Son of the wild frontier joins Memphis Film Festival

Fess Parker and young Darby Hinton in the TV series 'Daniel Boone.'

Fess Parker and young Darby Hinton in the TV series "Daniel Boone."

"Daniel Boone was a man/ Yes, a big man!/ With an eye like an eagle/ And as tall as a mountain was he!"

If you grew up in the 1960s or '70s (when reruns of the program were an afternoon staple), the theme to the NBC-TV adventure series "Daniel Boone" may be as instantly familiar as the National Anthem or the hits of the Beatles, even if you haven't heard the song in years or can't recite all the words.

Fess Parker and young Darby Hinton in the TV series 'Daniel Boone.'

Fess Parker and young Darby Hinton in the TV series "Daniel Boone."

Fess Parker — who died March 18 at 85 — was the title 18th-century historical American hero and Tennessee explorer, described in the song as the "rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man the frontier ever knew." Patricia Blair played Boone's wife; Ed Ames was Mingo, his Native American companion; and Darby Hinton was Israel Boone, Daniel's young son, who sometimes wore a coonskin cap like his daddy.

Now 52, Hinton is one of more than a dozen veteran TV and movie stars who will be in town next week for the Memphis Film Festival, which runs Thursday through June 5 at the Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center in Olive Branch, Miss.

"The first couple of years, Fess could pick me up by the belt and throw me over his shoulder," said Hinton, who experienced a major growth spurt during the program's run, from 1964 to 1970. "By the end of the series, he sure wasn't doing that."

Billed for the second year in a row as "A Gathering of Guns," the festival — now in its fourth decade — has returned to its roots by placing the emphasis on classic Westerns, although its celebrity guests also appeared in scores of crime, adventure, horror, science-fiction and comedy productions. Featured stars include James Stacy ("Lancer"), William Smith ("Laredo"), Will Hutchins ("Sugarfoot"), Robert Fuller ("Wagon Train") and Ty Hardin ("Bronco"), to name a few.

Making his first Memphis appearance is 6-foot-6 Clint Walker, 82, star of "The Dirty Dozen" and "Cheyenne," TV's first hourlong dramatic series, which ran from 1955 to 1963 on ABC. In part because of Walker's popularity, both the Whispering Woods hotel and the nearby Fairfield Inn are booked solid with out-of-town fans traveling here for the festival.

During the festival, the stars participate in panels, sign autographs and meet-and-greet fans. Memorabilia is on sale in a "dealers' room," and films, TV episodes and serials are shown in screening rooms. Other highlights include live radio-show recreations and a June 5 banquet.

A lifelong resident of California, Hinton also has been almost literally a lifelong entertainer. His father, actor Ed Hinton, was killed in an airplane crash when Darby was only 14 months old. By that time, Darby already was a professional, if not a star: He made his "acting" debut as a 6-month-old model in a TV commercial.

The Hintons were "big on the social scene" in Hollywood, Darby said. Darby's godfather was Charlton Heston, and Darby's mother, Marilynn Hinton, was co-founder with actress Jane Russell of WAIF, the World Adoption International Fund, a postwar agency that pioneered international adoption.

"Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn — these were my family's friends," said Darby, whose sisters, Daryn and Darcy, also had child acting careers. "We had a swimming pool in the middle of our living room... Life magazine took pictures."

Nevertheless, "My mom was very straightforward," Hinton said. When he started acting, "she told me, 'The minute you start thinking you're special or better than any other kid, I'm pulling your ass out of there.'"

Because "I never really knew my father, Fess was a great substitute father," Hinton said of Parker. "I was always close to Fess. He was just a genuine person."

Unlike some child stars, Hinton remained active in show business as he matured, acting in drive-in exploitation pictures (he appears in the bonus features of the new VCI Entertainment DVD release of 1978's "Hi-Riders," about drag racers) and TV episodes.

He said he's looking forward to the film festival. Unlike his fictional TV father, "I don't think I've ever made it to Tennessee."

Memphis Film Festival

Thursday through June 5, at the Whispering Woods Hotel and Conference Center, 11200 E. Goodman Road in Olive Branch.

Registration: $65 for the weekend, or $25 per day.

For a list of guests and events, visit memphisfilmfestival.com.

© 2010 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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