Leslie Nielsen, back when he was hiding in the glen with a tail on his hat – Walt Disney’s The Swamp Fox
I learned the Swamp Fox theme song by heart when I was a kid. There’s nothing remarkable about this in and of itself, as kids memorize any number of TV jingles when they’re growing up. What makes this stand out is that the TV show this one came from departed the airwaves two decades before I was born. If I recall correctly, my father used to jokingly hum the theme when he and I went hiking through the woods around our house, having had it drilled into his memory when he was a kid. So it was passed on, like an heirloom, or a story told around the campfire.
When something as ethereal as this is handed down from generation to generation, you know there was a bit to it. And that was the case with Walt Disney’s The Swamp Fox, a late-fifties, early-sixties series that fictionalized the real-life Revolutionary War heroics of Francis Marion, the British-bedeviling partisan of the mid-south colonies. What gave and still gives the series an added dose of notoriety is who filled the title role: Leslie Nielsen. Yes, that Leslie Nielsen. Before he got himself a second very successful farce career courtesy of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, the future Frank Drebin of Police Squad was a serious dramatic actor — with hair that wasn’t white as snow. (he had a career path twinned by the similarly silver-maned Lloyd Bridges.) As Marion, Nielsen was solid, stolid and somewhat staid, betraying no hints of the comedic gifts he’d display in the latter stages of his career. This was thespian Nielsen, the same one who auditioned for the role of Messala in Ben-Hur.
Anyway, Swamp Fox was all-ages fun, one of the better live-action products Disney ever produced. (It hails from a different planet than insipid dreck like The Shaggy Dog.) And like pretty much every TV show of this time, it also had a comic book to go along with it. This Dell tome has several Marion adventures within, none of which are quite as lively as the show, but which do the best they can to mimic its charms. That classic theme song even makes a cameo:
Fear not, there’s plenty of the Fox, with trademark chapeau, pummeling redcoats (it should be noted that the surreptitious activities of Marion provide ample opportunities for stylish, shadowy inks):
The Swamp Fox only ran for eight episodes, but was a sterling example of quality over quantity. If you’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth you tracking down, whether on DVD or online, if for no other reason than to acquaint yourself with the non-zany side of the dear departed Mr. Nielsen. And one thing is guaranteed if you do indeed watch it: you’ll find yourself humming that theme.