Rex Trailer, the native Texan beloved by a generation of New England children for the cowboy skills he demonstrated on the Boston-based television show "Boomtown," has died. He was 84.
Trailer died Wednesday at his family's home in Florida, said his friend and manager Michael Bavaro. He had fallen ill with pneumonia in Florida over the holidays, but the exact cause of death was not immediately clear.
"Rex Trailer left this earth peacefully last night surrounded in love and song by his family," the family announced on his website. "While everyone's prayers and support have been of great comfort to Rex, he decided it was time to go home. Rex and family thank all of you and love you."
"Boomtown" ran on Boston television from 1956 until 1974. Trailer hosted the show, singing, playing guitar and showing off the horse-riding, roping and other cowboy skills he had learned as a boy on his grandfather's ranch in Texas.
The show was an instant success when it first aired, the live studio audience enraptured by Trailer's Texas twang. It aired live every Saturday and Sunday morning for three hours. More than 250,000 kids appeared on "Boomtown" over the years and more than 4 million watched from home, according to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Trailer was inducted in 2007.
In addition to the cowboy action, the show offered educational games and films, cartoons and outdoor adventure.
"He was a visionary in a lot of ways," Bavaro said. "He was doing educational children's television before there was educational children's television."
The show was one of the first where mentally and physically disabled children were prominent in the audience, a conscious decision by Trailer.
Some people associated with the show were concerned when a disabled child was on the show. "Some people thought he would cause a ruckus, but Rex said 'No, let him on,' " Bavaro said.
In 1961, he led a wagon train across the state to raise awareness about children with disabilities.
Trailer has been honored for his lifetime commitment to disabled children, especially muscular dystrophy.
He taught on-camera performance and production at Emerson College in Boston since the mid-1970s, and ran his own production company based in Waltham that produced commercials, industrial films and documentaries. Trailer was also an accomplished pilot and recording artist, who even wrote the theme music to "Boomtown."
Trailer got into show business on the advice of the ranch hands on his grandfather's farm in Thurber, Texas. He got a job as a production coordinator with the Dumont Network in New York and worked his way up to producer and director. It was in New York where he first became an on-air talent as host of the "Oky Doky Ranch."
He hosted western-themed TV shows in Philadelphia for five years before landing in Boston in 1955. His original 13-week contract with WBZ-TV lasted nearly 20 years. When "Boomtown" went off the air, Trailer doffed his cowboy hat and hosted a science-themed children's show for several years called "Earth Lab."
His reach was so wide that in 2011 a state senator introduced legislation to make Trailer the "Official Cowboy of Massachusetts."
His wife of 55 years, who went by Cindy, died about two years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Jillian Trailer-Rollock, and other family members.
His family said a memorial service is being planned.
This article was originally published on January 10, 2013.
This program aired on January 10, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.