American Idol

14/04/11 9:44 PM


It’s not what you are thinking.

Randy. Steven Tyler. Jennifer Lopez. Some other new guy. What’s-his-face? Oh. I almost forgot. Ryan Seacrest.

I am writing about Rex Trailer.  Rex is MY American Idol.

If one grew up in Boston during the later years of the Baby Boom era, you know Rex Trailer.

To adults my age who came of age during the late 1960s, Rex Trailer was a god-like figure. He was a local television legend; a cowboy hero. The Rex Trailer Show was broadcast once a week–in black and white. If you want to get all Ivy-League about it , The Rex Trailer Show fell under the heading of  “Children’s Programming.”  Decoded. Attractive to advertisers who sell sugar coated breakfast cereal with flimsy toys hiding at the bottom of the box. Mr. Trailer also ran a side travel business taking kids to “sunny California.” 

My parents would not let me travel with Rex. We went on family vacations in our 1960 white Ford station wagon–the size of Manhattan. I was not disappointed about not being allowed to travel with a TV cowboy. It was a posse of obnoxious rich kids who signed up to travel with Rex to the original Disney Land.  I never went to Rodent World until I was 32. I was not impressed.  Am I un-American for writing this?

Rex’s television show was not broadcast on Channel 2. Channel 2 is Boston’s Public Broadcasting Service affiliate. Channel 2 is educational TV. A station for egg-heads. Intellectuals. I came of age before that big yellow bird, with whacked out feet, hatched at Bostons’ Channel 2.  The “Channel 2  set” would NEVER let  a faux cowboy grace their airwaves. This was the time when Boston only had 3 major TV stations–and “that” station (Channel 2) with tons of British programming and a former spy with a cooking show, who baked French souffles and sipped a lot of wine on air. Julia something?

Back in 1968 one  had to turn the TV dial by hand. Cable? That was something you sent to France. A clicker? That was a tough girl from Dorchester chewing bubble gum.

 Looking back with nostalgia, The Rex Trailer Show was mind candy. Fluff. An urban cowboy. Did it occur to me at age 8 that a cowboy in Boston is like a lobster in Montana? Sounds like an old SAT analogy question (that I flunked).

To me, Rex Trailer was the real deal. A rider on the open range. (More like a commuter on Boston’s Southeast Expressway.)  He was statuesque and telegenic. He wore a big ass cowboy hat.  I imagined cow dung clung to the the bottom of his pointed leather cowboy boots. The opening of Rex Trailer show was the hook. Rex rode a muscular horse through the Massachusetts countryside to a song  titled Hoof Beats. The landscape where Rex rode in the 1960s is now Suburban sprawl. One now finds strip malls. There convenience stores that sell purple Slurpees and cheesy out-of-code/date tuna subs with wilted lettuce.

Rex rode past the famous Mary Martha Chapel. So what if this was an prissy iconic white New England church. It was still the American West to me.  In 1968, anything behind my backyard, to the left, was “the West.”

A hallmark of the show was the posse line-up. Rex would select one very, very, very, very lucky member of the audience to watch for, and identify a person chosen in advance as an outlaw. This  imposter joined a line up. This line up was a movable shake down. The posse walked pass  the lucky kid whose job was to rat out the impostor. I think if this kid successfully identified the outlaw he or she won a big prize.  A bike? A baseball mitt? A box of Space Food Sticks?  …………….Did I mention that if you were the posse outlaw picker, you were very, very, very lucky. I must remember envy is one of the 7 deadly sins preached at Sunday School. I flunked Sunday School. I was told I looked out the window too much.

In graduate school I took Research Methods and Statistical  Analysis. I passed with flying colors because I knew one formula.  The Rex Trailer show came at a time when Baby Boom children like myself were like ants on a Hostess Twinkie. You could not go ANYWHEWRE without lines of kids or crowds of families, driven in their Manhattanesque station wagons. Baby Boom = lots of kids vying for the same goodies. Demand outpaced supply. Numbers are finite. In this case,  what was in short supply were  tickets to appear live on The Rex Trailer Show. To obtain a coveted ticket to appear on  The Rex Trailer show was like getting a ticket to ride tethered to Sputnik. It was not going to happen. I had to settle for viewing my hero on our black and white TV, lying on our mod living room floor.

Tewnty years later. Cut to the chase.

 I am an adjunct professor at Emerson College. Emerson College is known for broadcast journalism, business communication, creative writing, film, acting, speech & language pathology,  and television  production. I walk  into the faculty mail-room to get memos and student papers out of my facility mailbox. I turn to the left. A tall telegenic man wearing a cowboy hat is also getting his mail. We are reading the same memo about grade submission.

I drop the memo and freeze.

 I was going to crap my pants. 

The REAL Rex Trailer is standing next to me.

What do I say?

 “You were was my idol back in 1968?”

 Do I say, “Howdy, Rex!”

 That’s lame and rude.

What about, “Pickin’ up your mail, partner?”

No way.

Should I say, “I was your biggest, biggest, biggest, gagunda  fan when I was 8 years old. Here. Sign my  grade policy memo.”

I just made a simple dip-of-the-chin gesture. Rex made the same gesture in return.

It was 1968 all over again at  the Emerson College faculty mail-room.

I was listening to WBZ Radio, AM 1030 last night. Dan Rey, the host of a live talk show titled “Night Side” mentioned he was at a charity event over the weekend and Rex Trailer was in attendance. Mr. Rey noted Rex turned 91.


My childhood cowboy hero is 91? OMG!

Age is timeless. So too are television cowboys and childhood heroes.

Rex, if you read this, I want to say I really, really, really wanted to be on your show. The law of statistical averages were NOT on my side. I liked Pablo. I liked Sargent Billy. However,  YOU were the show. You were my American idol.

Want to hear me sing Hoof Beats? Oh, there is a second song from the TV show. Boom. Boom Boomtown! I know every word. I bet I can sing it in Icelandic or German if I practice like a good buckaroo.

Let’s not…………..and say I did.

Brendan Ben Feeney

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