EXPIRED: 12/10/09 – Gene Barry, 90, who could play anything from a dandy cowboy with a gambling habit to nightclub owner with a fondness for the boys. Barry had a career that went from stage to screen to TV and back to stage again.
He was born Eugene Klass in New York City in 1919, and he met his wife, Betty Claire Kalb, when both were performing in the city. He started as a song-and-dance man, appearing in several long-running 1940s musicals on Broadway. Back then he took his stage name as a tribute to actor John Barrymore.
By the 1950s he had switched to film acting where his most popular film was the original “War of the Worlds”, where Barry played a scientist. He even made a cameo in the Tom Cruise remake. He played the federal agent who pursued moonshiner Robert Mitchum in the whiskey noir “Thunder Road”, and he was a wealthy cad in a plane crash in “Back from Eternity”. Other films includes the science-fiction classic “Invaders From Mars” in 1953 and “Soldier of Fortune” in 1955 opposite Clark Gable.
On TV, Barry starred from 1958-61 as the high-class gambler and good guy Bat Masterson, the western hero who generally eschewed the gun and instead won fights by wielding his highly polished cane. From 1963-66 he played millionaire cop Amos Burke on Burke’s Law. From 1968-71 he played Glenn Howard, the crusading publisher of People magazine, on The Name of the Game.
Returning to the stage in the 1980s, Barry was Tony-nominated for the role of nightclub owner George in the original Broadway production of La Cage aux Folles.
For those of you who wouldn’t dare set foot in a Broadway theatre to see a play about a bunch of queens, you’d probably recognize him for his singing voice all the same. Barry sang the jingle for Lowenbrau beer for their commercials through most of the 1990s.
He and Betty Claire were married 58 years, until her death in 2003.