Ken Berry, an actor and dancer who played the affable and clumsy Capt. Wilton Parmenter in the 1960s sitcom “F Troop,” has died. He was 85.
Berry died Saturday at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, hospital spokeswoman Patricia Aidem confirmed. The cause of death was not provided by Berry's family.
“F Troop” was on only from 1965-67 but the show lived on in syndication and the accident-prone Capt. Parmenter became one of Berry's most well-known roles. After “F Troop,” Berry went on to star in “Mayberry R.F.D.,” a spinoff of “The Andy Griffith Show,” on which Berry appeared during the show's final year.
Berry's last television series was “Mama's Family,” which aired for six seasons beginning in 1983. But “F Troop” was the show that remained closest to Berry's heart.
“I have never been that happy in my life,” Berry once said, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
This was one of the most interesting – and certainly easiest! – “toobulations” for a character’s life. ‘F Troop’ began in 1965; according to the theme song, Wilton Parmenter’s onscreen life began when the end of the Civil War was near. (Thanks to research by my brother Bill, I’ve decided that the decisive battle in which Wilton Parmenter made his name was the Battle of Five Forks in April of 1865. The battle was going against the Union Army but they were able to overcome the odds and take the day. General Lee surrendered at Appomattox about a week later.)
So Wilton Parmenter’s age at the end of the Civil War should be the same age of Ken Berry when he started production on the ‘F Troop’ series. Basically that’s a difference of 100 years.
Ken Berry was born in November of 1933, so Wilton Parmenter was born in June of 1833. (The birth month was determined by a script reference.) And thus, he was approaching his 32nd birthday when he ceased the retreat at the Battle of Five Forks and reversed it to victory.
Another standard tradition with the Toobworld timeline is that, as the Curator, I prefer to think that the cessation of the life of a TV character should also follow closely that of the actor who played the role. So, with that span of 100 years between Berry and Parmenter, sadly the former Scourge of the West lost his battle in November of 1918.
But more on that later.
The following biography of Wilton Parmenter falls under fanfiction for the most part; anything that deals with ‘F Troop’ is taken from the TV show, but the extrapolations will be my own. Any connections made to other TV series are theoretical links I came up with.
So let this cathode conjecture commence!
He came from a long line of military men on the Parmenter side of the family. His father, Thor X. Parmenter, was a career general in the United States Army who was in charge of the military detail that protected President Andrew Jackson.
Mrs. Parmenter traveled with the delegation, but she was heavy with child at that point. By the time they reached Wilton, Connecticut, she and her maid had to abandon the rest of the journey. The rigors of the trip had induced her into going into labor. As a new but fervent member of the leading anti-slavery women’s group in Philadelphia, Mrs. Parmenter insisted that she should be taken to the home of William Wakeman, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad. General Parmenter grudgingly agreed, not that he supported her passion on the issue, but he insisted that he had to return to Jackson’s entourage. So he wasn’t present to witness the birth of his son. Upon his return to his wife’s side, Parmenter declared that the boy would be named “Wilton”, after the town in which he was born.
Unlike another family tree which had begun with a companion of Parmen (the dwarf known as Alexander who had inspired the myths of Hephaestus), the Terran-born child of Parmen did not inherit any of the father’s eugenics-based powers.
When Wilton was old enough to learn about his family’s history, he asked his mother why he wasn’t given such a mythic name as the other males among the Parmenters. She told him about the circumstances of his birth and in such a way that it sounded as though it was a wonderful story. However, even at that age he could tell that she was hiding something from him.
But how could she tell the boy that his father, who never did develop a close bond with a son who was not of his blood? Thor X. Parmenter never came out and accused his wife of infidelity, but she knew that he knew. Most likely he said nothing because he didn’t want her sin to be cast on him as the cuckolded husband.
She kept the identity of Wilton’s true father as a secret to the grave, so Parmenter never learned that his birth father was a legend of the Old West. He was the son of a dapper gunslinger and Texas Ranger known only as the Baltimore Kid.
Mrs. Parmenter had grown up in Baltimore, Maryland, and had grown up with the charming and debonair gambler who gained a reputation with the pistol that could not be contained in the state of Maryland. Upon her return to Charm City for the funeral of her mother, she had run into her old swain again and the flame had not dimmed for either of them. And before she returned to Philadelphia, she made the trip to the nation’s capital in order to spend a night with her long-absent husband.
Of course, this was her insurance in case – as it turned out – that her liaison with the Kid left her with a kid.
I don’t know if he ever thought about it, but when Wilton Parmenter was forced to confront his identical look-a-like known as Kid Vicious, the bank robber looked just like him because they were indeed brothers. They were half-brothers, both sharing the Baltimore Kid as their father.
And so the heralded career of Wilton Parmenter began. Since Fort Courage in Kansas had recently lost its commanding officer with the retirement of Captain “Cannonball” Bill McCormick, it was decided that Parmenter should be promoted to Captain and take over the management of Fort Courage.
(O’Bservation – in the future, Fort Courage would eventually be decommissioned and torn down. But a new military site would be erected on the same location; and as the location was near Baxter Springs, Kansas, the outpost was rechristened Fort Baxter.)
After leaving the command of Fort Courage, they didn’t actually leave. They still had Jane’s trading post to run and Wilton became the town and fort’s postmaster.
Levinson was so impressed by Jane’s business acumen and the ideas she had for expanding his empire that he hired her on the spot to come back East to Cincinnati and become an executive in his business. And so the Parmenters moved to Ohio, with their children (at least two, probably both girls, but I’d like to think the family name of Parmenter continued to future generations.)
