Answer Man: What became of the singing cowboy?

News-DemocratSeptember 10, 2013 

Q. Can you tell me whatever became of Rex Allen and his son, Rex Jr.?

-- D.H., of O'Fallon

A. During the era of the singing cowboy, Rex Elvie Allen became one of the powerful stallions in the Republic Pictures stables.

In 19 Westerns during the early '50s, Allen personified the straight-shootin' all-American hero, wearing his white Stetson atop Koko, The Miracle Horse of the Movies. With his loyal cowpokes by his side -- Slim Pickens and Belleville's own Buddy Ebsen -- the Arizona Cowboy turned into one of the top 10 box office draws of his day.

But he was only sharpening his entertainment spurs. After singing cowboys rode off into the celluloid sunset in 1954, Allen fell back on his singing and songwriting, which he had honed as a vaudeville performer in the 1940s.

Over the next 25 years, he released a dozen albums, and his 1953 single "Crying in the Chapel" climbed to No. 4 on the country chart. But perhaps his most memorable hit -- "Don't Go Near the Indians" in 1962 -- likely wouldn't get much airplay today. It tells of a young man who falls in love with an Indian maiden only to learn that the woman is his biological sister. Turns out the man's "father" had kidnapped him from the tribe in retaliation for the death of his own son.

Allen never made the transition to a leading man on TV, starring only in the short-lived "Frontier Doctor" series in 1958. But with what came to be known as "The Voice of the West," he would narrate dozens of films, including "Charlotte's Web" in 1973 and Disney's "The Incredible Journey."

His work earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1975, which only makes the events surrounding his death that much sadder. On Dec. 17, 1999 -- two weeks before his 79th birthday on New Year's Eve -- Allen suffered a heart attack at his home. After he collapsed in his driveway, his caretaker accidentally ran over him, killing him. His ashes were scattered at Railroad Park in Willcox, Ariz., where much of his memorabilia is on display.

Now his son continues to fill his father's boots. After starting to sing at age 6, Rex Jr. boasted a number of country hits in the '70s and narrated the Jim Carrey movie, "Me, Myself and Irene." Sixty years later, the former "Statler Brothers Show" regular continues to tour with The Diamond W Wranglers. Learn more by moseying over to www.rexallenjr.com.

Q. About 20 years ago or so, I remember eating calf's liver once. Now I want more, but cannot find it. Is it still available?

-- Tony D., of Belleville

A. David "Red" Lehr would dearly love to help you rustle up more of the delicacy you once enjoyed, but the veteran New Athens butcher doesn't want to steer you wrong: Fresh liver from young veal calves is a thing of the past, he says -- at least in the United States.

"He's about 30 years too late," said Lehr, who runs Lehr's Meat Market when he isn't belting out Dixieland tunes on his sousaphone.

"It's now all imported from foreign countries. The reason for that is because the little calves that they put on feed are so expensive, they can't afford to butcher them and get the money out of them."

It's another sign of the changing times that he has seen in the butchering business. Sixty years ago, you probably could have enjoyed the treat every day when such places as the National Stockyards in East St. Louis and Streck Bros. Meatpacking in Belleville were thriving enterprises. But Lehr says he's never killed a veal calf during his 55 years as a butcher.

"I wouldn't begin to know where to send him for calves' liver, because they don't even butcher veal here in the United States anymore. It's all imported from New Zealand, South America and Mexico."

So it appears you'll have to be satisfied with the more mature variety and not beef about it -- which, of course, Lehr would be glad to sell you fresh for a buck a pound or so.

Today's trivia

Whose voice do you hear saying "welcome," "you've got mail," "file's done" and "goodbye" on AOL?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: Nathan Birnbaum apparently enjoyed entertaining writers when they asked him how he chose his stage name of George Burns. He told some he took the name from George H. Burns and George J. Burns, two well-known pro baseball players of the early 20th century who smacked more than 2,000 hits each. But in "George Burns: An American Life" by Lawrence Epstein, he said he took George from his brother Izzy (who hated his own name so he changed it to George) and Burns from the Burns Brothers Coal Co., from which he often stole coal off its truck.

Burns, by the way, reportedly married dance partner Hannah Siegal for a short time in the 1920s because her father would not allow her to tour with a single man. The marriage apparently was never consummated and they divorced 26 weeks later when the tour ended, allowing Burns to marry his true love, Gracie Allen, in 1926.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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