Lex Barker (1919-1973) was born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr. in
Rye, New York on May 8, 1919. He was a direct descendant of the founder
of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, and of Sir Henry Crichlow, historical
governor-general of Barbados. Barker excelled in football and track at
Fessenden School and the prestigious Phillips-Exeter Academy. Lex attended
Princeton University but left to pursue acting in summer stock which led
him to Broadway. His education and acting were put on hold with America's
entry into World War II when he enlisted as a buck private in the US Army.
At the time of his discharge in 1945 he had risen to the rank of major
and had served honourably in North Africa and Italy where he had been badly
After the war he was signed by 20th Century Fox and then by Warner
but he was too tall for supporting parts and too unknown for leads.
As a result he appeared in a series of bit parts. He made his screen debut
in Lewis Seilerís Doll Face, starring Vivian Blaine as a burlesque
dancer, in a story written by Gypsy Rose Lee. Other small parts followed
in numerous outstanding films: The Farmerís Daughter (1947 Best
Actress Academy Award for Loretta Young), and Crossfire (Edward
Dmytrykís 1947 milestone film noir), and in the Cary Grant comedy classic
Blandings Builds His Dream House. His big break came when Lex,
a six-foot, four-inch athlete with stunning good looks, was picked from
a crowd of several hundred aspiring Tarzans by producer Sol Lesser. Edgar
Rice Burroughs commented that Lex perfectly suited his original concept
of a savage jungle character who was also an English blueblood. Between
1949 and 1953 he appeared in a total of five Tarzan films for RKO: Tarzan's
Magic Fountain, Tarzan and the Slave Girl, Tarzan's Peril, Tarzan's Savage
Fury, and Tarzan and the She-Devil.
His first jungle adventure was Tarzanís Magic Fountain (1949).
Lexís jungle lord came closer than Weissmullerís to the original Edgar
Rice Burroughs concept. Both press and audiences reacted positively and
the film was a hit. Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950), and Tarzanís
Peril (1951), followed and helped sustain the popularity of the series.
Interestingly, Tarzanís Peril was the first Tarzan film that was
partly shot in Africa and not relying on African footage taken from other
films (i.e. Trader Horn).
Exploiting Tarzanís continuing popularity, Sol Lesser continued to
produce one Tarzan film per year. Tarzanís Savage Fury (1952)
was another commercial success but there was increasing strain on the Barker/Lesser
relationship. Lex was determined to put his own stamp on the Tarzan character
and break from the Weissmuller mold. His vision of Tarzan was one closer
to that of the intelligent English lord created by Burroughs. He also feared
that he would become typecast as Tarzan and that he would never be given
a chance to expand into other acting roles. This fear of typecasting even
led him to turn down an offer to play the man of steel in the Superman
television series. Finally, he was given the lead in Battles of Chief
Pontiac - a film taking an intelligent view of American Indians - but
it was not a box office success.
Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953), although another success,
saw the amount of Barker dialogue cut in half -- a result of his
constant arguing about his acting ambitions with producer Sol Lesser. This
would be Barker's last Tarzan film, despite its success and its intriguing
supporting cast: Raymond Burr (later Perry Mason) played the villain and
17-year-old Monique Van Vooren made her American film debut.
Barker now decided to sign only for one-film deals and Lesser signed
Gordon Scott to star in Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955). Following
the end of the Tarzan series, Barker made 16 films, mostly westerns,
before major roles in Hollywood films dried up. With his career in trouble,
he left Hollywood for Europe to star in "Kraut Westerns," a career move
that pioneered Clint Eastwood's successful "spaghetti Westerns." His role
in Fellini's La Dolce Vita in 1959 was a major career boost and,
almost overnight, Lex became a European box office sensation (he
was fluent in German, French, Spanish, and Italian). He then became
better known in Germany than in the U.S. because of his role as "Old Shatterhand,"
"Kara Ben Nemsi" and "Dr. Karl Sternau" in 12 movies based on books written
by Karl May, who is a very popular author for adventure literature in Germany.
He won Germany's Bambi Award as Best Foreign Actor of 1966 and went on
to make more than 70 films all over the world. His last two films, A
Place Called Glory (1965) and Woman Times Seven (1967), were
By the 1970s, Lex had retired to his Costa Brava home on Spainís
Mediterranean coast but was anxious to return to work in Hollywood. His
Hollywood comeback involved TV guest appearances, including The FBI
and It Takes A Thief with plans for his own series and film projects.
This promising return to America came to a sudden end, however, when Lex
died of a heart attack on Lexington Avenune in New York City, on May 11,
1973. He was only 54 years old.
Lex was married five times and had two sons and a daughter. His wives
included American actresses Arlene Dahl and Lana Turner, and Swiss actress