Corey Allen

Corey Allen

Corey Allen obituary in “The Guardian” in 2010.

Corey Allen, who has died aged 75, belonged to that category of film actors who became famous by association. Allen played Buzz Gunderson, the motorcycle gang leader in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), opposite James Dean as Jim Stark. Since the recent death of his one-time room-mate Dennis Hopper, Allen was the last survivor among the leading performers in the film. Dean died in a car crash shortly before its release, and Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo also died prematurely.

Buzz was a relatively small role, but an extremely significant and memorable one. Wearing a leather jacket and white T-shirt, which clashes with Jim’s bright red jacket, Buzz challenges him to a “chicken run” – driving two stolen cars towards the edge of a seaside bluff at high speed, with the first one to jump out of his car before it sails over the edge a chicken. It ends with the death of Buzz and with Jim suffering guilt.

A subtle intimacy is created between the two outsiders. As the boys prepare for the perilous test of nerves, Buzz remarks, while sharing a cigarette: “You know something? I like you.” “Why do we do this?” Jim asks. “You’ve gotta do something. Don’t you?” Buzz replies.

The role, when he was 21, set the pattern for most of Allen’s acting career, which consisted mainly of variations of Buzz – cool thugs or hot juvenile delinquents – during the period when teenagers were seen in terms of social problems. In The Shadow On the Window (1957) and Juvenile Jungle (1958), he kidnaps a woman; in The Big Caper (1957), he is part of a gang waiting to rob a bank; in Nicholas Ray’s Party Girl (1958), he is a petty Chicago gangster; and he helps disfigure Paul Newman at the end of Sweet Bird of Youth (1962).

At the same time, he was appearing in a dozen or so television shows, often in westerns as a trigger-happy cowboy. No wonder Allen decided to retire from acting in 1970 and become a director, principally of television series.

Allen, who was born Alan Cohen in Cleveland, Ohio, continued the Hollywood tradition of Jewish actors taking new names, such as Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas and Lauren Bacall. His father was Carl Cohen, a casino manager in Las Vegas, and part-owner of the Sands hotel, who was notorious for having punched an obstreperous Frank Sinatra in the mouth in 1967, causing the singer to lose two teeth. Allen studied for a BA in fine arts in theatre at UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles), where he co-starred with Barry Atwater in a short film set during the American civil war, A Time Out of War, which won the Oscar for best short film in 1955. On graduating, he began performing in a variety of plays in the Los Angeles area, in one of which he was spotted by the director Nicholas Ray, who cast him in Rebel Without a Cause.

Television kept Allen busy as a director for around 25 years, during which time he made three best-forgotten low-budget feature films: The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio (1971), Thunder and Lightning (1977, about moonshiners) and Avalanche (1978, a disaster movie starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow). Allen was more comfortable directing episodes of TV series such as The Rockford Files, Hill Street Blues, for which he won an Emmy, The Paper Chase, Dallas and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Allen, who had Parkinson’s disease for the last two decades, remained active as a director of plays until a few years ago. He is survived by a daughter, Robin.

• Corey Allen (Alan Cohen), actor and director, born 29 June 1934; died 27 June 2010

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