Barry in 1959.
June 14, 1919
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Died||December 9, 2009
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart failure|
|Resting place||Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City|
|Betty Claire Kalb (1944-2003; her death)|
Gene Barry (born Eugene Klass, June 14, 1919 - December 9, 2009) was an American stage, screen, and television actor. Barry is best remembered for his leading roles in the films The Atomic City (1952) and The War of The Worlds (1953) and for his portrayal of the title characters in the TV series Bat Masterson and Burke's Law, among many roles.
Barry was born on June 14, 1919, in New York City, the son of Eva (née Conn) and Martin Klass; all of his grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Russia. Barry grew up in Brooklyn and attended New Utrecht High School. Barry exhibited early artistic skills with singing and playing violin as a child and later spent two years at the Chatham Square School of Music in Greenwich Village on a scholarship awarded for his vocal ability.
On October 22, 1944, at age 25, Barry married Betty Claire Kalb (February 12, 1923 - January 31, 2003), whom he met on the set of Catherine Was Great. Kalb was an actress known by the stage name Julie Carson.
Barry chose his professional name in honor of John Barrymore and made his Broadway debut as Captain Paul Duval in the 1942 revival of Sigmund Romberg's The New Moon. He later portrayed Falke in Rosalinda (1942), Nova Kovich in The Merry Widow (1943), Lieutenant Bunin in Catherine Was Great (1944), Dorante and Comte De Chateau-Gaillard in The Would-Be Gentleman (1946), The Doctor in Happy as Larry (1950), and played a variety of roles in the musical revue Bless You All (1950).
In 1951, Barry was hired for his first movie, in the role of "Dr. Frank Addison" in The Atomic City (1952), and then in 1953, Barry was cast as "Dr. Clayton Forrester" in the science fiction film The War of the Worlds (1953). (Much later, Barry also made a cameo appearance in Steven Spielberg's remake of War of the Worlds (2005), along with his co-star Ann Robinson from the film of 1953.)
When the situation comedy Our Miss Brooks was given a change in format in 1955, Barry was cast in a recurring role as the physical-education teacher "Gene Talbot", the new romantic interest of series star Eve Arden. While the show was canceled in 1956, Barry's character--a ladies' man with expensive tastes--served as the model for three shows in which he starred.
Bat Masterson, a fictionalized recounting of the life of the real-life U.S. Marshal, gambler, and gunman was broadcast by NBC-TV from 1958 to 1961. (In 1990, Barry recreated the role of Bat Masterson for two episodes of Guns of Paradise along with Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp and the following year in The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, also with O'Brian as Wyatt Earp.)
In his next TV series, Burke's Law, Barry played a millionaire homicide investigator who was chauffeured in his limousine as he solved crimes. This series was broadcast on ABC-TV from September 20, 1963, to May 5, 1965. For his performance in it, Barry won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in 1965. In 1965-66, the final season of the series, the title of the show changed to Amos Burke Secret Agent. (In 1994 a revival of the Burke's Law series returned to television for two seasons on CBS - Barry again played in the titular role, but this time as a widower working with his son Peter (Peter Barton).) According to his co-star Gary Conway, who played Det. Tilson in the series, the two actually had a lot of fun, on- and off-camera, despite having some difficulties with each other. After Conway left the show, he remained friends with Barry, until his acting mentor's death.
Barry's third TV series was called The Name of the Game, in which he played the sophisticated publisher of a family of magazines, and he was one of three lead characters on the series. The other two lead actors were Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa, who rotated with Barry week by week as the primary character in each week's program. This series was shown by NBC from 1968 to 1971. One of the magazines that Barry's character published was called People magazine, several years before the actual People magazine entered publication.
Shortly before the filming of The Name of the Game series began, Barry played the villain--a wealthy psychiatrist-- in Prescription: Murder, the two-hour pilot episode of the TV series Columbo.
In 1972, Barry starred in the ITV television series The Adventurer, along with Barry Morse and Catherine Schell. He played Gene Bradley, a government agent of independent means, who poses as a glamorous American movie star.
Barry returned to Broadway acting on two occasions--in 1962 in The Perfect Setup, and in 1983 in the Broadway premiere of the musical La Cage aux Folles. For his portrayal of Georges, Barry was nominated for a Tony Award.
For his contribution to live theatre, Gene Barry received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6555 Hollywood Boulevard. In 1994, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Barry died on December 9, 2009 at Sunrise Senior Living in Woodland Hills, California, at the age of ninety. He was buried at the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. His marker says, "A Class Act." His wife, Betty, had died earlier, in 2003, after fifty-eight years of marriage.