My colleagues in Boston are telling me about the passing of Rex Trailer, a popular children’s television show host half a century ago. He is being remembered as not only a great entertainer but also an exemplary human being. Rex Trailer earned the respect and devotion of fans, coworkers, and – long before modern ideas of inclusion – disability advocates. Jo Ann Simons reminisces below about a man whose attitudes were light-years ahead of his time.
Do you remember Rex Trailer’s show, and his pioneering 1961 wagon train?
A True Pioneer
By Jo Ann Simons, Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers
I remember his smile and his voice and I can still shout loudly along with the refrain of the theme song to Boomtown.
“Boom- Boom- Boomtown!”
Boomtown was a weekend children’s show on WBZ-TV in Boston that ran from 1956 through 1974. The host was Rex Trailer, a singing cowboy, who died this week at age 84. Rex rode his horse Goldrush onto the western-themed Boomtown studio set for several hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings and into our family’s only television.
My brother and I watched regularly with excitement. Rex showed us, his “posse”, special cowboy tricks and taught us cowboy ways. We were treated to songs and beloved cartoons. I cherished my weekend mornings with Rex Trailer.
Apparently over 200,000 children appeared on Boomtown over the years, and millions more watched from home. Imagine my surprise when I learned decades later that his studio audience had included children with disabilities. While schools were routinely excluding them from an education, they were welcomed as full participating members of his “posse”. I do not recall any of those children on TV as having disabilities– and I guess that was the point. Could his subtle example of inclusion have helped shape my capacity for acceptance when my son Jonathan was born with Down Syndrome in 1979?
In 1961, Rex used his popularity to further propel the movement for respect and dignity. With the organization now known as The Arc of Massachusetts, he led 18 covered wagons across the state from Greenfield to the State House steps to raise awareness of the needs of children with intellectual disabilities. Each evening the wagon train would host a campout and community event for his “posse” and their families. Highlights of the trip would run daily on WBZ-TV and radio so the general public could keep up with the wagon train– and his with educational message to the public about disabilities.
Not as well-known was his decision, following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, to ban weapons from his television show and studio.
By any definition Rex Trailer led an honorable and inspiring life. His life and work was a gift to the people and times in which he lived.
We have never needed a reminder of what one person’s compassion and visionary leadership can accomplish more than we do today.
Rest in Peace, Rex—and treat Goldrush to some carrots from all of us.