Actor-turned-director who famously played James Dean's ill-fated nemesis in the classic 'Rebel Without a Cause'
Published 01/08/2010 | 05:00
The acting career of Corey Allen was boosted by early roles such as that of the ill-fated high-school gang-leader Buzz Gunderson, who challenges the new boy Jim Stark -- played by James Dean -- to a "chickie run" in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.
As Buzz drives a car towards a cliff, his leather jacket gets stuck in the door and prevents him from escaping.
Released in late October 1955, almost a month after Dean's own fatal, real-life car crash, the seminal film became the archetype for other "troubled youth" pictures and proved to be a breakthrough for Allen. But the young actor soon became frustrated with becoming typecast in such roles and switched to directing, mainly for television.
He played a significant role in extending the small-screen life of one of the most popular sci-fi series when he directed and helped to cast Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94). The original Sixties series and the four subsequent feature films had capitalised on its cult status, garnering a loyal, captive audience for Allen's venture. Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, set the new programme in the mid-24th century, almost 100 years on from the original. Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard and Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker -- complete with spandex uniforms -- were among the cast aboard the USS Enterprise, taking up the mantle previously held by William Shatner's Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy's Spock.
As well as directing the pilot, which established the new story and characters, Allen worked on various episodes over the seven seasons, as well as the first two runs of The Next Generation's spin-off, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-95).
His talent for giving productions a fast pace kept viewers hooked, but also had a downside. When Allen was shooting the Next Generation pilot, for instance, Roddenberry had to write additional scenes to fill the running time. Nevertheless, the sequel proved a hit with Trekkies and its characters eventually took over from the programme's Sixties stars in the films.
Allen was born Alan Cohen in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1934 and later moved with his family to Los Angeles. In 1954, he graduated in fine arts from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he won a best actor award. He also starred as a Union soldier in the theatre department's American Civil War film A Time Out of War (1954), which received a Best Short Subject Oscar.
This led Allen to appear, uncredited, in several films and an episode of the television crime drama Dragnet (1955), before he won attention for his role in Rebel Without a Cause, where his character ended up with a blade held to his throat in a knife fight with his nemesis, before plummeting to the beach below in a stolen car.
Allen was suddenly much in demand on screen, most notably popping up on television in series such as Rawhide (1959), Bonanza (1964) and Dr Kildare (1964). However, he found it difficult to break out of "arrogant youth" roles.
Salvation came in directing and producing for stage productions in Los Angeles and the touring Freeway Circuit Theatre. From 1969, Allen did little acting and concentrated on directing, calling the shots on many of American television's most popular programmes, such as Ironside (1970-71), Hawaii Five-O (1973), Police Woman (1976-78), The Rockford Files (1978-79), TJ Hooker (1982) and Magnum PI (1987).
His work on Hill Street Blues (1981-84) won him a 1984 Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series. Allen finished his career as a television director with two episodes of The Cosby Mysteries (1994), starring Bill Cosby as a criminologist working for the New York Police Department.
Only a few feature films appeared among the director's credits, but they included the action comedy Thunder and Lightning (1977), featuring David Carradine and some impressive car-chase stunts, and the ski-resort disaster picture Avalanche (1978), starring Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow, which was marred by low-budget special effects. Pinocchio (1970) -- also titled The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio and promoted with the promise "it's not his nose that grows!" -- was a failure that trod a line uneasily between adult comedy and soft-core porn film.
Allen returned to acting to star as an eccentric, wheelchair-bound millionaire in the film The Works (2004). He also voiced Mr Eagle in the comedy Quarantined (2009).
Although suffering from Parkinson's disease for the past two decades, he continued directing stage plays. He also taught at The Actors Workshop, the Margie Haber Studio and Columbia University. He died on June 27 in Los Angeles.