Longtime Emerson faculty member and television icon Rex Trailer, best known for hosting the popular children’s TV show Boomtown, passed away on January 9, 2013, after being hospitalized with pneumonia. He was 84 years old and lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts.
Trailer was visiting friends and family in Florida when he became ill last month.
Trailer began teaching broadcasting classes at Emerson in 1974, when Boomtown went off the air after an 18-year run on Boston’s WBZ-TV. He starred in other TV shows in the 1970s, including Earth Lab and The Good Time Gang. He also owned a TV production studio, Rex Trailer Video Productions, in Waltham, Massachusetts, for more than 50 years.
“When his show went off the air, Emerson invited him to teach and that was the biggest honor for him—to be part of Emerson College,” said Mike Bavaro, who filmed a documentary about Trailer and later became his business partner and close friend.
Trailer’s cowboy presence had a tremendous impact on millions of TV-watching youngsters in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, and on Emerson alumni, including Maria Menounos ’00, host of Extra, and Jay Leno ’73, host of the Tonight Show.
“He was huge in New England,” Leno said, after learning of Trailer's passing, in an interview with Emerson.edu. “He didn’t go to Hollywood, but he’s a big star, as far as I’m concerned.”
Leno first met Trailer as a child at a horse show in North Andover, Massachusetts, during the height of Boomtown, and corresponded with him by mail.
“I wrote a letter to Rex Trailer when I was 9 years old, and he sent me back an autographed picture for free, and it really impressed me. Every (other celebrity) wanted a dollar, or you had to buy something.”
Leno met Trailer several times throughout his career. “He always remained a decent human being,” Leno said.
“The key thing about Rex is that, with kids and young people, he never talked down to them,” Bavaro said. “He always treated them with respect as if they were adults, and I think that’s what kids want the most.”
“Students clamored to get into his classes,” said Paul Beck, a longtime colleague and manager of operations and administration in the Department of Television, Radio and Film at Emerson. “Rex brought a level of professionalism to television classes that had never existed before. It wasn’t just how to perform, it was everything—how to deal with a director, producer, and get along with a crew. He also mentored hundreds of students and helped them find jobs.”
More than 250,000 children appeared in the live audience of Boomtown, which reached 4 million children every Saturday and Sunday morning. Trailer was known for showing off cowboy tricks and spouting Western tales—anything to emphasize American history and Western lore. Trailer also performed science experiments and educational children’s games.
“Rex had a 13-week contract for the show when he started and it lasted almost 20 years,” Bavaro said.
Born in Thurber, Texas, Trailer learned guitar, horse riding, roping, and basic rodeo tricks at his grandfather’s cattle ranch. During his high school years, he was a summer rodeo announcer; later, at Southern Methodist University, he worked as a radio announcer and morning talk show host.
Boomtown was between three and four hours long, and broadcast live—something almost unheard of in TV today.
“When Rex came here in the fifties people didn’t think cowboys would work for Boston television, but it did,” Bavaro said. “He wasn’t one of these cowboys who started shooting up the place. He was a gentleman cowboy.”
Trailer began his TV career after working as an entertainment manager for an upstate New York dude ranch in the 1940s. Between 1948 and 1956, he hosted three children’s shows on ABC and WPTZ-TV in Philadelphia before moving to Boston, where Boomtown started airing on WBZ.
In 2007, Trailer was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
Trailer was also a certified pilot and hypnotist.
Trailer is pre-deceased by his wife, Cindy. Among his survivors is his daughter, Jillian.
Funeral arrangements have not been completed.
Bavaro has made a YouTube video highlighting Trailer's TV career.