Before there was Krusty, there was Rusty.
James Allen, aka Rusty Nails, hosted a run of children’s shows in the Portland area for 16 years. Allen passed away in 2015. He would have been 89 years old this week.
The red-haired clown was a touchstone for a generation of baby boomers, including “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening.
Groening, who grew up in Portland, would use his childhood memory of Rusty as inspiration for his cartoon masterpiece.
Except that Rusty Nails was nothing like the larger-than-life, boozy Krusty the Clown.
“[Rusty Nails] was very nice … a very sweet clown,” said Groening in the book “Planet Simpson.”
“But he had that name, Rusty Nails, which I found incredibly disturbing as a child because you know you’re supposed to avoid Rusty Nails,” Groening said.
On television, Rusty Nails would entertain his young audience with skits, songs, performances and of course cartoons, which he would bring to life in interesting ways. One of his frequent guests was fellow Oregonian Mel Blanc.
Rusty Nails’ local celebrity grew after his show ended. He could be found performing in grocery stores thanks to his longtime sponsorship with Alpenrose.
Rusty Nails was also a regular at the Rose Festival and county fairs around the region. He took his act to Sunday schools and Bible studies. James Allen was an ordained Baptist Minster.
It’s a bit strange that his legacy is intertwined with the bitter Krusty the Clown. Unlike Krusty, Rusty was loved by his community and not just by his TV audience.