Friday, December 11, 2009

The Late, Great Gene Barry

Gene Barry, star of television, stage, and the screen, passed on Wednesday at the age of 90. He was the star of three different television series (Bat Masterson, Burke's Law, and The Name of the Game). He also played the lead role in the classic 1953 movie adaptation of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Gene Barry was born Eugene Klass in New York City on June 14, 1919. He took up singing and violin while very young and eventually earned a singing scholarship at the Chatham Square School of Music after graduating high school. He took the stage name "Gene Barry" in honour of John Barrymore. He was only twenty three when he made his debut on Broadway in a revival of the musical The New Moon. He would appear frequently on Broadway in the Forties, in such plays as Rosalinda (1942), a revival of The Merry Widow (1943), Catherine the Great (1944), and The Would Be Gentleman (1946).

It was in 1950 that he made his debut in the medium that would make him famous, television. His first appearance on television was in an episode of The Clock. That same year he would appear in episodes of NBC Television Opera Theatre (Die Fledermaus), and Believe It or Not. Later in the decade Barry would guest star on such shows as The Hallmark Hall of Fame, Suspense, Lux Video Theatre, The Loretta Young Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Fireside Theatre, and Playhouse 90. In 1955 he was cast in the recurring role of Gene Talbot on Our Miss Brooks. It was in 1958 that he was cast in the lead role of Bat Masterson. Loosely based on the historical, old West lawman, Bat Masterson was played tongue in cheek, with Barry playing Masterson as a dandy and ladies' man who dressed in an expensive derby, waistcoat, and jacket. He was never without his cane, which used more often than his guns.

Barry did not abandon Broadway entirely in the Fifties. He appeared in the plays Happy as Larry (1950) and Bless You All (1950). He made his motion picture debut starring in The Atomic City in 1952. Throughout the decade he appeared in such films as The Girls of Pleasure Island, Those Redheads from Seattle, Soldier of Fortune, and Hong Kong Confidential. By far his most famous turn in movies would be The War of the Worlds, released in 1953. in which Gene Barry played Dr. Clayton Forrester, the physicist who must fight off a Martian invasion.

Bat Masterson went off the air in 1960. Barry made guest appearances on The Dick Powell Show, General Electric Theatre, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1962 he appeared on Broadway in The Perfect Setup. It was that year that he began playing the character for which he is known besides Bat Masterson, Amos Burke in Burke's Law. The character of Los Angeles Chief of Detectives Amos Burke was very similar to that of Bat Masterson. He was chauffeured to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce. He dressed in the finest clothes. And like Masterson, Burke had a weakness for the ladies. Strange as it may seem given how strongly Gene Barry would be identified with Amos Burke, he did not originate the character. Dick Powell first played Amos Burke in the 1961, debut episode of The Dick Powell Show. It was in 1965, with the spy craze well under way, that the show was completely revamped. The entire cast save for Gene Barry was gone, and Amos Burke was now a spy. As might be expected given such changes, the show was retitled Amos Burke, Secret Agent. It was cancelled after half a season.  Barry appeared in the television movie which saw the debut of Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo, Prescription: Murder in 1968, as well as the movie Subterfuge. In 1968 he was cast in the lead role of publishing tycoon Glenn Howard in The Name of the Game. The series lasted three years.

In 1972 Gene Barry was cast in the lead role of Gene Bradley on the British show The Adventurer. In the series Barry played an independently wealthy government agent whose cover was that of a movie star. The series ended in 1973. The Seventies saw Barry appear in the movies The Second Coming of Suzanne and Guyana: Crime of the Century, as well as the mini-series Aspen. He guest starred on the show The Feather and Father Gang. The Eighties saw Gene Barry return to what may be his best known role on Broadway, that of Georges in La Cage aux Folles. On television he appeared in such shows as Charlie's Angels, Fantasy Island, Love Boat, Crazy Like a Fox, and The Twilight Zone. He also appeard in the TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love. In a 1989 episode of Paradise, Gene Barry reprised his role as Bat Masterson, alongside Hugh O'Brien as Wyatt Earp.

In 1991, in the television movie The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, Barry once more played Bat Masterson. In 1994 he returned as Amos Burke in a revival of Burke's Law. Barry's last appearance on screen was in Steven Spielberg's 2005 version of War of the Worlds.

Gene Barry was arguably one of the most successful leading men in the history of television. He starred in no less than four TV shows, three of which were fairly successful, and starred in scores of others. But Barry's talent went far beyond the small screen. On Broadway he played roles that were often very different from Bat Masterson or Amos Burke. Indeed, he was nominated for a Tony for  Best Actor in a Musical for La Cage aux Folles.  Indeed, it can be argued that if Bat Masterson and Amos Burke are remembered to this day, it is because of the talent Barry brought to playing those roles.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

John Lennon Sights and Sounds

Today is the anniversary of the day John Lennon died. Over the years I think it is the one historical event I have written the most about. Rather than bore you with another story of what was one of the most painful days in my life, I thought I would leave you with a more fitting tribute to the man: three of his best songs.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Father Christmas by The Kinks

Tomorrow I have to be up bright and early for more overtime at work. Rather than do a full post, then, I will leave you with an early spot of holiday cheer. Here is the official video for "Father Christmas" by The Kinks. Full fledged blog entries will resume Wednesday. I hope.