(December 31, 1920 – December 17, 1999)
Rex Elvie Allen was an American film actor, singer
and songwriter who is particularly known as the narrator in many
Disney nature and Western film productions. For contributions to
the recording industry, Allen was honored with a star on the Hollywood
Walk of Fame.
Allen was born to Horace E. Allen and Luella Faye
Clark on a ranch in Mud Springs Canyon, 40 miles from Willcox,
Arizona. As a boy he played guitar and sang at local functions with
his fiddle-playing father until high school graduation when he toured
the Southwest as a rodeo rider.
He got his start in show business on the East
Coast as a vaudeville singer, then found work in Chicago as a
performer on the WLS-AM program, National Barn Dance. In 1948 he
signed with Mercury Records where he recorded a number of successful
country music albums until 1952, when he switched to the Decca label
where he continued to make records into the 1970s. He also recorded
one album for Buena Vista (Disney, pictured) in the 1960s, although
sources vary on the date of issue.
When singing cowboys such as Roy Rogers and Gene
Autry were very much in vogue in American film, in 1949 Republic
Pictures in Hollywood gave him a screen test and put him under
contract. Beginning in 1950, Allen starred as himself in 19 of
Hollywood's Western movies.
One of the top-ten box office draws of the day,
whose character was soon depicted in comic books, on screen Allen
personified the clean cut, God-fearing American hero of the wild West
who wore a white Stetson hat, loved his faithful horse Koko, and had a
loyal buddy who shared his adventures. Allen's comic relief
sidekick in first few pictures was Buddy Ebsen and then character
actor Slim Pickens. He gained the nickname, The Arizona Cowboy.
One of Allen's most successful singles was "Don't Go Near the
Indians", which reached the top 5 of Billboard magazine's Hot Country
Singles chart in November 1962. It features The Merry Melody Singers.
The producer was Jerry Kennedy. The song is a tale of a young man who
disobeys his father's advice stated in the title.
When the father finds out that he had developed a relationship with a
beautiful Indian maiden (named Nova Lee), he decides to reveal to his
son what he had kept secret for so long: The man's biological son was
killed by an Indian (as stated in the lyrics) during a clash between
the white man and a tribe, and in retaliation, he kidnapped the boy as
a young baby and raised him as his son. The other secret: His son
cannot marry Nova Lee because she's the boy's biological sister.
Allen wrote and recorded many songs, a number of
which were featured in his own films. Late in coming to the industry,
his film career was relatively short as the popularity of westerns
faded by the mid 1950s. He has the distinction of making the last
singing western in 1954. As other cowboy stars made the
transition to television, Allen tried too, cast as Dr. Bill Baxter for
a half-hour weekly series called Frontier Doctor.
In 1961 he was one of five rotating hosts for NBC-TV's Five Star
Allen was gifted with a rich, pleasant voice,
ideally suited for narration and was able to find considerable work as
a narrator in a variety of films especially for Walt Disney Pictures
wildlife films and TV shows. The work earned him the nickname, "The
Voice of the West." He also was the voice of the father on Disney's
Carousel of Progress, first presented at the 1964 World's Fair and is
now at Walt Disney World. A 1993 renovation replaced Allen with Jean
Shepherd as the voice of the father, but Allen was given a cameo as
the grandfather in the final scene.
Allen provided the narration for the 1973 Hanna-Barbera
animated film Charlotte's Web. He was also the voice behind Purina Dog
Chow commercials for many years. After moving to Sonoita, Arizona in
the early 1990s, he was a viable voice talent almost until his death,
recording hundreds of national advertising voice tracks at his
favorite Tucson studio, Porter Sound. In his later years he also
performed frequently with actor Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez.
Rex Allen died on December 17, two weeks before
his 79th birthday in Tucson, Arizona, of a massive coronary, causing
him to collapse in the driveway of his home. He suffered
additional injuries when his caretaker accidentally ran over him in
the driveway. Cremated, his ashes were scattered at Railroad Park in
Willcox where most of his memorabilia is on display. A few
months before his death, Allen gave an extensive interview on his days
at WLS-AM to announcer and producer Jeff Davis for the 75th
Anniversary History of WLS radio program, broadcast after Allen died.
That segment of the program was dedicated to his memory.
For his contribution to the motion picture
industry, Allen was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6821
Hollywood Blvd. In 1983, he was inducted into the Western Performers
Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1989 his life story was told in the book
Rex Allen: "My Life" Sunrise to Sunset–The Arizona Cowboy written by
Paula Simpson-Witt and Snuff Garrett.
Allen was a cousin of the Gunsmoke cast member
Glenn Strange, who played bartender Sam Noonan. His son, Rex Allen,
Jr., is a successful singer.