James Allen, TV Personality Who Inspired Krusty the Clown on 'The Simpsons,' Dies at 87
A real-life Baptist minister, he hosted children’s TV shows as the clown Rusty Nails in Portland, Ore.
James Allen, who portrayed the clown character Rusty Nails on local television in Portland, Ore. for years and served as Matt Groening’s inspiration for Krusty on The Simpsons, has died. He was 87.
Allen, an ordained Baptist minister when he was not sporting a shiny red nose, orange wig and oversized bowtie, died on Tuesday of congestive heart failure, his daughter, Jody, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Allen hosted his first children’s show as Rusty on KOIN in 1957 and played the clown on KPTV and KATU through the early 1970s. He sang and accompanied himself on the piano and introduced cartoons, Three Stooges shorts and movies through the years.
A popular local celebrity, Allen made appearances at supermarkets and was a staple at the Rose Festival each June. He wrote an autobiography, Send in the Clowns, published in 1998, and did his last show as Rusty at Christmas at the Alpenrose Dairy in 2006.
In an April 30, 1961, article from TV Prevue Magazine, Allen said: “I wish to lead a private life when I am not in makeup; this is very important to me, and I will not allow my work to interfere with my family and children."
The story reported that “In this respect, Jim Allen is fortunate; he is rarely recognized out of makeup. In fact, once his show is over and he has removed Rusty from face and figure, he can walk unmolested through crowds of children in KPTV's lobby who have just witnessed his show.”
In the 2001 book Hi There, Boys and Girls! America's Local Children’s TV Programs, author Tim Hollis noted that Allen often incorporated religious themes into his act. He wrote that Peggy Charren, the founder of the influential advocacy group Action for Children’s Television, charged that Allen was “brainwashing” kids with his theology, leading to the cancellation of The Rusty Nails Show.
The Simpsons, the longest scripted primetime series in TV history, first appeared as cartoons created by Groening on Fox’s The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 before the show struck out on its own two years later.
Krusty, voiced by Dan Castellaneta, arrived Jan. 15, 1989, in the Ullman short “The Krusty the Clown Show.” When he’s not introducing Itchy & Scratchy cartoons on his own Channel 6 show in Springfield, Krusty, the son of a rabbi, is quite the miserable guy, but Groening — born in 1954 and raised in Portland — has said that the real-life Rusty was nothing like that.
In addition to his daughter, Allen's survivors include his wife of 60 years, Georgia; other children Leslie, Ken and Desiree; and nine grandchildren.