Tag Archives: entertainers

Fess Parker, Jr.

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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Posted by on June 4, 2020 in biography, entertainers, films


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Debbie Reynolds

Debbie (Mary Frances) Reynolds was born April 1, 1932 in El Paso, Texas to Raymond Francis and Maxine N. Harmon Reynolds.  Raymond had been born in 1903 in Whitewright, Grayson County, Texas.  His father was a rural school teacher in 1910.  By 1920, Raymond’s father was working in the Post Office and the family lived in Dallas.  As of 1930, Raymond and Maxine had married and were living with Maxine’s family in El Paso.  Raymond was working as a carpenter for a railroad company.  That same year, their eldest son William Owen Reynolds was born to Raymond and Maxine, followed by Mary Frances (likely named for Raymond’s sister) in 1932.  Raymond lost his job in Texas during the Depression.  Reynolds was not embarrassed by her humble upbringing.  She would say of their life in El Paso that her mother took in washing and that they always had plenty to eat, even if her father had to go out in the desert and shoot rabbits.  By 1940, the new family had moved to Burbank, California where Raymond was working as a “tinder man” for Southern Pacific.

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Posted by on April 16, 2020 in biography, entertainers, films


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Alvis Edgar “Buck” Owens, Jr.

Buck Owens was born Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. to Alvis Edgar and Macie Owens in Sherman, Texas in 1929.  He is said to have given himself the nickname of Buck after his favorite mule (alternately said to be a donkey or a horse in different accounts) when he was young.  His father, Alvis Edgar, Sr., was a sharecropping farmer in Grayson County, Texas.  In 1937, the family moved west to Arizona.  The family legend is that their trailer broke down near Phoenix, Arizona where they had other relatives, so they elected to settle there.  Similar to the stories of many other musical artists, Buck’s mother sang and played the piano at their home and in church.  Buck learned to play the guitar, mandolin and other instruments when he was a youth.  He dropped out of school at age thirteen to help the family survive and did all sorts of jobs to raise money.  As a young man, Buck began performing in honky-tonks to earn his living.  When he was about twenty, he married his first wife, the former Bonnie Campbell, a singer in a band both she and Buck played in called Mac and the Skillet Lickers.  Buck and Bonnie eventually moved to Bakersfield, California where Buck began to play around town and in the surrounding area. Buck and Bonnie would remain married for about five years.  He was married three more times.

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Posted by on January 16, 2020 in biography, entertainers, music


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Irene Ryan

The actress Irene Ryan was born Jesse Irene Noblitt on October 17, 1902 to James Merritt and Catherine J. McSharry Noblitt while her family was living in El Paso, Texas.  James was stationed at Fort Bliss and the family did not remain in Texas long, but El Paso has always claimed Irene.  The Noblitts lived off the base on Franklin Street near downtown.  Irene recounted that she was born at home.  James was a sergeant in the United States Army and soon after she was born, they moved to California.  Irene began entertaining when she was a teenager and recalled winning a talent contest when she was eleven years old.  When she was nineteen, she married actor Tim Ryan.  The couple appeared as Ryan and Noblette in vaudeville until that venue declined.  After this, the couple appeared on radio as Tim and Irene.  Ryan was a character actor who appeared in many films over the years, including From Here to Eternity (1953).  The couple was married for about 16 years, and had no children.  Ryan died in 1956 of a heart attack.

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Posted by on December 26, 2019 in biography, entertainers


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Jimmy Dean


(Image credit: Associated Press)

Jimmy Ray Dean was born August 10, 1928 to George Otto and Ruth Taylor Dean in Seth Ward, Hale, Texas which lies just outside of Plainview.  At that time, the family was to be operating a farm.  Ruth was Otto’s second wife, but by the time Jimmy was 11 or 12, Ruth was listed as a single parent, working as a seamstress out of her home in Seth Ward.  From that point on, the family consisted of Ruth, her sons Jimmy and Don.  Ruth later is said to have become a barber to support her family.  At an early age, Jimmy learned to play the piano, accordion, harmonica and guitar as he worked around the family farm.  He was active in the local Baptist church there in Seth Ward and attributed his interest in music to his mother and the music in church.

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Posted by on November 28, 2019 in biography, entertainers, music


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Ann Miller

Ann Miller was the stage name of Johnnie Lucille Collier, born April 12, 1923 in Chireno, Nacogdoches County, Texas.  Her father was John A. Collier, a criminal defense lawyer known for representing clients such as Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly and the Barrow Gang. Her mother was the former Clara Emma Birdwell.  As a young girl, Johnnie suffered from rickets and took dance classes to help strengthen her legs.  She also studied piano and violin.  The family moved to Houston, Texas where she lived until she was nine years old.  Eventually her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Los Angeles.

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Posted by on September 19, 2019 in biography, entertainers, texas women


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Freddy Fender


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Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Garcia Huerta in San Benito, Cameron County, Texas on June 4, 1937.  His parents were Serapio and Margarita Garcia Huerta, who were migrant farm workers.  Huerta was the oldest of four children and was raised around music, including lively “conjunto,” a traditional style of music that includes a blend of Tejano and references to German polka, including the use of an accordion.  He performed as early as the age of ten on a Harlingen, Texas radio station.  He dropped out of high school and lied about his age to join the United States Marine Corps.  He served from 1954 to 1956.  Huerta married in 1957 as he began to perform as “El Be-Bop Kid” and other stage names, doing covers of popular American hits of artists like Elvis Presley but singing them in Spanish.  He and his wife Evangelina had five children.  They divorced and remarried at one point, but otherwise were married for about forty-five years.

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Posted by on July 11, 2019 in biography, entertainers, hispanic heritage, music


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