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12/11/2009

Gene Barry, more than TV's Bat Masterson

December 11, 2009 |  9:43 am

Gene Barry Many TV viewers of a certain age were introduced to actor Gene Barry, who died Wednesday at age 90, when he starred as the dandified title character in the western series "Bat Masterson," which debuted on NBC in 1958.

But there was much more to Barry than his portrayal of the gold-tipped-cane-wielding Masterson would indicate.

At the same time he was filming his TV series in Hollywood in late 1960, Barry was performing nights in the musical comedy "Destry Rides Again" at the Riviera in Las Vegas. After each show, he would be driven back to Hollywood to be on the set the next morning. He'd then fly to Vegas in the evening.

"I believe," Barry told The Times the day before the Vegas show's opening, "that if we are to judge a person on the basis of 100% potential, then Bat Masterson may satisfy 20% of me. There still is 80% I can do over and above this that can be exciting theater and satisfy my inner needs."

Flash forward to the early 1980s when Barry, at a low point in his acting career, was asked to audition for the role of Georges, the gay impresario of a drag nightclub, in the Broadway-bound musical "La Cage aux Folles."

At the end of Barry's audition, he received a standing ovation. Much to Barry's surprise.

"After all," he said in a 1984 interview in The Times, "I'd never heard of an actor getting an ovation at an audition."

"Well, he was so good," producer Allan Carr told The Times at the time. "And he was dressed magnificently -- as if he'd just stepped off [billionaire Greek shipping tycoon] Stavros Niarchos' yacht."

But Carr had a sense that Barry would be good: He had been impressed by him ever since he was a young man and his parents took him to see Barry in "Destry Rides Again" in Las Vegas in 1960.

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Gene Barry in 1958.

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