Interview: Darby Hinton of ‘Daniel Boone’

Posted on November 17, 2008 at 8:00 am

Darby Hinton played Israel, the son of Daniel Boone on the classic 1960’s television series starring Fess Parker. From the moment he got on the phone to talk with me about the series and its new release on DVD he made me feel like we were old friends.

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I’m so excited to talk to you! When I told my husband I’d be interviewing you, we both started singing that Daniel Boone theme song!

Did you remember all the words?

Well, maybe not all of them!

You know, when we all got together in honor of the DVD release, we couldn’t get it straight between us.

That makes me feel better! How did you originally get the part?

I got it on kind of a fluke. I thought I was going on an interview for “The Sound of Music. At that time the youngest one was supposed to be a boy so I was dressed in lederhosen. My mother was driving me to the audition and she was always late to everything. She dropped me off to find a parking spot and I went into the building and got into the first line of kids I saw. I went in and met with the producer and everybody and came out of the interview. My mom said, “You were supposed to be upstairs!” and I said, “But whatever that is, I just got it.” I started out as Nathan Boone for the pilot with an older brother, but by the time the show began it was just one son named Israel, and that was me.

I always wanted to be Veronica Cartwright.

It was fun to reconnect with her.

And with Fess Parker, too, I imagine.

I stayed close to Fess Parker. We had a great couple of hours, shooting a documentary on the real Daniel Boone, in the places he really was. It was so much fun to sit down and talk with him, talking about america’s first legend with a current legend. It was a magical moment. And Ed Ames’ voice is still so magical.

Did you have a favorite episode?

A lot of them! I always loved animals, so it was always fun to work with the animals for the show. My mom was an only child with strict German parents so she wanted us to have the pets she did not have. I had my own raccoon, foxes, and snakes, even a wild boar! There was the episode where Israel fell in love and had his first screen kiss. The first time we shot it they said Israel shouldn’t kiss that well so we had to reshoot. A little frontier boy wasn’t supposed to be that well-versed.

Did you know the other television child stars of that era?

I was one of four kids from TV that Art Linkletter brought to Washington, DC for a show called “A Kid’s Eye View of Washington.” We had tours of everything, the Smithsonian, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where I got to shred a million dollars worth of bills. We got to meet Nixon and see the Hope Diamond. Maureen McCormick from “The Brady Bunch” was one of the other kids, but I didn’t rate a mention in her new book!

What television shows did you like when you were a kid?

“To Catch a Thief” — there was nobody cooler, nobody more suave with the ladies than Al Mundy. I once crept onto the set and saw Robert Wagner tied up with his arms around the beautiful girl. He looked over at me and said, “Hey kid, do they treat you this good on your set?” It meant the world that he knew who I was. I also loved “The Wild Wild West.”

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Still Leaving it to Beaver

Posted on November 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

The Washington Post has a poignant tribute to Leave It to Beaver from a man who found his favorite childhood show unexpectedly comforting when he was struggling with serious illness.

“Leave It to Beaver” rejuvenates me. I need its gentle tone and mild-manneredness, its absence of deep drama and complicated characters, and its simple, predictable, formulaic story lines, in which nothing seems to have lasting consequence. And I need Beaver’s innocence, his youthful ability to trust and believe completely, his state of confused wonderment (“Gee whiz, Dad, has it always been hard on kids being kids?”), and his wholly natural, small-boy approach to life. When my cancer refuses to slow down for sentiment, “Beaver” helps me feel embraced by life, not tossed around by it….

It’s easy to lose one’s perspective in the suffocating web of cancer. I don’t know if watching “Leave It to Beaver” is pathetic or liberating. But for now, I’ve put my faith in the idea that these stories from my childhood — realistic or not — possess the kind of redemptive power referred to by William Maxwell. “Stories,” he wrote, “can save us.” Such is the reality; such is the hope.

Appreciation for one of “Beaver’s” stars comes from an even more surprising place. The Louvre, with one of the world’s great art collections, the place that houses the Mona Lisa, will show a sculpture from Tony Dow, who played Beaver’s older brother, Wally.

“Of course, I’m really proud of ‘Leave It to Beaver’ and my directing career in television,” said Dow. “Those are great accomplishments. I’m really proud of them, but this is interesting because I don’t think they know anything about that at the Louvre.”

