1 9 6 4 – 1 9 7 0 (USA)
165 x 60 minute episodes
The exploits of Kentucky frontiersman Daniel Boone were the crux of this NBC western drama series that ran for six years.
The series starred Fess Parker as ‘Dan’l’ and Ed Ames as his Native American (and Harvard educated) sidekick Mingo for all but the last two years of the show’s run.
After starring for four years as Disney’s Davy Crockett and watching the country’s kids go nuts for coonskin caps, the show’s theme song and a host of other merchandise, Parker had a tough time getting work again before he came up with portraying the real-life Boone as a way to grab some of the frontier loot for himself.
Never mind that the real Boone wore a black felt hat and lived about 50 years before Crockett; Parker and company happily sacrificed reality for ratings, creating a near-carbon copy of Crockett, and it worked.
Parker was 6′ 5″ and had dark hair while Boone was 5′ 10″ and was a carrot top. The real Boone never encountered Inca Indians, as his TV counterpart did.
He was never introduced as Mr Boone from Boonesboro, Owsley County (as he was in the show) because Boonesboro is in Madison County and Owsley didn’t even exist while he was alive.
But none of that mattered. While the lack of authenticity resulted in the Kentucky legislature passing a resolution condemning the show’s inaccuracies – and a coalition of Indian activist groups convincing their area affiliate not to rerun 37 episodes they deemed particularly offensive to their people – the audience of mostly young kids didn’t really know the difference and didn’t care.
Besides, even the smallest attempts at accuracy could sometimes fall flat – literally. The set’s fort, for example, was first built using authentic wooden pegs. After it collapsed, modern-day technology was employed and it was nailed back together.
Ed Ames, who first made his name as part of the singing Ames Brothers, reluctantly signed onto the show because it was a steady gig. After first cutting his acting teeth on stage in such shows as The Crucible, The Fantasticks and Carnival and then opposite Kirk Douglas as Chief Bromden in the play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the actor was ready for some reliable pay.
“You’re an actor, so you act,” he explained to TV Guide in 1968. “Work is tight and if you get a decent part on Broadway every three years, you’re lucky. Whereas you can just keep hackin’ ’em out week after week on TV. And then, of course, you have to eat.”
In line with that thinking, Ames signed a five-year contract with the show figuring Boone would be off the air in a year. Wrong. It was a hit and soon Ames found his TV work getting in the way of his singing career – He had hits with such tunes as Try to Remember and My Cup Runneth Over.
And his quarrels with Parker, who reportedly wasn’t happy that his co-star received more fan mail than he did and is said to have actually pushed for a Mingo spin-off to get Ames off the series, didn’t make showing up for work anymore pleasant.
The executive producer was Aaron Spelling, and the theme tune was performed by The Imperials.
Fess Parker passed away on 18 March 2010 at his home in Santa Ynez, California.
Ed Ames appeared on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1965 to give a demonstration in tomahawk throwing. In rehearsal, he nailed a wooden cowboy dead in the heart with every throw. But on the air, he nailed it in the genital area.
“Everyone completely broke up laughing,” Ames recalled. “I still can’t get anyone to believe I didn’t miss purposely.”