The older, we mean the more mature we get, the more often we read the obituaries in the paper and online.
What we read Thursday reminded us of one wonderful evening in 2004, when we had several hours of great food and wine, good songs and stories with, can you believe it, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
These movie and TV frontiersmen entertained us with stories of the old days, good and bad. And we discussed some of the great wines grown just down the road from where we sat, in a small village in the Santa Ynez Valley of California.
Boone and Crockett were present, thanks to our host for the evening, Fess Parker, the actor who brought those historic heroes to life on TV and in the movies. The setting was the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa in Los Olivos, the heart of Santa Barbara County wine country.
Parker was 75 then, an imposing figure, with great gray hear, standing 6’ 6”, gregarious, greeting guests as instant friends. He and his wife Marcella lived in a rambling home in the hills.
When we arrived at the nearby inn, the manager told us as we checked in that if we were coming down for drinks and dinner, “Please meet at six in the lounge. Mr. and Mrs. Parker would like you to join them.”
“Are you kidding me?” we whispered. Chris and her sister Robin squealed a bit. “Fess Parker and his wife want us to join them?”
And they did. He arrived first, explaining that “Marcella will be right along.” He asked about our families and home towns while a server poured some fine wine from his winery not far away. We asked about how he got from Hollywood to the Central Coast wine country.
He said he had bought a bit of land here and there with money he’d earned in the movies. A “bit” meant several thousand acres, including land where his winery stands and the location of the inn and then some.
We knew his wines were highly regarded but we didn’t know that this fine fellow really knew about wines and wineries. He confided with pride that his grown children, Eli and Ashley mostly ran the wines, but he had brought the business to life.
Before his wine prowess developed, Fess Parker himself had a very good year, 1954, after about three years as a professional actor. Walt Disney discovered him and gave him the title role in Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. When he mentioned that, we had to stifle the impulse to break out into that song from our youth.
Luckily Mrs. Parker arrived and sat casually at a grand piano as her husband beamed with pride. We learned that he and Marcella had met at a swimming pool in a Hollywood hotel. She was a torch singer in lounges and clubs — and a good one. They married in 1960.
As we drank their wine, Mr. Parker prompted her with song titles so she played and sang standards and other oldies. She enjoyed it; Mr. Parker loved it, and we pinched ourselves.
We lost track of time as the wine flowed and the music morphed into more tales of their storied lives.
We asked what may have been silly questions, but unavoidable to big fans in the presence of a guy in movies we loved while growing up.
“Do you still have the frontier costumes from the films?”
He said he was donating the famous duds to the Smithsonian Institution, the coonskin cap, plus the entire Daniel Boone costume.
Later we learned that someone, perhaps a reporter, had asked Mr. Parker whether the cap was the Crockett hat or the Boone cap? Do they look the same?”
“Exactly,” responded Mr. Parker with a grin.
As we enjoyed the time sitting near the piano, listening to Mrs. Parker finishing a song, her husband stood and took the microphone.
“Here’s a song I like,” he said, as a family friend sat at the keyboard to accompany him.
In the voice from movies that kids of ages remember, Fess Parker sang the song in a way that would have made Louis Armstrong proud:
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.”
I hear babies cryin’, I watch them grow.
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world. Oh yeah.
Thank you, Fess Parker, rest in peace.
Fess Parker, 85, died Thursday at his home near Santa Barbara, Calif., where he had been a successful winemaker and real estate developer. The cause of death was not reported.