When veteran actor Leslie Nielsen passed away last weekend, most tributes focused on his later career in a series of spoofs and slapstick comedies. Some mentioned his earlier career as a dramatic actor and leading man, but none that I saw covered his connection to Walt Disney. My first thought upon hearing the news was of The Swamp Fox, the eight-part serial that aired on the Disney anthology television program between 1959 and 1961. Having grown up in the age of Airplane! and The Naked Gun, it was surreal to discover that Nielsen had once portrayed the very serious Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion – and even crooned a bit on the theme song!
Any rundown of Nielsen’s career that I could provide would pale in comparison to the story by Jeff Kurtti on the Walt Disney Family Museum’s Storyboard blog. Kurtti covers not only Nielsen but also the other Frontierland heroes that Disney filmed in an attempt to re-capture the Davy Crockett magic. I encourage you all to check it out and to leave a comment – we could use more scholarship about this era in the Disney canon.
For those of you who have missed out over the years, some of Nielsen’s Tory-fighting antics can be found on YouTube.