Fess Elisha Parker, Jr. was born on August 16, 1924 in Fort Worth, Texas to Fess Parker, Sr. and Mackie Allen Parker. His father had been born in California, but his mother was born in Texas. His paternal grandparents Otis L. and Cora Lightfoot Parker had been a farming family in Comanche County, Texas and both are buried there. Fess grew up in San Angelo and was a multi sport athlete there. He graduated from San Angelo High School in 1939 and did a hitch in the United States Navy before coming back to Texas and enrolling at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene in 1943.
He was tall compared to most men of his age, being six feet, six inches in height. Some accounts say he played football at Hardin-Simmons, but his personal interviews imply that he may not have played football, or if he did, it was not for very long, due to an assault he suffered after a road rage incident. The car he was driving was bumped from behind by an individual previously unknown to him. Parker confronted the person and was slashed with a knife by the individual, though he recovered. However, Parker is known to have played basketball at Hardin-Simmons under Coach Wes Bradshaw, and Fess Parker is mentioned in several newspaper articles when the Cowboys’ basketball games were written up. Coach Bradshaw, by the way, was a survivor of the terrible 1927 accident in Round Rock, when ten players (Baylor’s “Immortal Ten”) were killed when their bus was hit by a railroad train.
An early mention of Parker at Hardin-Simmons is found in the April 11, 1943 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News in which an annual event known as Junior Jubilee was reported. The article reported that Jamie Stotler, Frances White and Fess Parker performed in a dramatization of “Frankie and Johnnie.” In 1947, Parker left Hardin-Simmons and transferred to University of Texas initially to pursue a law degree, but there his life took yet another turn. After completing his undergraduate degree at University of Texas, he moved to California where he enrolled at University of Southern California to pursue a degree in drama.
(Image believed to be in the public domain)
By 1950, he is noted as having played an uncredited voice role in his first film, “Harvey.” Parker continued to appear in film and television roles until he was signed by Disney Studios to play Davy Crockett in the studio’s rotating series called “The Magical World of Disney.” Seven episodes aired over a period of about two years (1954-1956). His distictive voice and good looks served him well as an actor. Parker continued to work in television and film, including the 1957 drama “Old Yeller,” another Disney production, starring Parker, Dorothy McGuire, Chuck Connors, Tommy Kirk and others. He starred in 1962 and 1963 as Sen. Eugene Smith in the television series based on the film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” His next long-running engagement was to play Daniel Boone from 1964-1970. Over the years, Parker became a well recognized personality. The Daniel Boone series aired a total of 165 episodes and was a financial success for Parker. He appeared in two more television productions before essentially retiring from television and film to pursue business interests.
Parker and his family owned hotels, other real estate and operated a winery for many years. He was a close friend of actor turned politician Ronald Reagan. Parker is said to have briefly considered getting involved in politics in the 1960s, but ultimately decided against it.
Fess had been married for fifty years to his wife Marcella Rinehart Parker when he died at the age of 85 in 2010. Marcella survived him along with their two children, until her death in 2019. Both are buried in the Santa Barbara Cemetery.
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