In New England, there was Captain Bob Cottle and his peanut gallery of hand puppets: Gramps, Jasper, “imaginations”, as Cottle called them, of the sea. In addition to being the perennial host of his own shows in Boston, Cottle went national as the second and last host of NBC TV's Ruff N' Ready Show! in late 1962.
Between cartoons Bob and his crew discovered things about the natural world or fought bad guys for the government. Captain Bob even had a piratical nemesis named Barnacle Bill the Pirate. He could draw too, which was his thing. The Rhode Island version of Captain Bob was Salty Brine who had a “Shack” and a collie named Jeff. Salty was another sea-linked character but sadly one without special skills. He just seemed nice and his dog reminded us all of Lassie, the most saintly canine who ever saved a kid from drowning in a well. Salty also had Three Stooges shorts, which always counted for a lot with me.
Boston’s Major Mudd, the bumbling astronaut, ushered in one of the post-modern era host archetypes-the goofball. Mudd was a kind of local Soupy Sales in a spacesuit. He was loose and funny, and had a great signoff, which was “I’ll be blasting you.” But for all that, the perennial kingpin of the local kids show scene was that riding-his-horse-Goldrush-through-the-streets-of-Boston-wrangler named Rex Trailer. Rex and a series of sidekicks named Pablo, Cactus Pete and Sgt. Billy held court on WBZ TV, Boston’s Westinghouse affiliate, from 1958 through 1974, and during that time became local heroes.
It’s hard to rope in all that was appealing about Rex. He was easy-going, kind, a singing cowboy with Elvis sideburns who could do saddle, rope and bullwhip tricks. He could also make an estimated 200,000 kids and four million viewers (these are composite numbers),believe that the mythical Boomtown was a little slice of the old west relocated to a sound studio on Soldier’s Field Road. Rex Trailer’s Boomtown ran for hours on weekend mornings, 2 ½ on Saturdays, 3 on Sundays and Rex kept it jumping with stories, skits, cartoons and songs. Cowboy Rex was dapper too, always dressed in tailored western suits, even when he sometimes piloted his own helicopter to personal appearances. Most of the time though, he left the chopper at home and galloped up to parades, auto dealerships, and supermarket parking lots on Goldrush like he was born to it, and that was because unlike the actors who effectively played his sidekicks, Rex Trailer was a real cowboy.
He grew up on a Texas ranch where rodeo cowboys would sometimes work when they weren’t on the circuit. They advised him not to “ride the rough style,” and Gabby Hayes, that’s right, advised him to get into showbiz for kids. “Howdy Kids” became his trademark greeting and the Boomtown Posse, that part of the show when all the kid guests got to parade across the screen and wave at the camera, became my favorite segment.