Peter Graves and Fess Parker - Tribute

By Monica Sullivan

When the “Mission Impossible” movie franchise was launched in 1996, I sat next to a guy who recognized what’s-his-name every single time he showed up in a disguise. But there were many more problems with the big screen series than that. Numero uno: “The real Mr. Phelps would never sell out” bumper stickers made their debut on the nation’s highway almost immediately. Damn right the real Mr. Phelps would never sell out. And that’s the reason Peter Graves was a trusted American treasure for sixty years, even when the screenwriters made it clear that some of the characters he played simply couldn’t be trusted.

Not too many people remember Mr. Briggs from Season 1 of “Mission Impossible”. With good reason! Steven Hill dissolved into the role so completely, he was practically invisible. In the first 27 episodes, viewers remembered Barney, Willie, Cinnamon and Rollin, but not Dan Briggs. And then in episode 28, “The Survivors”, the self-destructing tape said, “Good Morning Mr. Phelps” to Peter Graves on September 24, 1967 in San Francisco. Finally, the IMF had a leader worthy of his team. He was reassuringly familiar AND edgy so that he could convince Bad Guys he was just as bad as they were. There was a reason Billy Wilder cast him as a questionable character in “Stalag 17”.

Peter Graves was a big handsome guy who could play good guys and bad guys with ease. He could be serious or funny. He was my favorite “Biography” host, making everyone’s life seem riveting. And how many kids watching “Fury” week after week wished that he would adopt them? Because he did so many things, Peter Graves was often better than his material and kept us watching whether the movie was “Scream Of The Wolf” or “Airplane.”

We lost another beloved star this week when Fess Parker died at 85. Fess Parker’s resume was neither as long nor as varied as Peter Graves’ career. Even so, he was a hero for millions of five-year-old kids when Walt Disney cast him as Davy Crockett after watching his vivid performance in “Them!” The kids could have watched him play Davy forever, but the Alamo made that impossible. Disney cast Parker in a half dozen westerns and Parker later played another authentic hero, Daniel Boone on television. With his rich, chocolate malted voice and his likable easy going personality, Fess Parker was the perfect reluctant hero. Maybe the real guys were nothing like Fess Parker, but kids wanted to be just like him, not the stern-faced men in history books. Expect Disney to reinvent Davy Crockett for 5-year-olds of the 21st century.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 03/24/10
Movie Magazine International