Though he enjoyed a nearly three-decade, award-winning career as a television director, a single film - 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause" - assured Corey Allen's lasting fame. Allen played Buzz Gunderson, the picture's smirking heel, whose bullying of James Dean's Jim Stark culminated in a lethal hot rod race. The film's iconic status ensured Allen work in later years, but he turned away from acting to direct and produce for television from the late 1960s through the mid-1990s, most notably on "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87) and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994). Allen's passing in 2010 was mourned by "Rebel" fans who paid tribute to one of the last surviving cast members of that defining youth culture film.
Born Alan Cohen in Cleveland, OH on June 29, 1934, he was the son of Carl Cohen, a legendary casino manager in Las Vegas who famously knocked out two of Frank Sinatra's teeth during an altercation at the Sands Hotel in 1967. The Cohen family relocated to California in the 1950s, where Allen began acting as a student at UCLA. While there, he earned the theatre department's best actor award, and also starred in the short film "A Time Out for War" (1954), a thoughtful Civil War drama about two Union soldiers - Allen and Barry Atwater - who declare a brief truce with a Confederate soldier on the opposite bank of a river they are guarding. The short won the Oscar for Best Short Subject and first prize at the Venice Film Festival, among many other laurels, and its directors, brothers Denis and Terry Sanders, were subsequently hired by Charles Laughton to helm the second unit on "The Night of the Hunter" (1955) before launching successful careers as directors, documentarians and producers. They also brought brought Allen on board to play an uncredited role as a townsperson in the classic Robert Mitchum thriller.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1954, Allen was active in the Los Angeles theater scene, most notably as one of the guiding forces behind the touring company, Freeway Circuit Inc., which he launched in 1959. His screen career, however, was relegated to bit parts in films like "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" (1954) before director Nicholas Ray saw him on the stage and cast him in "Rebel." Allen's Buzz Gunderson was a typical postwar JD, a sneering, preening monster in black leather who goads James Dean's taciturn hero into a "chicken run" - a full-speed race towards a seaside cliff in stolen cars, with the winner being the one who jumps out at the last minute. He also had one of the cinema's classic final lines: asked by Dean's Jim why they would undertake such a dangerous race, Buzz spits, "You got to do something, don't you?" Moments later, he plunged to his death when his jacket caught on the handle of his car door.
The runaway popularity of "Rebel" made stars of many of its young actors, including Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper, and turned Dean, who died before its theatrical release, into a sainted figure for generations of teenagers. However, its impact on Allen's career was minimal; he had some notable moments as a supporting player in "The Chapman Report" (1962), a watered-down take on The Kinsey Report; the film version of "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962), and enjoyed a rare lead as a kidnapper who falls for his victim in "Juvenile Jungle" (1958). He found more consistent employment on episodic television, which kept him active until 1969. During this period, Allen also kept a hand in Los Angeles live theater as a member of the Actors Theater as well as a teacher at the Actors and Directors Workshops. The latter endeavor would serve him well at the end of the 1960s, when he began in earnest his new career behind the camera.
His first TV directorial credits came in 1969 with three episodes of the youth-oriented fantasy-drama "The New People" (ABC, 1969-1970) and soon expanded to more mainstream fare like "Mannix" (CBS, 1967-1975), "Ironside" (NBC, 1967-1975) and "The Streets of San Francisco" (ABC, 1972-77), the latter of which earned him a Directors Guild of America nomination for outstanding directorial achievement in 1975. His reputation for working quickly and capably allowed him to move into TV features like the Emmy-nominated "Cry Rape" (CBS, 1973), though he rarely ventured into theatrical releases. His few excursions in that venue were offbeat affairs like 1971's "Pinocchio," a softcore re-telling of the classic children's story, and "Avalanche" (1978), a low-budget disaster film with Rock Hudson and Mia Farrow.
Television kept Allen busy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in an Emmy win for a 1984 episode of "Hill Street Blues" (NBC, 1981-87). He was a favorite of the producers for "Hunter" (NBC, 1984-1991), for which he helmed 10 episodes, and the franchise series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (syndicated, 1987-1994) and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (syndicated, 1993-99), which commissioned him to the director's chair on nine occasions between them, including the pilot for "Generation." In 1994, Allen helmed his final projects - a pair of episodes of "The Cosby Mysteries" (CBS, 1994-95) - before retiring. In subsequent years, he was frequently called upon to recount his experiences on "Rebel" for various documentaries; among his most recalled stories was the knife fight sequence, during which Allen accidentally injured Dean. Since both actors were devotees of the Method school, they had insisted upon using real blades.
Allen briefly returned to acting in 2004 with a supporting role as a mysterious millionaire in the indie fantasy-comedy "The Works" before being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. However, he kept active until 2009, providing a voice for the indie comedy "Quarantined" (2009) before succumbing to the disease in June of 2010, just two days shy of his 76th birthday. His passing was noted by news sources around the globe for its historical impact; after the death of Dennis Hopper that same month, Allen had been one of the last living members of the "Rebel" cast.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Feature film acting debut, "The Mad Magician"
Last feature roles as actor "Sweet Bird of Youth" and "The Chapman Report"
Feature film directing debut (also co-writer), "Pinocchio/The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio"
Became instructor at Columbia College - Hollywood