Special Comment: Remembering Fess Parker
[Editor’s note: Business Times Editor and Chairman Henry Dubroff takes a moment to remember Fess Parker business owner to business owner.]
I’ve always felt there was a special bond between Fess Parker, the Pacific Coast Business Times and the pioneering spirit of entrepreneurship that’s a hallmark of this region.
The man who played Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone parlayed his fame into a valuable business brand. He helped build Santa Barbara County’s wine industry.
He fought sometimes bitter fights with the city of Santa Barbara to build his Red Lion, now the DoubleTree Resort across the street from East Beach.
He engaged in a financial tug-of-war with some of the biggest Wall Street moguls, who became his partners in the resort. And he showed tremendous tenacity in hanging on for more than a decade to get a permit to build the luxury boutique hotel that remains an unfulfilled part of his dream.
I’m honored that the last time Fess gave a major public address in Santa Barbara was in August 2007, when he gave the keynote speech at our Spirit of Small Business awards luncheon.
He was inspiring, terrific and gracious. And he pulled no punches. He described how Disney canceled his Davey Crockett show and how he had to sue Fox to get his share of profits from Daniel Boone.
He reminded the crowd that he brought in Red Lion as his financial partner at the DoubleTree Resort and that subsequent transactions brought that ownership stake, now part of Hilton, into the hands of Henry Kravis at KKR and later Blackstone Group.
Fess left Hollywood and television with a big name but not much money by today’s standards. He learned all the hard lessons of running a business on the way to success — and success is not easy to achieve in Santa Barbara.
But he was not a hard man — and he was an easy guy to like. I learned later that he was fond of giving young people a chance, providing a job as a bellman to the son of a family friend.
He inspired tremendous loyalty among his employees, who stuck by him through the name changes and rebranding efforts.
And he had a great sense of humor. At that Spirit of Small Business lunch, Director of Catering Cathy Ackley, Executive Chef Kirk DeLong and I dreamed up a dessert called “Chocolate Ganache Coon-Skin Cap.” It was a small cheesecake with a tail made of mousse that looked very much like his trademark headwear from Davy Crockett. We presented it to Fess after his talk with a single candle on top.
He blew out the candle with gusto. It was his 83rd birthday.