"The Arizona Cowboy"
(Courtesy of Ed Phillips)
Above - Rex Allen - with his butt forward gunbelt - and trusty steed Koko.
|Special thanks to guest commentator Paul Dellinger for the following narrative and background info on Rex Allen|
When Rex Allen rode his horse Koko into the sunset at the end of a movie called THE PHANTOM STALLION in 1954, it marked the end of the singing cowboy Westerns.
Roy Rogers, in whose footsteps Allen followed at Republic Pictures, had moved on to television. So had Gene Autry, who pretty well started the singing cowboy series in the 1930s (true, Ken Maynard sort of sang in some of his pictures, and Bob Steele once sang even earlier, as did John Wayne with the help of some dubbing, and even Tom Mix in a silent picture with the words appearing on the screen -- but it was Autry who paved the road that ended with Rex Allen). Monte Hale, Jimmy Wakely, Tex Ritter and Eddie Dean had ended their movies at their various studios, too.
Rex had come along later than any of them in movies. The first of his 19 pictures at Republic, THE ARIZONA COWBOY was released in 1950. During an interview at a 1988 film festival in Knoxville, Tennessee, he admitted that this first picture was not a favorite of his. "That turkey wasn't released," he joked. "It escaped!"
Rex Elvie Allen (or Elvie Rex Allen) was born December 31, 1920, in Willcox, Arizona. He grew up on a ranch where life was anything but easy. He lost a younger brother to a rattlesnake bite, another to scarlet fever. The local Rotary Club raised money for his medical treatment when he suffered a detached retina. A teacher encouraged his singing.
"My Dad was a fiddle player. He used to play for all the dances and stuff, and I learned to play guitar when there was nobody to accompany him. And then I sang in all the church choirs and glee clubs in the school," he said." Basically, all I ever wanted to do was try to be a singer and make a living at that. And then, went into radio and the recording field, and had a few hit records. Roy Rogers was getting ready to leave Republic Pictures and get into television, and they were looking around for another poobah in a white hat, so I got my foot in the door there."
He had moved to Phoenix, Arizona, after high school to work as a plasterer with his father, and got on radio station KOY there.
By the mid-1940s, he had gone to the WLS National Barn Dance radio show out of Chicago. He also had his own 'The Rex Allen Show', which moved to California when he signed with Republic Pictures. The radio show ran on CBS from 1950 - 1952.
Below is sheet music from the 1940s with a picture of a very young Rex Allen, and the caption/signature on the photo reads: Rex Allen W. L. S. Barn Dance. Below the sheet music is a Barn Dance publicity photo, and the caption/signature on the photo reads: Sincerely Rex Allen.
(Courtesy of Minard Coons)
(Courtesy of Ruth Hewitt & Minard Coons)
Rex had also gotten some rodeo experience by then. "Yeah, I rode bulls and buckin' horses for about two years when I first got out of high school, but I got tired of pickin' myself up off the arena floor, and I found that a guitar never kicked me, never hurt me a bit, so I decided I better stick with that."
In his first movie outing, Rex rode an unnamed horse with something of the look and color of Gene Autry's Champion. In all his other pictures, he would ride Koko, a Morgan with a dark-brown coat (which looked black in the black-and-white films, and was colored blue-black in the Rex Allen comics published by Dell) with a strikingly-white mane, tail and blaze. Rex would be billed as 'The Arizona Cowboy' and Koko as 'The Miracle Horse of the Movies'.
"I bought him when I first went out there," Rex said. "And a great trainer named Glen Randall trained him for me. Glen also trained Trigger and several other of the great motion picture horses."
(From Old Corral collection)
Above and below is Rex Allen, 'The Arizona Cowboy', with his chocolate brown Koko, 'The Miracle Horse of the Movies'. Rex began riding Koko in his second starring oater, HILLS OF OKLAHOMA (Republic, 1950). Many B western fans consider Koko as the most beautiful of the movie horses. Koko (1940 - 1967) is buried at the Railroad Park in Willcox, Arizona (near the Rex Allen Museum).
(From Old Corral collection)
(From Old Corral collection)
|The photo on the left is often identified as being Rex and Koko, but that is incorrect.|
This horse is a 'no name' that Allen rode in his first oater before acquiring Koko. (Thanks to Sky Corbin for his help on straightening out this Koko vs 'no-name' horse issue.)
Besides providing his own horse, Rex brought his own outfits to his pictures - a white hat with curved brim, and a stag-handled six-shooter worn butt-forward on his right side (except in DOWN LAREDO WAY where he wore two guns, butts forward, the only picture in which he did so; ironically, he was disarmed for much of the story and so had two empty holsters on his gunbelt).
"I didn't want anybody to say, well, he's copying Roy Rogers or he's copying Gene Autry or he's copying Hoppy. So purposely I looked for a horse that was different, that no cowboy had used -- I turned my guns around backwards, and didn't know for two years that Bill Elliott did it, too," Rex said. "I just didn't want to be accused of copying anybody else, so I tried to go in as opposite a direction in everything that I could."
And one six-shooter was plenty, he said. "You strap two guns on, they're heavy, and it's like wearin' a girdle. And then they say 'Run, jump on that horse,' go do so-and-so and so-and-so, and you got all that gear and it's in your way, and I was happy to go with just one gun, just so you could get off and on a horse."