For a time in January, it looked like Natick's decades-old tradition of a July 4 parade wouldn't happen. But the parade will go on, and this year it will pay tribute to arguably its most famous participant, Rex Trailer, host of the long-running Boston children's show "Boomtown."
Trailer died early this year after spending the holidays with his family in Florida. He was 84.
The Western-themed “Rex Trailer’s Boomtown” premiered on WBZ-TV in Boston in 1956. It ran until 1974. The show included cartoons, educational games, and outdoor adventures. Trailer showed off cowboy tricks he learned when he was growing up in Texas.
The show was a weekend morning fixture on local TV. Trailer made more than 1,000 episodes. A filmmaker who made a documentary about the show estimated that more than 4 million baby boomers grew up watching it and nearly 250,000 appeared in the show’s live audiences, the Globe reported in 2004.
His young fans once included Jay Leno, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, Barry (Jordan’s Furniture) Tatelman, and Jimmy Tingle.
Natick's Maureen Sullivan recalled a day when her Brownie troupe was in Boomtown's studio audience. "You're there, and you're seeing all the sets, and you might be disappointed because it was a bunch of plywood backdrops," she said.
She said her sister, Kathleen, got to introduce that day's cartoon because Kathleen "could yell the loudest." Sullivan said Trailer took time after the show to shake every child's hand. "It was a very nice experience," she said.
In a statement released by Emerson College after Trailer's death, Trailer's business partner Mike Bavaro said, “The key thing about Rex is that, with kids and young people, he never talked down to them. He always treated them with respect as if they were adults, and I think that’s what kids want the most."
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 also used to his fame to help charitable causes. According to the Boomtown website Jerry Lewis named Rex as national spokesman for Muscular Dystrophy one year, and encouraged his young audience to run "Backyard Carnivals" to raise funds for a cure. He also led a wagon train throughout Massachusetts in 1961 to raise awareness for children with disabilities.
This year, Natick Friends of the 4th will honor Trailer by naming him "Grand Marshall In Memoriam."
"Rex entertained thousands upon thousands of us when we were kids, without swearing, without drugs. This guy was the genuine article. As adults, we realized what a treasure we have had for so many years," said Sullivan, who is a Natick Friends of the 4th committee member. "To have the committee name Rex Marshal In Memoriam is about the best show of respect we could muster for this wonderful man."
According to Sullivan, Trailer's involvement in the parade started in 1955 and continued into the early 1980s. He returned in the early 1990s and continued with it up until last year. Sullivan said that Trailer would ride his horse, Goldrush, along the parade route.
Natick Friends of the 4th co-chairman Peter Mundy recalled seeing Trailer during the parade, and remembered how adults would be singing 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."
This year's parade almost didn't happen. According to Sullivan, parade organizers were feeling burnt out. When it was announced the parade would be cancelled">cancalled, however, supporters rallied and volunteers began coming out of the woodwork. Sullivan said the planning and logistics for the parade are now divided between several subcommittees.
"We're here. We never went away," Mundy said. "We almost did, but we revitalized."
Natick Friends of the 4th does not use any tax dollars and its programs, including this year's 58th annual parade, are possible through fundraising efforts, Mundy said.
A "Boomtown"-themed fundraiser will be held Tuesday Palettes on 29 Main St. starting at 6:30 p.m. Admission is $35.