Gene Barry, Original Georges in La Cage Aux Folles, Dies

By Robert Simonson
11 Dec 2009

Gene Barry
Gene Barry

Gene Barry, a genial actor of theatre, film and television, who made his most lasting mark on the stage as Georges, half of the mature gay couple at the center of Jerry Herman's musical La Cage Aux Folles, died Dec. 9 in Woodland Hills, CA. He was 90.

Mr. Barry won a Tony Award nomination and Drama Desk Award nomination for his suave, dignified Georges, who owns a nightclub and puts up with the flamboyant excesses of his partner Albin with tenderness and equanimity. He originated the Herman songs "Song on the Sand" and "Look Over There." It was his final Broadway appearance in a career that began in the 1940s, when he appeared with The New Opera Company in a succession of revivals of old operettas, including The New Moon, The Merry Widow and Rosalinda. He also played opposite Mae West in Catherine Was Great. Mr. Barry met his wife, Betty, who acted under the name Julie Carson, during rehearsals. She died in 2003.

La Cage Aux Folles ran for years and ended up being a surprising career bookend for an actor best known for showy tough-guy roles in television series such as "Bat Masterson," "Burke's Law" and "The Name of the Game."

Gene Barry was born Eugene Klass on June 14, 1919, in New York to Martin Klass, a jeweler, and Eva Klass. He studied violin and singing as a boy, and got his start in show business while attending New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, when he won a singing contest and a scholarship to the Chatham Square School of Music. Soon, he was working on stage and, by 1942, Broadway. He changed his name to Gene Barry in honor of his idol John Barrymore.

Mr. Barry went to Hollywood in 1951. Movie roles followed, including scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester in "War of the Worlds" based on the H. G. Wells novel; "Soldier of Fortune," with Clark Gable and Susan Hayward; and "Thunder Road" with Robert Mitchum.



Real fame, however, came with the 1958 series "Bat Masterson," in which he played, for three seasons, the famous Wild West lawman as a charming, dapper, handsome gambler who sports a cane and a derby. From 1963 to 1966, he was jet-setting detective Amos Burke in "Burke's Law." Again, his character lived in style and made no apologies for it. A millionaire as well as Los Angeles chief of detectives, he got around in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce and lived in a mansion. (When the show was briefly revived in the 1990s, he again played Amos, by now a widower with a detective son, Peter.)

His third hit series was "The Name of the Game," from 1968 to 1971, in which he played Glenn Howard, a self-made publishing magnate with a lavish lifesytle.

His fame had dimmed a bit by the time La Cage revived his fortunes. After a year on Broadway, he joined the road company in San Francisco and played Los Angeles for a long stint. He also appeared in a one-man cabaret show entitled Gene Barry in One.

His final role was a bit part in the 2005 Tom Cruise remake of his old film, "The War of the Worlds."

He is survived by his daughter, Elizabeth, of Los Angeles, and two sons, Michael L. and Frederick J., both of Topanga, CA.