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Singing Cowboys - Star of the Month
Remind Me

Rex Allen
2 Films - Friday, July 29

Rex Allen (1920-1999), with his friendly demeanor and rich, instantly recognizable voice, became one of the country's best-loved singing cowboys of the 1950s and later won more fans as a narrator of Walt Disney documentaries of the '60s. Allen also enjoyed success as a songwriter and as a recording artist, beginning with Mercury Records in 1948 and later recording for Decca and Disney's Buena Vista labels.

Born Rex Alvie Allen in Mud Springs Canyon, Arizona, he began singing and playing guitar at local functions with his fiddle-playing father. After high school he joined the rodeo circuit as a rider, then sang in vaudeville and on the radio show National Barn Dance. In 1949, with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry passing the crest of their popularity, Allen was tested by Republic Pictures, where he was put under contract and groomed to become another star of singing-cowboy movies. Television would soon bring an end to the genre, but Allen enjoyed four or five good years in films.

Beginning in 1950 he starred in nineteen Westerns for Republic, using his own name in his adventures just as Rogers and Autry did. He quickly became one of the studio's biggest box-office draws and earned the title The Arizona Cowboy, which was also the name of his first film. Also like Rogers and Autry, he personified the wholesome all-American Western hero - he wore a white hat, loved his trusty steed (Koko) and enjoyed the company of a comic sidekick (Buddy Ebsen or Slim Pickens). He had the distinction of making what is considered the last "singing Western" of the era, Phantom Stallion (1954).

Under Mexicali Stars (1950) is a bit unusual in that it involves a helicopter and other modern trappings, allowing Allen to take to the skies as he and Ebsen play Treasury agents on the trail of a counterfeiting gang. Allen's songs in this one include "Born to the Saddle" and "Old Black Mountain Trail."

The Last Musketeer (1952) has Allen and Pickens doing battle with a wealthy land baron using ruthless methods to take over desirable land from other ranchers. The Republic Rhythm Riders join Allen on tunes including "I Still Love the West" and "Down in the Valley."

After his movie Westerns, Allen starred in his own series, Frontier Doctor (1958-59), set in Arizona during the early 1900s. In addition to his work with Disney, he made several other film and TV appearances. He had several hits as a recording artist including a single with the Merry Melody Singers, "Don't Go Near the Indians," which reached the Top 5 of Billboard magazine's Hot Country Singles Chart in 1962.

Allen provided the narration for the Hanna-Barbera animated feature Charlotte's Web (1973), and almost until the time of his death was doing voice-overs for national commercials including those for Purina Dog Chow. His son, Rex Allen, Jr. is also a popular American country-western singer and served as the narrator of the Jim Carrey comedy, Me, Myself and Irene (2000).

by Roger Fristoe