Question: Whose sidekick was Mingo (Ed Ames)? Lynne E., Florence, Ore.
Televisionary: The erudite Native American Mingo, who was Harvard educated, was sidekick to Daniel Boone (Fess Parker) for all but the last two years of the show's 1964-70 run on NBC, Lynne. And if Ames had had his way, it would've been shorter.
You see, the actor and vocalist, who first made his name as part of the singing Ames Brothers, reluctantly signed onto the show because it was a steady gig. After first cutting his acting teeth on stage in such shows as The Crucible, The Fantasticks and Carnival and then opposite Kirk Douglas in the play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the actor was ready for some reliable pay. "You're an actor, so you act," he explained to TV Guide in 1968. "Work is tight and if you get a decent part on Broadway every three years, you're lucky. Whereas you can just keep hackin' 'em out week after week on TV. And then, of course, you have to eat."
In line with that thinking, Ames signed a five-year contract with the show despite not wanting to be typecast as an Indian (he was Chief Bromden in Cuckoo's Nest and guested as an Indian on the short-lived NBC western Redigo), figuring Boone would be off the air in a year. Wrong. It was a hit and soon Ames found his TV work getting in the way of his burgeoning singing career (he had hits with such tunes as "Try to Remember" and "My Cup Runneth Over" and saw 10 albums sell quite well by '68). And his quarrels with Parker, who reportedly wasn't happy that his co-star received more fan mail than he did and is said to have actually pushed for a Mingo spin-off to get Ames off the series, didn't make showing up for work anymore pleasant.
Thing was, even Ames's screw-ups seemed only to make him and his character all the more popular. Take the time he appeared on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1965 and gave a demonstration in tomahawk throwing. In rehearsal, he nailed a wooden cowboy dead in the heart with every throw. But on the air, he nailed it dead in the... well, somewhat lower. "Everyone completely broke up laughing," Ames recalled. "I still can't get anyone to believe I didn't miss purposely."
Because such moments were the only fun he had working on Boone, however, he was only too happy to leave. And Parker, who was a producer as well as the lead, shed few tears over his departure. "I'm glad to see him succeed," Parker said. "Wherever he goes, he'll automatically be doing public relations for the Boone show. Whenever he throws a tomahawk, it helps us."
If that sounds more like the cold calculation of a businessman than an actor, it's because Parker was both. After starring for four years as Disney's Davy Crockett and watching the country's kids go nuts for coonskin caps, the show's theme song and a host of other merchandise, Parker had a tough time getting work again before he came up with portraying the real-life Boone as a way to grab some of the frontier loot for himself. Never mind that the real Boone wore a black felt hat and lived about 50 years before Crockett; Parker and company happily sacrificed reality for ratings, creating a near-carbon copy of Crockett, and it worked.
Of course, one can't blame Parker for a lack of authenticity even though it got to the point where the Kentucky legislature passed a resolution condemning the show's inaccuracies and a coalition of Indian activist groups convinced their area affiliate not to rerun 37 episodes they deemed particularly offensive to their people. The audience mostly young kids didn't really know the difference and didn't care. Besides, even the smallest attempts at accuracy could sometimes fall flat literally. The set's fort, for example, was first built using authentic wooden pegs. After it collapsed, modern-day technology was employed and it was nailed back together.
Parker was 6' 5" and had dark hair while Boone was 5' 10" and was a carrot top. The real Boone never encountered Inca Indians, as his TV counterpart did. He was never introduced as Mr. Boone from Boonesboro, Owsley County, as he was in the show, because Boonesboro is in Madison County and Owsley didn't even exist while he was alive. None of that mattered.
The only accuracy that counted to Parker was that Boone made a fortune in real estate, lost it, went into debt, and then built up another pile of money before dying at the age of 85. After tasting success with Crockett, struggling to find work in contemporary roles and then creating his own frontier hit and putting together a respectable real-estate portfolio of his own, Parker was only too happy to make sure that part of the story remained true to life.