It was 1949 and executives at Republic Pictures had a brainstorm – let’s take that nice clean-cut guy hanging around the studio and make him a cowboy – maybe even a singing cowboy – he’ll be a God-fearing American hero of the Wild West, wearing a white Stetson hat; he’ll love his faithful horse (platonic, of course); and maybe he could have a loyal sidekick who shares his adventures. We’ll call him the Arizona Cowboy (Arizona isn’t already taken, is it?)
And so Rex Allen, born December 31, 1920, came to a silver screen near you, joining such singing cowboys as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. His horse was Koko, and his comic relief sidekick was Buddy Ebsen (later Slim Pickens). He rode out of the West just as the West was losing interest for moviegoers. He did get a quick 19 movies in the can (and a comic book) before the genre played out. And in 1954, he starred in Hollywood’s last singing western. Then, like other cowboy stars, he rode into the sunset and onto TV in a series called Frontier Doctor.
Allen had written and recorded a number of the songs featured in his movies. He continued recording, and in 1961, had a hot country single with a song called “Don’t Go Near The Indians,” featuring the Merry Melody Singers. The song told the story of a young man who disobeys his father’s titular advice and develops a relationship (platonic, of course) with a beautiful Indian maiden named Nova Lee. The father reveals a deep dark secret out of the past: his biological son was killed by an Indian during one of those skirmishes between the white man and a nearby tribe. In retaliation, he kidnapped an Indian baby and raised him as his son who grew up to be you-know-who. And there’s another jaw-dropping secret: Nova Lee is the boy’s biological sister! (But poppa, it’s purely platonic; our kids won’t be imbeciles.) They don’t write them like that anymore.
Rex Allen turned in his spurs in 1999 at the age of 79.