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Lex Barker
Born Alexander Crichlow Barker Jr.
May 8, 1919(1919-05-08)
Rye, New York
Died May 11, 1973 (aged 54)
New York City, New York
Spouse(s) Constanze Thurlow
Arlene Dahl
Lana Turner
Irene Labhart
Carmen G. Cervera

Lex Barker (May 8, 1919 – May 11, 1973) was an American actor best known for playing Tarzan of the Apes and leading characters from Karl May's novels.


Early life

Born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr. in Rye, New York, he was the second child of a wealthy building contractor[1] (U.S. Census records list him as a stockbroker[2]) and his wife Mariann[1] (U.S. Census records show her name as Marion).[2] The Barker household was extensive, with scores of servants, nurses, butlers, and chauffeurs. Young Barker attended the Fessenden School and graduated from the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. He played the oboe in the school orchestra and football on the playing field. He attended Princeton University for a time, but dropped out in order to join a theatrical stock company, much to the chagrin of his family.


Barker made it to Broadway once, in a small role in a short run of Shakepeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1938.[3] 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.[4] 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 U.S. Army. He rose to the rank of major during the war.[5] He was wounded in action (in the head and leg) fighting in Sicily.

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

In Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949), Barker became the tenth official Tarzan of the movies. His blond, handsome, and intelligent appearance, as well as his athletic, now 6'4" frame, helped make him popular in the role Johnny Weissmuller had made his own for sixteen years. Barker made only five Tarzan films, 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 (1956).

In 1957, as he found it harder to find work in American films, Barker moved to Europe (he spoke French, Italian, Spanish, and some German), where he found popularity and starred in over forty European films, including two movies based on the novels by Italian author Emilio Salgari (1862-1911). In Italy he also had a short but compelling role as Anita Ekberg's fiancé in Federico Fellini's La dolce vita (1959).

In Germany he had his greatest success. There he starred in two movies based on the "Doctor Mabuse" stories (formerly filmed by Fritz Lang), in the movies Frauenarzt Dr. Sibelius and Frühstück im Doppelbett, and in 13 movies based on novels by German author Karl May (1842-1912), playing such well-known May characters as Old Shatterhand, Kara Ben Nemsi, and Dr. Sternau.

In 1966, Barker was awarded the "Bambi Award" as "Best Foreign Actor" in Germany, where he was a major, very popular, star. He even recorded a single, in German, with Martin Böttcher, the composer of some of the soundtracks of the Karl May movies: "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"). He returned to the U.S. 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.

Personal life

He married five times:

  • Constanze Thurlow (1942 - 1950) (divorced)
  • Arlene Dahl (1951 - 1952) (divorced)
  • Lana Turner (September 8, 1953 - July 22, 1957) (divorced)
  • Irene Labhardt (1957 - 1962) (marriage ended at her death)
  • Maria del Carmen "Tita" Cervera (María del Carmen Rosario Soledad Cervera y Fernández de la Guerra) (1965 - 1972) (divorce not valid, marriage ended with his death), who later became the fifth and final wife of billionaire Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza

From his first marriage, with Constanze Thurlow, he had two children, daughter Lynn (born 1943) and son Alexander, called Zan, (born 1947). With his fourth wife, Irene Labhardt, he had a son called Christopher (born 1960).

Barker's third wife was actress Lana Turner. According to detailed allegations in a book by her daughter Cheryl Crane, written fifteen years after Barker's death, Turner ordered Barker out of their home one night at gunpoint after Cheryl, 13, accused him of molesting her over a long period of time. Divorce followed quickly, though no charges were filed and the couple's 1957 divorce record does not allude to the allegation.[6]


Barker died three days after his 54th birthday, in 1973, of a heart attack while walking down a street in New York City on his way to meet his fiancée, actress Karen Kondazian. The funeral was in New York. He was cremated and the ashes were taken by his last wife to Spain.

Christopher Barker, the actor's son with fourth wife Irene Labhardt, also became an actor and a singer, primarily in Germany. He made only a few films, but recorded many CDs. In the 1990s, he played his father's old role of Old Shatterhand, on the open-air stage in Bad Segeberg (Germany). Later he worked as an estate agent.


  • "Ich bin morgen auf dem Weg zu dir" / "Mädchen in Samt und Seide"

1965, Single, Decca D 19 725

  • Winnetou du warst mein Freund

1996, CD, Bear Family Records (contains both tracks from the 1965 Decca single and songs sung by Barker's frequent co-star Pierre Brice )

See also


  1. ^ a b Reiner Boller, Christina Böhme (2003). Lex Barker - Die Biografie. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Germany. ISBN 3-89602-444-2. 
  2. ^ a b United States Census for 1920, Rye, New York
  3. ^ The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Internet Broadway Database
  4. ^ Leaming, Barbara. Orson Welles: A Biography, pp. 188-201
  5. ^ Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, 1938-1946 [Archival Database]; World War II Army Enlistment Records; Records of the National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 64
  6. ^ Crane, Cheryl. Detour (1988), pp. 182-187
  • Manfred Christ: Von Tarzan bis Old Shatterhand - Lex Barker und seine Filme, Günter Albert Ulmer Verlag, Tuningen, Germany, 1994, 288 pages - ISBN 3-924191-81-6

External links

Preceded by
Johnny Weissmuller
Actors to portray Tarzan
Succeeded by
Gordon Scott

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