Still, I suspect Dow and his fellow castmates will be most fondly remembered for their 1950’s television show. It does hold up remarkably well, not just for the way it evokes a more innocent time, but because it evokes the worldview of a child. Sweet but not sugary, it is a family classic.

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The FCC, the Supreme Court, and the F- and S-Words

Posted on November 4, 2008 at 8:00 am

As we go to the polls today, honoring our Constitution’s fundamental principles of representative democracy, another key element of Constitutional system of checks and balances is also at work. And it may include consideration of yet another key founding principle of the United States, the right of freedom of speech and the press under the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
Today the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations. The FCC, an independent agency of the federal government, will argue that it has the authority to ban “fleeting” expletives after the FCC issued warnings to broadcasters after celebrities used certain terms in live broadcasts.
The case is not strictly speaking a First Amendment case. As legal challenges often do, it relates more specifically to the procedures followed by the FCC in determining their policy on the words at issue. And as always happens with high-profile Supreme Court cases, there have been many filings by “amici” (“friends of the court”) — advocacy groups, television producers, even the pediatrician’s trade association — all expressing their views about who should decide what is appropriate, when they should decide it, and how the decision should be implemented. A group of former FCC Commissioners and staff wrote that while they were “not without sympathy” for the the FCC’s views on obscenity, they were concerned about:
decisions that have transformed a hitherto moderate policy of policing only the most extreme cases of indecent broadcast programming into a campaign of regulatory surveillance that will chill the production of all but the blandest of broadcast programming.
The words at issue raise an interesting problem in the arguments before the Court, where lawsuits are always argued with decorum and formality. According to the Supreme Court blog SCOTUS:
Unless Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., intervenes, some of the argument in the Supreme Court chamber next Tuesday morning may sound at times like a typical conversation in a seventh grade boys’ restroom — the uninhibited use of four-letter words.
And, if Roberts allows it, such a display of blue language will be heard on TV and radio — in the middle part of the day — across America, and may be read the next morning in many newspapers. But, apparently, not in every news outlet.
The Court may very well rule that the FCC may not interfere with the “fleeting” use of these words on the air. And they may do so without using the words themselves, as they did in the famous case where they upheld the use of the f-word in a political protest. They noted that the word could be considered indispensable to make exactly the objection that the protester wanted to without saying what the word was.
According to the book, The Brethren, Burger approached Justice John M. Harlan, the opinion’s author, and said: “John, you’re not going to use ‘that word’ in delivering the opinion are you? It would be the end of the Court if you use it, John.” And Harlan did not. It was included, though, in the Court’s opinion finding that Cohen’s First Amendment rights had been violated. Justice Harlan described Cohen’s message as one involving a “scurrilous epithet,” but he also wrote: “While the particular four-letter word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.”
What should the policy be about the language used on broadcast television? There are no restrictions on the language used on cable programs. The last time the Court ruled on this issue it made a distinction based on the unique availability of broadcast television and radio for children. But in a world of internet, podcasts, and DVDs (not to mention schoolyards, shopping malls, and newspaper articles), that distinction no longer applies. I look forward to reports on the arguments and to the Court’s decision.

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When Television Changed Politics: Stevenson/Eisenhower

Posted on October 15, 2008 at 11:15 pm

NPR has a great series about political firsts, including the first woman candidate for President (Victoria Woodhull, who ran in 1872, 48 years before women got the vote) and the impact of television on political campaigns in 1952, when Adlai Stevenson ran an old-school race based on speeches and Eisenhower ran television ads designed by the man who created M&M commercials. Listen for my dad, Newton Minow, recalling his experiences in the Stevenson campaign.

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Religion on ‘The Simpsons’

Posted on October 9, 2008 at 10:22 am

Be sure to check out this terrific Beliefnet gallery from Mark I. Pinsky on the best Simpsons episodes about religions. It includes “Like Father, Like Clown” (written with the help of three rabbis, about Krusty the Clown’s exploration of his Jewish identity), “She of Little Faith,” where Lisa explores Buddhism with Richard Gere, and “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star,” with Liam Neeson as a priest.
I loved the brief scene in The Simpsons Movie when it looked like the world was ending and everyone from the church ran into a bar just as everyone in the bar ran into the church. Simpsons episodes have explored everything from end of days speculation to Genesis. And of course recurring character Ned Flanders is a gently joking — but ultimately respectful — portrayal of sincere faith and the kindness it inspires.

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