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Local TV legend Rex Trailer to be honored in Natick parade

In this 1972 photo provided by Rex Trailer Productions & Digital Freeway, Rex Trailer poses with his horse in Boston. The native Texan beloved by a generation of New England children for the cowboy skills he demonstrated on the Boston-based television show "Boomtown," died Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 at his family's home in Florida, said his friend and manager Michael Bavaro. He was 84. (AP Photo/Peter Benjamin)

In this 1972 photo, Rex Trailer posed with his horse in Boston. The native Texan was beloved by a generation of New England children for the cowboy skills he demonstrated on the Boston-based television show "Boomtown."

The memory of Rex Trailer, host of the long-running Boston children’s television show “Boomtown,” will live on in Natick’s Fourth of July parade, a fitting tribute to the event’s longtime headliner.

Natick Friends of the 4th will honor Trailer, who died earlier this year, by naming him as the event's “grand marshal in memoriam.”

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“Rex entertained thousands upon thousands of us when we were kids,’’ said Maureen Sullivan, a Natick Friends of the 4th committee member. “This guy was the genuine article. As adults, we realized what a treasure we have had for so many years.

“To have the committee name Rex marshal in memoriam is about the best show of respect we could muster for this wonderful man.”

The Western-themed show premiered on WBZ-TV in 1956. It ran until 1974. Broadcast live in front of a studio audience of youngsters in Trailer’s “posse,’’ “Boomtown’’ included cartoons, educational games, and outdoor adventures, and Trailer showed off cowboy tricks, and sang and played the guitar.

Sullivan said Trailer’s involvement in Natick’s Independence Day parade started in 1955 and continued into the early 1980s. He returned in the early 1990s and continued his annual appearances with it until last year. Sullivan said Trailer would ride his horse, Goldrush, in the parade.

Natick Friends of the 4th cochairman Peter Mundy recalled seeing Trailer during the parade, and how adults would sing the “Boomtown” theme at the tops of their lungs, bewildering their children.

“He was the original Boston legend,” Sullivan said. “He was genuine. He was one of the nicest people you could ever meet.”

Trailer’s show was a weekend morning fixture on local TV. For nearly 20 years, thousands of children would tune in to the show’s opening theme: “Well, howdy there, folks, we’re glad to meet you in boom, boom, Boomtown!”

Trailer made more than 1,000 episodes. His notable fans include Jay Leno, Steven Wright, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Tom Bergeron, and Jimmy Tingle.

Trailer drew on real-life experiences working on his grandfather’s ranch in his native Texas. He started his career in children’s TV on the advice of Gabby Hayes, a character actor in Hollywood westerns.

Trailer started at the now-defunct DuMont Television Network before landing a show in Philadelphia, and then made the move to Boston in 1956.

Maureen Sullivan recalled a day when her Brownie troop was in the “Boomtown’’ studio audience, and her sister Kathleen got to introduce a cartoon because she “could yell the loudest.” Sullivan said Trailer took the time to shake every child’s hand. “It was a very nice experience,” she said.

Michael Bavaro said he grew up watching “Boomtown” as a kid in Milford.

“I remember waking up before the show was on, and me and my brothers would just be watching the test pattern, waiting for the show to start,’’ he said.

As an adult, he worked professionally with Trailer, the pair eventually becoming business partners, and they developed a strong friendship. Eventually, Bavaro would tell Trailer’s story in a documentary, “Rex Trailer’s Boomtown.”

Part of Trailer’s appeal, he said, was his larger-than-life persona. “As a showman, he loved it,” Bavaro said.

Trailer’s daughter, Jillian Trailer-Rollock, said there was not a lot of difference between his on-stage persona and the way he was off camera. Still, she said, she was a fan of her father’s show, too.

“One of my very significant memories is, if I overslept, I ran into my mother’s room saying ‘I missed Daddy on the TV!’ like it was the end of the world,” Trailer-Rollock said.

Growing up, Trailer-Rollock said, they loved spending time with each other. “I didn’t feel he was spending more time with other children than he did with me. He managed to make everyone feel like they were special, including me,” she said.

Trailer, a Sudbury resident, starred in other shows in the 1970s, including “Earth Lab” and “The Good Time Gang.” He also owned a television production studio in Waltham. Trailer-Rollock said she lives within walking distance of the studio.

Trailer also used his fame to help charitable causes. According to a “Boomtown” website (www.boomtownmemories.com), Jerry Lewis named Rex as national spokesman for Muscular Dystrophy one year, and Trailer encouraged his young audience to run “backyard carnivals” to raise funds for a cure. Trailer also led a wagon train throughout Massachusetts in 1961 to raise awareness for children with disabilities.

Bravaro said Trailer remained popular with children because “he didn’t talk down to them.”

During his last birthday celebration, held in Ayer, Bravaro said, the 84-year-old Trailer still enchanted his now-adult audience. “People were lined up like kids meeting Santa Claus,” Bravaro said.

In Natick, this year’s parade almost didn’t happen.

According to Sullivan, organizers were suffering from burnout. When it was announced the parade would be canceled, however, supporters rallied and volunteers began coming out of the woodwork. As a result, the parade committee was revitalized.

Speaking at a fund-raiser last week for Natick Friends of the 4th, town resident John Jennings said his family always looked for Rex Trailer at the Independence Day parade.

“It will be sad he won’t be there,” he said.

Bravaro spoke about Trailer’s appearance at the Natick parade last year, when a rainy day had a lot of people worried that it would be canceled.

“Rex was having a good time,’’ Bavaro recalled. “He knew the rain would stop . . . and the parade went on.”

John Swinconeck can be reached at johnswinc@ gmail.com.

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