"The coonskin cap-wearing, musket-bearing
Fess Parker stirred the imagination in young boys like me as TVs
Daniel Boone from 1964 to 1970. So when I heard the news that
Parker died March 18 at his California home at age 85, the memories flooded
back in my mind like TV reruns on Nickelodeon.
Many of us Baby Boomers grew up watching Daniel Boone and
many other Hollywood heroes who came to life every afternoon on TV. Most
heroes, like Boone, had sidekicks or vivid adversaries who threatened
to do evil. Others, like Opie Taylor of Mayberry (The Andy Griffith
Show) or Theodore Beaver Cleaver (Leave It To
Beaver) of Mayfield, were kids like me who faced the everyday challenges
of adolescence. Both were surrounded by memorable, if not quirky, characters
who provided the laughs and lessons of ordinary life all neatly
packaged in problem-solution scenarios that could be wrapped up in 30
minutes, including commercials.
Parker played TVs
Daniel Boone during
the 1960s. Prior to
that, he played Davy
Crockett in a short-
lived Disney series.
Others popular shows of the time included Gilligans Island,
The Beverly Hillbillies, Batman, Green Acres
and Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.
Who could forget characters like Gilligan and the rest of the cast of
looney castaways on Gilligans Island; or Jed, Granny
and Elly May Clampett, Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies;
all the corny villains of the hokey Batman TV series; city
slickers Oliver and Lisa Douglas on the farm in Green Acres;
Gomer Pyle and Sgt. Vince Carter at the Marine Corp base; Opie, Aunt Bee
and single-bullet-carrying Barney Fife in Mayberry?
Sadly, those shows are long gone and appear only occasionally on TV networks
like Nickelodeon. The actors who played them have either died or grown
Each TV series has a sort of legend associated with it when you consider
the theme songs that introduced them, the lessons taught through them,
the fictional towns where they took place and the hilarious episodes and
sayings that have become etched in our memories.
Most Boomers still today can sing the entire lyrics of those familiar
theme songs, such as Gilligans Island and The
Beverly Hillbillies. The latter song, performed by bluegrass artists
Flatt and Scruggs, became a country No. 1 hit.
How many times did it seem to be the end for the caped crusaders in Batman,
when after a convenient commercial break they always found
a way to escape the diabolical clutches of their adversaries and return
Gotham City to its peaceful existence. How many pre-teenaged boys watching
that show become infatuated with actress Julie Newmar as the sultry Catwoman?
Todays kids have TVs Hannah Montana Zack
and Cody and iCarly, but in my opinion they pale in
comparison to the iconic TV characters of the 60s and early 70s.
Andy Griffith Show (1960-68)
cast included (from left) actors
Don Knotts (Barney Fife), Opie Taylor
(Ron Howard), Andy Taylor (Andy
Griffith) and Frances Bavier (Aunt Bee).
I bemoan the fact that my 12-year-old son will never be asked the classic
question: Ginger or Mary Ann? And if so, he wont have
a clue what that means.
I cant conceive of going through life never having heard the tainted
wisdom of a sober Otis Campbell speaking from his jail cell before letting
himself out to go home after sleeping one off; or watching Sgt. Carter
blow his top at Gomer Pyle, only to end the 30-minute program showing
his big, soft heart; or laughing hysterically at the stupidity of one
of Jethros far-fetched plans, only to be put in place by the broom-spanking
Granny; or enjoying the wonderfully beguiling Eddie Haskell as he works
his magic on June Cleaver.
There will never be another Gilligan or Skipper or Gomer or Theodore Cleaver
or Barney Fife, the lovable goof with a heart of gold.
For many of us, expressions such as Gol-ley! and Shazam!
and Pyle, you knucklehead! and Shame, shame shame!
have been immortalized.
My son will never enjoy the corny yet witty banter between Batman and
Robin, the Boy Wonder, as they figure out the evil plan being waged against
them, only to result in Robins fist into hand, followed by his predictable
expression: Holy (fill in the blank), Batman! Who can forget
villains with names like the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler and Mr. Freeze?
Or the campy guest appearances by famous people who came to the window
of a high-rise building as the Caped Crusaders slowly ascended by rope
the outside wall on their way to a crime scene.
West (as Batman) and Burt
Ward (as Robin) starred in 120
episodes of TVs Batman from
1966-1968. The show was known
for its campy dialogue and many
guest appearances by celebrities.
As for Gilligans Island, each episode took us into
the quirky minds of the greedy Thurston Howell III and the lame-brained
Professor and the lovable Skipper.
It wasnt all fun and games, however. I can still see the young Opie
Taylor sitting on the porch with his Pa as they discuss the
show-ending life lesson of that particular Andy Griffith episode.
Or the poignant, final moments of Leave it to Beaver, where
all the loose ends have been tied up and Beaver and brother Wally share
that awkward yet endearing gee whizz moment where a lesson
Though long gone, these characters and their sidekicks will never be forgotten
for those of us who grew up in their fictional worlds. As I look back
now to those days of sitting in front of the TV each afternoon after school
it seemed to be a more innocent and simple childhood than growing up in
todays digital age. It was a time before our nations young
minds were consumed by the Internet, cell phones, TIVO and computer games
(with the exception of Pac Man, Pong and Donkey Kong!).
So thank you, Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen and Bob Denver and Eddie Albert
and Jim Nabors and Jerry Mathers and Ron Howard and Don Knotts and all
the rest for making my childhood memorable.
If only my children had it so good.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.