iPod-Xbox-YouTube world is unclear.

The real Boone’s adventures became the stuff of folklore, tales told around a campfire. Boone’s event-filled life inspired writers as diverse as James Fenimore Cooper (Natty Bumppo owes much to Boone) and Lord Byron, who devoted seven stanzas to Boone in “Don Juan.”

Mr. Parker’s series, in a way, added its own shades to Boone’s legend, luring an audience around the modern version of the campfire — the television.

That image of television as a campfire would be invoked again in the opening credits of 'Amazing Stories'.


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