One day in 1978 a shadow fell over my desk at the old Oregon Journal in downtown Portland. I looked up and there stood a giant of a mountain man, beard down to his chest, big grin peeking though from the bramble of hair, hand outstretched in greeting.
Joe Meek, maybe. Jedediah Smith. Liver-Eating Johnson. Jim Bridger.
Or, as it turned out, Cincinnatus, the frontier storekeeper on Fess Parker’s old Daniel Boone television series from the 1960s.
Dallas McKennon, the actor who played Cincinnatus, reveled in the rugged-outdoorsman role that was his bread and butter through several seasons of Daniel Boone and occasional shots on the likes of Gunsmoke, Laramie, The Rifleman, The Virginian, Wagon Train, and the Don Knotts spoof-Western movie Hot Lead and Cold Feet.
It fit him well. He was born in 1919 in the eastern Oregon town of La Grande, and although he became one of those familiar Hollywood faces (and even more familiar Hollywood voices) he loved that frontier image. I never saw him clean-shaven and surely wouldn’t have recognized him if I had. He was big and booming and glad-spirited, a happy salesman of himself.
I don’t remember what his particular purpose was on that day in 1978, other than to make himself known to the new kid handling entertainment news at the paper. My mind was filled with Big Stuff — the French New Wave, new German cinema, Important Literaure — and I wasn’t sure where to fit in a full-throttle show biz throwback to the American-frontier myth.
But McKennon was gregarious and patient and genially insistent — I’m here, he never quite said; you need to deal with me — and when he had a project going, he’d drop by for a few minutes and a fresh photo. He knew how the business worked: I’d make sure a line landed somewhere in the paper.
I really should have paid more attention. McKennon died July 14, five days shy of his 90th birthday, and if Oregon didn’t pay much notice to the passing of a native son, other parts of the world did. Here’s a fine obituary by Claire Noland from the Los Angeles Times.
Dallas (or Dal, as his old movie and TV credits often had it) was living in the Washington coastal town of Raymond, along Willapa Bay, when he died, but he’d spent many years in Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. It was there that he began to put together his own live-theater musical productions with titles such as Johnny Appleseed, Kaintuck and Wagons Ho. In the early 1950s he’d had a pioneering kids’ TV show in Los Angeles, and once he’d settled back in Oregon he’d sometimes show up on the old Ramblin’ Rod morning show in Portland.
He was never forgotten in Hollywood. Partly that was because of the old TV shows, but it was also for his prominence as a gifted voice actor. He worked for Walt Disney and Walter Lantz. He was the voice of Buzz Buzzard on Woody Woodpecker. He was Gumby, he worked on Mr. Magoo, he voiced part of the cartoon scene in Mary Poppins and did voice work on other Disney animated films such as A Hundred and One Dalmatians and Sleeping Beauty. He was the voice of Archie Andrews, the freckle-faced prototypical comic teen-ager, on TV. He even had a bit part in the Elvis Presley movie Clambake; according to a poster at www.cartoonbrew.com, during film breaks he and Elvis passed the time together doing dog barks.
That’s a life. Or part of one. Other things of note: He had eight kids. He married Betty Warner in Portland in 1942, and they stayed married: She survives him.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, in the Cannon beach Community Presbyterian Church.