all began, in 1954, during the days after December 15-22,
when ABC aired a Disney program called "Davy Crockett, Indian
Fighter." This was the first of a three-part series, filmed
for the companys Disneyland anthology (Disneyland was
divided into stories intended to fit four themes: Fantasyland,
Tomorrowland, Adventureland and Frontierland).
the time "Davy Crockett, Goes to Congress" was broadcast
on dates from January 13-31 in 1955 Disneys slice
of Frontierland had set off a national craze.
series final episode ("Davy Crockett, At the Alamo")
aired the week of February 23-28, 1955. By then, "Crockett
mania" had caught both Disney and the country by surprise.
In one day, recalled the art director of Disneys Character
Merchandising Division, "we received 200 calls
so busy the phones finally had to be taken off the hook!"
the next three months, Disneys Merchandising Division
would be working 14-hour days, sometimes seven days a week
just to keep up with demands for Crockett merchandise.
These demands, in fact, have never yet been equaled:
May, 1955, Time estimated that in the first three months of
the craze alone, over $100,000,000 of Crockett merchandise
was sold. When it was over, an astronomical $300,000,000 in
Crockett commodities had been sold. Divide that by the thirty
million consumers in the 5-14 age group, and that works out
to $10 per kid.
$300,000,000 (over $1.8 billion in 1996 dollars!!) was even
more staggering when compared to other crazes of the period.
The previous Hopalong Cassidy craze in 1950 and 1951, did
a grand total of only about $1,000,000 in merchandise sales
a year. The Zorro craze created by Disneys 1958-1959
TV series of the same name, did slightly over $20,000,000
in merchandise sales."
Crockett craze was "the greatest merchandising sweep for any
national craze, before or after." Even in 1990, well after
Star Wars, Entertainment Weekly still marveled
at its breadth in a piece they headlined "The Biggest,
mania was, by its nature, "rich in symbols," foremost among
which was the ubiquitous coonskin cap. The caps provided kids
with a cornerstone of kinship to "Davy." "Raccoon tails, which
before the craze were selling for 25¢ a pound rose to $5 per
pound by May 1955.
price continued to rise as the demand increased and raccoon
pelts became scarce. When raccoon pelts became virtually nonexistent,
other animals were recruited."
man who had those animals (or, at least, their pelts) was
none other than J. B. Simpson. Within months of the Crockett
craze, he devoted his Bell and Western
building to outfitting Americas Davys. "Seattles
Arctic Fur Company," reported Time Magazine, "which has been
shrewdly buying up wolf pelts for years, is producing 5,000
ersatz coonskin hats daily." In some stores, the magazine
noted, Davy Crockett garb accounted for 10% of all childrens
the summer of 1955, the coonskin cap was all-important. Its
were spurred by Davy Crockett gear of every type:
in Los Angeles and Dallas have set up Crockett clubs, marked
off special Davy Crockett sections where youngsters can find
everything from a Davy Crockett peace pipe (98¢) to a complete
Davy Crockett outfit with rifle, powder horn, cap, etc. ($7.98);
a Davy Crockett guitar costs $4.98 extra. Denvers May
Co. advertises a Davy Crockett bath towel, with this pitch
to mothers: Your bathtime struggles are over
Theyll run to use Davy Crockett towels."
one Detroit retail buyer solemnly told Time, "Davy Crockett
is bigger even than Mickey Mouse."
Simpson ran his "coonskin factory" at Bell and Western, Crockett
mania swept Seattle along with the rest of the nation. Allusions
to Davy peppered every part of life.
advertised the "Chance to Win a Davy Crockett Log Cabin Playhouse";
the pioneers real-life grandson (a 55 year old accountant
in Dallas) told local paper readers how the craze had changed
his life and, in Spokane, an Indian "known as Davy Crockett"
was profiled in detail. Even in an article on suburbanites
the subjects were classed as "kings of a new frontier" ("Brave
Suburbanites Are Todays Davy Crocketts").
the most contentious local tie arose via an enterprising Ballard
cinema owner, Hall Baetz. Baetz remembered seeing an Edward
Small film about Crockett; it had been made five years earlier.
Characterized in the local press as having "unusual success
with a series of art pictures
and wholesome programs
for children," Baetz claimed to be "working closely with PTA
groups in scheduling childrens fare."
fact, he located a print of Smalls Davy Crockett,
Indian Scout from a distributor based in Utah. He then
shopped it round to a set of local theaters: The Burien, The
American, The Ridgemont and the Sno-King Drive-In. All agreed,
with The Ballard, to form "a temporary Davy Crockett circuit."
It enabled them to cash in on the forthcoming Disney film,
prints of which would not reach Seattle for weeks.
Disney film, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier
was composed of the earlier television episodes. Although
it had been seen before, King would still gross
Disney $2.5 million.
action of Baetz and his compatriots sparked a huge controversy
in Seattle. Seattle Times critic Louis R. Guzzo discreetly
avoided taking sides. But other theater folk, like William
H. Thedford (president of Evergreen Theaters), and Fred Danz
(executive vice president of Sterling Theaters) were emphatically
damning. They called the five year-old film "ancient," and
claimed screening it "hurts the exhibitor."
Baetz, like Simpson, saw the bigger picture.