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September 21, 2014

TV star Gene Barry passes away at 90

by Allison Waldman, posted Dec 11th 2009 2:29PM
bat_masterson_gene_barry"It's Burke's Law." That was the opening tag for one of three successful TV series that starred Gene Barry, one of the classiest actors to appear on screen. On Wednesday, TV star Gene Barry died at at 90 of undetermined causes. He was living in an L.A. rest home, but I will remember Gene Barry as the man who made Burke's Law, Bat Masterson and The Name of the Game memorable TV entertainment.

Barry was also well-known as the original star of the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, and when Steven Spielberg remade the film in 2005 with Tom Cruise, he gave Gene a quick cameo. In addition to being a versatile leading man -- capable of playing a bad guy, a bon vivant, cops, spies, gentlemen, gunslingers, and magazine publishers -- Gene Barry also was a song and dance man. In 1984, he was one of the toasts of Broadway in La Cage aux Folles. Currently Kelsey Grammer is about to play Gene's role in a 2010 spring revival.

But Gene Barry -- who was born Eugene Klass in New York City in 1919 -- was best known for the three TV series in which he starred. On Bat Masterson, an NBC western that ran from 1958-1961, he was an elegant gunslinger. He wore a derby and wielded a silver-topped cane. As played by Barry, Bat was more of a sharpy than a shooter. He used his head and tried not to muss up his dandy suits. The character was a winner and appeared in comic books, lunch boxes and all kinds of ancillary goodies.

Gene then moved on to another popular show, Burke's Law, 1963-1965. In it he was an L.A. police detective, but sort of as a hobby. He was fabulously wealthy and lived in a mansion. He was driven to crime scenes in white Rolls Royce. Women couldn't resist him. Gene Barry won a Golden Globe for his performance in 1965. The next year, influenced by the James Bond craze, Burke's Law became Amos Burke, Secret Agent.

From 1968-71, NBC presented a three-star wheel of shows under the umbrella title, The Name of the Game. Gene played the publisher, Glenn Howard, who ran magazines that were helmed by Anthony Franciosa (People -- before a real People magazine was launched in 1974!) and Robert Stack (Crime). Each week, the actors would take turns with episodes, rarely interacting. That was left to Susan St. James, who was Peggy Maxwell, who was the editorial assistant for all the mags.

He was also the star of Prescription: Murder, the TV movie that started the TV movie genre in 1968 and introduced Columbo to the world. He was even the voice of Miller in a classic Christmas ad. He was in hundreds of TV episodes, Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Alfred Hitchcock, Playhouse 90, et. al.

And in all these incarnations, he was distinctive and memorable. That's how I remember Gene Barry on screen -- and off.

I actually had the chance see him on Broadway and to meet him at the stage door for La Cage. I was a fan of his work and asked for an autograph. My girlfriend Janelle was an even bigger fan, and she was dazzled by him. He was as classy in person as he had always been on screen. Not a bad way to be remembered for your work.

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ricochet

Met him once in a restaurant in San Diego - absolute Class Act!!!

December 15 2009 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elyse

Oh wow, that's sad to hear. I used to watch Gene in a variety of his shows, loved his War of the Worlds. RIP, Gene....

December 11 2009 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fig\'s Friend

Truly a wonderful man and such a classy actor. Never be another llike him. Can you think of any of our so-called "stars" today that have his class? Who could be called "debonair" as he was? I think not.

December 11 2009 at 4:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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