Wilton was at a loss as to his future until Izzy Levinson suggested that he should run for Congress from their Peaksville district (which has since been gerrymandered out of existence since it disappeared from existence in this world.) Levinson pointed out how a Civil War hero with the bonus legend of being “The Scourge Of The West” would be welcomed by the citizens of Ohio as their congressman. (And being a former postmaster didn’t hurt either.)
Wilton gave it a try and no one was more surprised than he that he won the election. But it might have been that the race was tipped in his favor when he accidentally tripped and foiled an assassination attempt on the life of Senator Clay Waterford. Parmenter had stepped off the stairs at the Peaksville courthouse too soon and knocked over the assailant, but to the crowds gathered to see Senator Waterford give a speech, it looked like Wilton had tackled the gunman.
Wilton’s career in Congress was undistinguished, yet the people back home kept re-electing him. Jane and the children stayed behind in Ohio, but he made frequent visits home.
Among the many TV characters who could have met Wilton Parmenter were these whom I’ve gathered in one of my Super Six Lists:
- Doctor Miquelito Loveless (Of course!)
- Will Sonnet and Jeff Sonnett
- Professor Quentin E. Deverill
- Secret Service Agent Bosley Cranston
- Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry
- Doctor Galen Adams (But not in Dodge - when Doc was back at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore)
- Jared Garrity (He may have already met the confidence trickster with an amazing power, but under the alias of Professor Cornelius Clyde)
Of course, by this time Wilton Parmenter was 65 years old. His children were grown, and Jane had left her position with the Levinson corporation to be with her husband in Washington. She wasn’t keen on the idea that he wanted to go to war down in Cuba, but the political bigwigs back home in Ohio were keen on the idea. That’s because the party in power was now the opposition and they had their eye on Parmenter’s seat. So they put the pressure on the Secretary of War to accede to Wilton’s wishes.
Looking over Parmenter’s record of military service, he hit upon the perfect plan to keep everybody happy. Wilton was offered the chance to serve as the Deputy Quartermaster General, going back to his roots as a lowly corporal in the Quartermaster Corp during the Civil War. He was given his own office where he kept coming up with ideas to make the disposition of supplies to the troops more efficient. He depended on Jane for many of these ideas, calling on her expertise in shipping dry goods throughout the country.
Most of Parmenter’s ideas were ignored and many of his superiors thought he was becoming a pain in the sadde. Hoping to get him to stop bothering them, he was finally put in charge of the Mortuary Affairs department. One of his duties in that department was to inform the families of those who died during service, and sadly this was the only time Wilton Parmenter came into contact with the Cartwright family of the Ponderosa ranch near Carson City, Nevada. He had to send them the official letter alerting them that Joseph Cartwright had died during the rush up San Juan Hill.
The United States by that year was deep into their involvement with the Great War in Europe. Even though he was now 83 years old, Parmenter had no intentions of shirking his duty as the Deputy Quartermaster General. One reason was that the year before, his beloved Jane had passed away; nothing but his work could fill the hole in his heart.
And then on September 12, 1916, MG James B. Aleshire resigned his position as the Quartermaster General. But MG Henry G. Sharpe did not take over the position until four days later, on September 16. So for four days, Deputy Quartermaster General Wilton Parmenter was in charge of the Corps.
After Sharpe was installed as the new QM General, the Parmenter daughters convinced their father to finally step down from his service to his country, to spend his remaining days with them so that his grandchildren and great-grandchildren could really get to know him. (By this time, there were new surnames in the family tree – Jones, Daniels, Harper, among others.)
Sadly, Wilton Parmenter’s retirement was short-lived. In January of 1918, the “Spanish” influenza pandemic was first observed in Haskell County in Kansas. By the time the pandemic was tamed, 50-100 million people worldwide would die from the flu.
And Wilton Parmenter would be counted among its victims.
As he lay in his bed at home, wanting bed space at the hospital to be used for the returning veterans, Wilton Parmenter was granted one last surprise….
“I just wanted to check on The Old Man,” said Agarn, feigning a cheerful smile. Agarn had to be at least a decade older than his commanding officer, but he always referred to Parmenter as “The Old Man”.
As for the other visitor, there was no way he could forget Hannibal Shirley Dobbs, the F Troop bugler. How could he forget Dobbs? Soon after Wilton and Jane had married, Dobbs accepted the inevitable and married Wilton’s sister Daphne. They had often been at the Parmenter home for family reunions and his unique name combination was the source of inspiration for several of the grandchildren and great-children. There was a Hannibal, a Shirley, and even a Dobbin. When Wilton became the congressman from Peaksville, Dobbs accompanied him as his chief of staff.
By this time, Wilton Parmenter couldn’t speak and his friends were just grateful to be in his presence one last time. But a few minutes later, he looked beyond them as though someone else had joined them in the room. Agarn turned to look but nobody was there.
When he turned back, Wilton Parmenter was gone. Both men saluted his passing.
One of Wilton’s daughters would later say that it was her mother come to escort Wilton to the next stage.
Her sister smiled. “It would be just like Dad to stumble his way into Heaven….”
SHOWS & MOVIES CITED:
The Wild, Wild West
The Twilight Zone
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Have Gun, Will Travel
Alias Smith and Jones
The Guns Of Will Sonnett
The Over The Hill Gang Rides Again
This theory of relateeveety is a Wiki Tiki Wednesday post as well. Much of the background information is actually from the history of the Trueniverse.
Good night and may God bless, Ken Berry….