A reader this week reminded me of something that I may have known, but had forgotten — that long before he was the funniest deadpan comic actor in America, Leslie Nielsen was … “The Swamp Fox” on TV. She wrote:
I occasionally post on your blog as Abba. Would you consider posting this clip from YouTube showing Leslie Nielsen, who died this week, as South Carolina’s Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, in Disney’s series from the early 1960s – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vvQJ7ZDg1Y. Here’s a longer version – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVGN1pDzYAY&feature=related. Leslie Nielsen never looked so good! This clip has the catchy theme song that I remember so well from my childhood. We used to play the Swamp Fox on the playground at school, and many of the boys in my class had tri-cornered hats with fox tails attached. Hear the song once, and you’ll be humming it all day long! A fitting tribute to Leslie Nielsen from our corner of the world, I think.
I loved that show, which ran from October 23, 1959 (right after my 6th birthday) to January 15, 1961 — hardly more than a year.
Like the far, far more successful “Davy Crockett” series and generally forgotten “Gray Ghost,” these shows inspired me and other very young kids to run out and play at being actual figures from history. (Anyone remember that goofy, overly elaborate way Col. Mosby saluted? I thought it was cool, and used to go around imitating it. Wouldn’t you like to see video of that?)
Actually, to take that a bit farther… to this day, whenever I hear the words “Tory” and “Patriot,” I think of first hearing them used on “The Swamp Fox.” So while my understanding of the term was to grow and expand later, I actually had a minimal working knowledge of what a “Tory” was at the age of 6. If I ran into a 6-year-old who used a term like that today, I’d be shocked. But it was common currency among fans of “The Swamp Fox.”
I can also remember a conversation I had with my uncle about “The Gray Ghost.” I was confused about the whole blue-vs.-gray thing (especially since I was watching it in black-and-white), and I asked him during one show, “Are those the good guys or the bad guys?” My uncle, who was only a kid himself (six years older than I) could have given me a simplistic answer, but instead, he said, “Well, they’re both Americans…” and went on to suggest that a case could be made for both being good guys. That sort of rocked my world. There was no such ambiguity on the Westerns I watched. This was my introduction to the concept that in war, in politics, in life, things can be complicated, that there are many shades of gray. Perhaps the track that set mind on has something to do with why I don’t buy into the whole Democrat-vs.-Republican, left-vs.-right dichotomy that drives our politics. After all, they’re all Americans. And in the wider world, they’re all humans. Even the Nazis. (Of course, this doesn’t keep me from understanding that when humans’ actions go beyond the pale — as with Nazis, or terrorists — they must be opposed, with force if necessary.)
Also, while at first I didn’t think I remembered the “Swamp Fox” theme song, as I listened to it repeated over and over on that clip above, I had a dim memory of being struck by the odd syntax of that second line, “no one knows where the Swamp Fox at” — I didn’t know WHY it sounded odd (I was just learning to read, and hadn’t gotten to grammar yet), it just did.
In other words, these shows — which presented very simplistic, often inaccurate glimpses of history — not only helped feed a lifelong interest in history, but helped foster the ability to think.
So… TV doesn’t actually have to be junk, although it’s often hard to remember that these days.