Obituary: Robert Allen

THE ACTOR Robert Allen was once better known as Bob "Tex" Allen, one of the first of the white-hatted cowboy stars who thrilled cinema audiences long ago.

It is perhaps ironic that his death should follow so shortly after that of the two most popular singing cowboys of all time, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, for it was the advent of the singing cowboy that ended "Tex" Allen's career in the saddle in the mid-Thirties after he had established himself in a series of "Texas Ranger" westerns. Fortunately, Allen's talents extended beyond playing western heroes ("How nice to have a screen cowboy who is an actor," wrote one critic) and his acting career was to span 60 years of film, stage and television work.

He was born Irving Theodore Baehr in 1906, in Mt Vernon, New York, and was studying at Dartmouth College when he had his first taste of show business. In 1926 a film crew were using the campus as a setting for a Richard Arlen vehicle, The Quarterback, and asked Allen, a top athlete who excelled in boxing and polo, to do some stunt work on the film. Despite the disapproval of his father, who wanted him to join the family import- export business, the handsome young graduate decided to become an actor.

He worked as a model and airline pilot before Warner Bros signed him as a contract player in 1931 and gave him minor roles in three of that year's movies, Party Husband, Night Nurse and The Reckless Hour. Dissatisfied with his progress, the actor decided to gain stage experience, and appeared in a West Coast production of Zoe Atkins's The Greeks Had a Word for It. He made his Broadway debut in Arthur Hoerl's A Few Wild Oats (1933). Though the play ran for only four performances, Allen's performance as the earnest young man who tames the heroine with true love was well received.

He returned to Hollywood to play a starring role opposite Evalyn Knapp in a 12-chapter serial, The Perils of Pauline (1934), and critics noted that the athletic actor stole the limelight by featuring in more action- filled sequences than the heroine. Signed to a contract by Columbia, he was involved in more serial-like situations in his first film, Air Hawks (1935), which had spectacular stunts by the real-life aviator Wiley Post .

Allen then played the romantic lead to Grace Moore in Love Me Forever (1935), was Dmitri, the upright best friend of the murderer Raskolnikov (Peter Lorre) in Josef von Sternberg's powerfully moody version of Crime and Punishment (1935), and played the dashing lieutenant who loves the heroine of Roy William Neill's stylishly gothic horror film The Black Room (1935). After the villain, played by Boris Karloff, disposes of his good twin brother by hurling him to impalement in a pit of stakes, then falls into the same pit and becomes impaled on the stake protruding through his brother, Allen has the film's final words: "The older brother killed by the younger brother's knife . . . the prophecy has been fulfilled."

Despite sympathetic performances, Allen found himself overshadowed in these two films by the powerful presences of Lorre (a morphine addict at the time of his mesmerising Raskolnikov) and Karloff, while Craig's Wife (1936), in which he was the boyfriend of Rosalind Russell's niece, was dominated by Russell's star-making performance. But in the same year he made the first of his Texas Ranger series, The Unknown Ranger, billed as Bob "Tex" Allen. Directed by the action specialist Spencer G. Bennet (who had directed the first, silent, version of The Perils of Pauline), it was a fast-paced tale of cattle rustling that zipped speedily along for 57 minutes.

Allen was a hit with western fans, and made five more Ranger films, all under 60 minutes and all directed by Bennet. The best were The Reckless Ranger (1937), about the cattleman-sheepman conflict, which showed a rare sympathy for the sheepman, and Ranger Courage (1937).

In 1937 a box-office poll of western stars placed Allen second only to the long-time favourite Tim McCoy. "I thought, `Boy I'm on my way'," said Allen some years later. "But Columbia had signed Buck Hones to produce his own pictures and that gave them three western stars - Jones, Charlie Starrett and me. Being the low man on the totem pole, my series was dropped." He then negotiated with Republic Pictures, who were looking for a new western star. "The studio's casting director called me for an interview and said, `Bob, we want to build up someone to compete with Gene Autry. As you don't play the guitar we've decided to go with a kid from Ohio we have under contract at $75 a week, a boy named Roy Rogers.' That was the end of Bob `Tex' Allen."

He made one more film for Columbia, the Leo McCarey comedy classic The Awful Truth (1937), in which he had a small role as Cary Grant's chum, then accepted a contract with Fox, though the roles he was given were not important ones - by 1940 he was getting 11th billing in a B movie, City of Change. He persevered, though, and during the Second World War starred in a USO production of Ruth Gordon's comedy Over 21, which toured North Africa and Italy. After the war he appeared on Broadway in Luther Davis's comedy Kiss Them For Me (1945), as one of three naval officers on shore leave, and a hit revival of Show Boat (1946), playing Steve, the riverboat performer married to the tragic half-caste Julie (Carol Bruce).

During the next decade he worked steadily in off-Broadway shows, television, movies and commercials. By 1956, when he took over the role of the villainous lawyer Babcock in Auntie Mame on Broadway, starring his old friend Rosalind Russell, his name was familiar to a new generation of youngsters who were watching the "Bob Allen, Ranger" series of old movies on television. He starred in a television movie for Walt Disney, Brimstone, The Amish Horse, and in several soap-operas, but preferred live theatre and spent most of his later career on stage. He also became a real estate broker in 1964, but continued to take screen and stage work into the Seventies.

In 1934 he married the MGM actress Evelyn Pierce, described by Florenz Ziegfeld as "the prettiest woman in the world", and their marriage endured happily until her death in 1960. In 1964 he married the socialite Frances Cookman and they became residents of the sophisticated town of Oyster Bay, New York.

Tom Vallance

Irving Theodore Baehr (Robert Allen), actor: born New York 28 March 1906; married 1934 Evelyn Pierce (died 1960; one son, one daughter), 1964 Frances Cookman; died Oyster Bay, New York 9 October 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee