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03 September 2013

Imported from the USA: Lex Barker

We continue our new series 'Imported from the USA' with Lex Barker. After a Hollywood career as Tarzan and Mr Lana Turner, Barker moved to Europe. Here he worked with Federico Fellini and later became Old Shatterhand in the popular Karl May film series.

Pierre Brice, Lex Barker
Vintage Dutch postcard. With Pierre Brice at right.

Old Shatterhand

 
“Lake Of Terror! Battle Of Vengeance!” was the tagline of the German-Yugoslavian-French co-production Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (Harald Reinl, 1962), the first and the best of the European Westerns based on the novels by Karl May.

In 1962-1963 Der Schatz im Silbersee had over 3 million visitors and today it is still an entertaining film with likable characters like the Apache chief Winnetou (Pierre Brice) and his blood brother, the frontiersman Old Shatterhand, played by Lex Barker.
 
Der Schatz im Silbersee made both into superstars in Germany.

Like his co-star and good friend Pierre Brice, Barker later started a singing career and released several records.

Lex Barker in Old Shatterhand
German postcard by Kruger. Photo: Bernard of Hollywood (Bruno Bernard) / CCC-Produktion. Publicity Still for Old Shatterhand (Hugo Fregonese, 1964).

Lex Barker, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 82. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (1962).

Winnetou I, Lex Barker
German postcard, no. E 9. Photo: Constantin. Still from Winnetou - 1. Teil/Apache Gold (Harald Reinl, 1963).
Caption: "Old Shatterhand puts a rat in the ammunition and saves himself with a bold leap onto the horse. The remaining car, surrounded by Kiowas, explodes."

Disowned By His Family

 
Lex Barker was born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr. into a prominent and wealthy New York family in 1919 He was the second child of Alexander Crichlow Barker, Sr., a Canadian-born building contractor and his American wife, the former Marion Thornton Beals. His father later worked as a stockbroker.
 
Barker took time off from being a high-profile playboy to attend Princeton University, but dropped out in order to join a theatrical stock company, much to the chagrin of his family.

He made it to Broadway once, in a small role in a short run of William Shakepeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1938. He also had a small role in Orson Welles's disastrous Five Kings, which met with so many problems in Boston and Philadelphia that it never made it into New York.
 
Barker reportedly was spotted by scouts from Twentieth Century Fox and offered a film contract in 1939, but could not convince his parents to sign it (he was underage). Disowned by his family for his choice of an acting career, he worked in a steel mill and studied engineering at night.
 
In February 1941, ten months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Barker left his fledgling acting career and enlisted in the US Army. He rose to the rank of major during the war. He was wounded in action fighting in Sicily.

Back in the United States, Barker recuperated at an Arkansas military hospital, then upon his discharge from service, travelled to Los Angeles. Within a short time, he landed a small role in his first film, Doll Face (Lewis Seiler, 1945) starring Vivian Blaine.
 
A string of small roles followed, the best of which was as Emmett Dalton in the Western Return of the Bad Men (Ray Enright, 1948). Barker then found the role that would bring him fame.

Pierre Brice and Lex Barker
Dutch postcard by Facet Publishers, Lunteren, no. 4. Photo: Rank Film Distributors (Holland) N.V. Publicity still from Der Schatz im Silbersee (1963) with Pierre Brice.

Marie Versini, Lex Barker
German postcard, no. E 30. With Marie Versini.

Winnetou I, Pierre Brice, Lex Barker
German postcard, no. E 26. Photo: Constantin. Still from Winnetou I (1963) with Pierre Brice at right.
Caption: "Old Shatterhand, an Kräften und List dem Apachen-Häuptling überlegen, besiegt diesen, doch schont dessen Leben. Das Gottesurteil hat gesprochen. Old Shatterhand und seine Getreuen sind frei. (Old Shatterhand, superior in strength and cunning to the Apache chieftain, defeats him, but spares his life. The judgment of God has spoken. Old Shatterhand and his followers are free.)"

Ape-Man

 
In Tarzan's Magic Fountain (Lee Sholem, 1949), Lex Barker became the tenth official Tarzan of the cinema. He replaced Johnny Weissmuller. His blond, stunningly handsome, and intelligent appearance, as well as his athletic frame, helped make him popular in the role as Edgar Rice Burroughs’ ape-man.
 
Barker made only five Tarzan films produced by Sol Lesser between 1949 and 1953, but he remains one of the actors best known for the role.

His stardom as Tarzan led him to a variety of heroic roles in other films, primarily Westerns, and one interesting (and quite non-heroic) part in a World War II film, Away All Boats (Joseph Pevney, 1956) starring Jeff Chandler.
 
Barker's film career began to stall; the rise of television had erased many roles for the handsome leading man.
 
In 1957, he moved to Europe. Via England, he made his way to Italy where he was very much at home in the wave of Peplums. He also filmed in Spain and France. In Italy, he had a short but prestigious role as Anita Ekberg's fiancé in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita (1960).

But Barker had his greatest success in Germany. There he starred in two films based on the Doctor Mabuse stories (formerly filmed by Fritz Lang). As the hunter of the notorious Dr. Mabuse he played F.B.I. man Joe Como in the two black and white crime thrillers Im Stahlnetz des Dr. Mabuse/Return Of Dr. Mabuse (Harald Reinl, 1961) and Die Unsichtbare Krallen des Dr. Mabuse/Invisible Dr. Mabuse (Harald Reinl, 1962).
 
He also starred in the drama Frauenarzt Dr. Sibelius/Dr. Sibelius (Rudolf Jugert, 1962) and the comedy Frühstück im Doppelbett/Breakfast in Bed (Axel von Ambesser, 1963) with O.W. Fischer.
 
His most successful film was the Karl May adaptation Der Schatz im Silbersee/Treasure of Silver Lake (Harald Reinl, 1962) with Pierre Brice as Winnetou.

Lex Barker, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 79. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962).

Lex Barker in Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 53. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962).

Lex Barker, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 57. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962).

James Bond Rip-offs

 
In the following years, Lex Barker played in 12 more films based on novels by Karl May in which he played such well-known May characters as Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi, and Dr. Karl Sternau.
 
While American audiences forgot about him, his popularity in Europe quickly soared above the popularity of stars like John Wayne. In 1966, Barker was awarded the Bambi Award as Best Foreign Actor in Germany.
 
He even recorded a single, in German, with Martin Böttcher, the composer of some of the soundtracks of the Karl May films: Ich bin morgen auf dem Weg zu dir (I'll be on the way to you tomorrow) and Mädchen in Samt und Seide (Girl in Silk and Velvet).

Barker returned to the United States occasionally and made a handful of guest appearances on American television episodes. But Europe, and especially Germany, was his professional home for the remainder of his life.
 
He showed up in a handful of James Bond rip-offs. In 1967, he appeared with Shirley MacLaine in one part of an American seven-part film Woman Times Seven (1967), directed by Vittorio de Sica.

Lex Barker died of a heart attack in 1973 in New York. He was 54. Barker had been married five times. His wives were Constance Rhodes Thurlow (1942-1950), actress Arlene Dahl (1951-1952), actress Lana Turner (1953-1957), Swiss actress Irene Labhardt (1957-1962) and Carmen Cervera (1965-1972), a former Miss Spain. He left behind two sons and one daughter. One of his sons is actor Christopher Barker, from his marriage to Irene Labhart.

Pierre Brice and Lex Barker in Der Schatz im Silbersee
Dutch postcard by Gebr. Spanjersberg N.V., Rotterdam / Edition Facet Publishers. Photo: Rank Film Publishers (Holland) N.V. Publicity Still for Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962).

Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 72. Photo: Constantin. Publicity Still for Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962).

Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. ED 66. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz in Silbersee (1962).

Lex Barker and Mavid Popovic in Winnetou I
German postcard, no. E 25. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Winnetou I (1963) with Mavid Popovic. Caption: "In the water there is a bitter fight between Old Shatterhand and Winnetou's father, the chief of the Apaches."

Jan Sid, Lex Barker, Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. E 68. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz in Silbersee (1962) with Jan Sid.

Karin Dor, Lex Barker, Pierre Brice in Der Schatz im Silbersee
German postcard, no. ED 64. Photo: Constantin. Publicity still for Der Schatz in Silbersee (1962) with Karin Dor and Pierre Brice.

This was the third episode of 'Imported from the USA'. The first two episodes were dedicated to Jayne Mansfield and Josephine Baker.

Sources: Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Lex Barker Official Site, Brian J. Walker (Brian's Drive-In Theater), Wikipedia and IMDb.

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