Inducted into the Ring of Fame: 2001
Circus Profession: Elephant Trainer and presenter
Rex Williams devoted his lifetime to the care, training and presentation of elephants. He was unique in the world of elephant trainers of the 20th century.. His unique approach to the treatment and schooling of his animal companions is legendary. Rex combined gentle methods along with the development of close interpersonal relationships with his elephants. The process was lengthy and involved a lot of patience on the part of animal and trainer.
The success of his techniques has profoundly influenced the practices of nearly every trainer of his time and revolutionized the methods of modern day elephant direct contact elephant management programs.
Rex was born in Danville Illinois on January 23, 1927. His early childhood was not a happy one and when he was 13 years old he ran away from home and joined the circus. He soon fell in love with the animals.
At 16 years old, Rex lied about his age and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Rex proudly served in the Occupation of China in 1945, (the U.S. Marines were ordered to participate in the occupation of certain areas of China primarily to assist Chiang Kai-shek's government in the surrender and disarmament of Japanese troops.)
After serving in the United States Marine Corps, Rex returned to the circus. In these early years he tried his hand at being the catcher with the Flying Pierces which included Wally Naghtin and Joanne Day as flyers. He also performed in the Cristiani bareback riding act. His love of animals especially elephants always brought him back to working with them
Rex Williams began his career as elephant trainer on Ben Davenport’s Dailey Bros Circus. Rex led the elephant department on the Clyde Beatty Cole Bros Circus for many years. It is on Beatty Cole Circus that Rex began working the fast paced elephant act while riding a white horse, (which would become his trademark).
The sight of the elephant herd rushing into the rings and Rex riding along side on the horse was a spectacle that audiences did not soon forget.
Besides working the fast paced elephant act while on horseback, Rex developed many new specialty tricks with his elephants. One such trick was called the elephant pyramid. Two bulls would lay on their bellies side by side. A third bull would climb on the backs of two other elephants forming a pyramid.
There was no animal that did not like Rex. He specialized in handling elephants and especially male elephants that no one else wanted. Male elephants were among his favorite animals to work with and they responded to him with as much admiration as he did for them. Rex always had several male elephants in his care. At one point even having five male elephants performing in one ring all together.
Roguishly handsome with matinee idol looks, he was often referred to as the John Wayne of Circus. Rex was even approached by the cigarette company Marlboro to be their next Marlboro Man. Rex graciously refused the offer but did occasionally work on television, commercials and films. One iconic performance was on the Ed Sullivan Show where Rex debut the elephant pyramid originally.
Rex led a twelve elephant hitch pulling a 30 foot high wagon in the 1982 Rose Bowl Parade. The elephants were the last float in the parade, sponsored by the Casablanca Fan Company.
In 1983 Rex led a herd of free running elephants on the streets of Wall Street in New York City for Xerox Financial Services television commercial. Later that year he celebrated the first successful birth of an elephant from two of his own elephants. The baby male elephant, named Myakka was his pride and joy.
Rex Williams continued to train and present elephants on Circus Vargas for many years developing multi species acts with rhinos, tigers, lions, camels, elephants and horses. Rex was also an accomplished horse trainer and presenter though he never claimed to have the level of expertise over his contemporaries in the equestrian arts
Rex was father to Ben Williams who was featured on Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus and Big Apple Circus. His daughter Darlene Williams was a stuntwoman in Hollywood for many years appearing recently in Water For Elephants, Fast and Furious 7 and many other films. His daughter Renee was a pilot and currently the VP of Operation for Constellation Aviation Solutions, a contractor of the FAA.
Rex was married three times. His first wife Barbara Woodcock was mother to his son Ben. His second wife Eva Coronas-Williams was mother to his two daughters Darlene and Renee. Rex married a third time late in life to Mary Braa- Williams and died in Daingerfield Texas 2003.