As child he played Daniel Boone’s son on TV, now he’s following Boone’s trail
By Mark Wineka
Darby Hinton starts at the top of the Rowan County Courthouse steps with the camera following him down as he walks to the front sidewalk talking about Daniel Boone.
Yes, that Daniel Boone.
Hinton is serving as host for a history and travel documentary on Boone and all the places his life touched in North Carolina, including Salisbury.
It’s a reconnection of sorts for Hinton. From 1964 to 1970, he played the role of Israel Boone, the precocious son of Daniel Boone, in the popular “Daniel Boone” television series on NBC.
What Hinton learned of Boone as a kid came through fanciful scripts ó hourlong episodes which took great liberties with Boone’s life.
To Hinton, Daniel Boone was coonskin-cap-wearing actor Fess Parker, whose story was told through a supporting cast of Patricia Blair as Daniel’s lovely wife, Rebecca; Ed Ames, the Oxford-educated half-breed Mingo; and former professional football player Roosevelt Grier, who played Gabe Cooper.
But through his readings, research, explorations and interviews on this low-key documentary, Hinton has come to appreciate how complicated and important Daniel Boone was compared to the version he lived with for six years on a Malibu, Calif., set.
In the brief segment in front of the courthouse, Hinton speaks of how the real Daniel Boone was familiar with both sides of the law in Salisbury. Boone and his father, Squire, served as magistrates in frontier Salisbury in pre-Revolutionary War time.
But in his courthouse takes, Hinton also tells of Salisbury contemporaries who described Daniel Boone as “not a thrifty man.”
Boone was slow to pay the people he owed and held the dubious honor of probably being sued more times than anyone else in the area, Hinton told the camera. Even his own defense lawyer, Richard Henderson, would sue Boone from time to time for not paying him.
” ‘Daniel Boone is not a thrifty man?’ ” Hinton laughed during a break. “How dare you say that about my pa!”
Relaxing later at the Rowan Museum, Hinton said the things he has come to know at age 51 about the real Daniel Boone actually enhance the backwoodsman’s legend, instead of hurting it.
Go TV Production of Wilmington is putting together the documentary, which producer Gail Calloway, a Rowan County native, hopes to have finished in December. Three different Boone segments are being filmed ó one in North Carolina, one in Kentucky and a combination Pennsylvania (where he was born) and Missouri (where he died).
Hinton, Calloway and their crew spent several days last week in Davie, Davidson and Rowan counties. Among other things, Hinton explored Boone’s Cave and steered a canoe on the Yadkin River Thursday.
On Saturday, he interviewed author Robert Morgan, who wrote a definitive book on Boone in 2007 titled “Boone: A Biography.”
The production crew also attended the Boone Festival in Boone this weekend.
In Salisbury Friday, the visitors made stops at Rowan Public Library’s History Room, which includes important Boone documents, and Rowan Museum, which also has artifacts from Boone’s time.
The Boone Trail plaque on the Square describes how Richard Henderson outfitted Boone and five other men in Salisbury in 1769 and sent them to explore the wilderness of Kentucky.
Hinton said it has been fun to meet people “who just kind of show up” when they see the film crew. He has shot a flint-lock gun with a judge and made fast friends with a local detective who was a history buff. Several people have invited him to historical re-enactments.
Hinton said something sent out on MySpace by his sister linked him with Calloway. The Boone documentary intrigued him because of the former television show and his desire to know more about his own family’s roots in North Carolina.
Hinton also had made appearances in the past at Ghost Mountain and spent time on the Cherokee reservation.
“I was eager to do this,”‘ he said.
For the record, the real Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap because he preferred beaver. At 5-8, Boone also was much shorter than Parker, the television version.
Israel Boone, one of his sons, was shot and killed by Indians in Kentucky.
Today, Hinton does a lot of work in Los Angeles with child actors. Besides offering some acting lessons, Hinton said he counsels his students on challenges they will face away from the camera. He talks with them about setting real goals and “creating more of a whole life,” he said.
Hinton said his own experience as a child actor in the Boone series was a great one. His mother was strongly supportive, while Fess Parker and Patricia Blair ó his television parents ó made sure the set was a good one for kids, he said.
None of the actors had egos that got in the way of their work, Hinton said.
Besides its strong regular cast, “Daniel Boone” attracted guest stars such as a young Ron Howard and veteran star Vincent Price, “who scared the heck out of me,” Hinton said. Jodie Foster also appeared on some of those “Daniel Boone” episodes.
Hinton has stayed in contact with Parker, who is now 85 and living in Santa Barbara.
Hinton had his acting debut as a 6-month-old. As a child actor, he appeared in commercials and films, besides the television series.
After the series, Hinton went from six years with a one-on-one tutor to a regular junior high school and, of course, had to deal with having been Israel Boone. The transition was tough: “A few kids wanted to pick on me,” he said.
But a Hinton biography says he went on to attend the American School, a private high school, in Lugano, Switzerland, and spent his college days as part of the World Campus Afloat Institute for Shipboard Education ó a cruise ship that traveled the world and studied different societies.
He returned to California and acting. He played the role of Ian Griffith on the “Days of Our Lives” soap opera in 1985-86. He also had guest-starring roles in shows such as “Jake and the Fatman,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Disneyland,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “Hunter.”
Hinton has been heavily involved in the motivational field and continues to live in Los Angeles. His five children range in age from 11 to 23.
“Daniel Boone in North Carolina” eventually will be shown on television, released on consumer DVD and sent to educational outlets, according to Calloway.