Lex Barker

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Lex Barker with actress Karen Kondazian on May 1, 1973, a few days before his death

Lex Barker (born May 8, 1919 in Rye , New York as Alexander Crichlow Barker Jr. , † May 11, 1973 in New York City ) was an American actor . His best-known roles were Tarzan , The Wildslayer and Old Shatterhand .


Early years

Alexander Crichlow Barker was born the second child to a wealthy building contractor. He was a direct descendant of the founder of the Rhode Island Colony , Roger Williams , and a descendant of Sir Henry Crichlow , former Governor General of Barbados .

Barker attended the Fessenden School and the renowned Phillips Exeter Academy . During his school days, he made a name for himself through his good performances as a track and field athlete and football player. He then began studying civil engineering at the elite university in Princeton in order to later take over the family business. To the chagrin of his father, Barker dropped out after a short time to begin an acting training that led him to Broadway . Here he got a small role in the play "The Merry Wives of Windsor". In 1940 he played in the play Five Kings (The Five Kings) under the direction of Orson Welles . On January 21, 1942, he married Constance Thurlow . At that time, he could not accept an interesting contract offer from the film company 20th Century Fox, as he was not yet of legal age. He then returned home, took a job in a steel mill and attended evening school on the side to complete his abandoned studies.

Barker's training was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in the United States Army infantry in 1942 and served in North Africa and Italy . In Sicily he was severely wounded; since then he wore a silver plate in his skull. In 1945 he was promoted to major . After another wound, this time in the leg, Barker was treated in an Army hospital in Arkansas from May to August 1945 and then discharged from service. The politically conservative Barker has always spoken out in favor of fighting for his country as a soldier.

Lex Barker received his first film contract in Hollywood on November 28, 1945. He played in the movie "Doll Face" and received $ 500 a week for the role.

Successes in the USA and Italy

Barker initially only appeared in supporting roles. He played only minor supporting roles in the successful films such as “The Farmer's Daughter” and “Im Kreuzfeuer” in 1947. His athletic build and good looks earned the blond, 1.93 meter tall actor his first major leading role as Tarzan in 1949 . This made him the successor to the legendary Johnny Weissmueller , whom the producers no longer wanted to cast as a jungle hero for reasons of age. Between 1949 and 1953, Barker made the five Tarzan films Tarzan and the Blue Valley , Tarzan and the Slave Girl , Tarzan and the Jungle Goddess , Tarzan, the Defender of the Jungle and Tarzan breaks the chains that made him known worldwide. Numerous roles in western and B-category adventure films followed. Barker played, among other things, an Apache chief in the film Rebel of the Red Mountains (1957), in the film "Hell of the Jungle" 1957 or the title role in Leatherstocking: The Wildslayer (1957) based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper . While he was still looking for more challenging roles, his image as Tarzan still resonated with new applications.

Since Barker was increasingly dissatisfied with the roles that were offered to him in Hollywood , he moved to Europe in 1957. In Italy, for example in the thriving film city of Cinecitta, where numerous low-budget adventure films were being produced at the time, he quickly made a name for himself as a star. Barker appeared in genre films typical of the time such as The Retribution of the Red Corsair (1958), Rebel Without Mercy (1958), Robin Hood and the Pirates (1960) or Coast of the Pirates (1960). In Federico Fellini's classic film La Dolce Vita (1960) Barker was seen in a supporting role. Later he tried in vain to get roles in artistically high-class films.

Overall, Barker was one of the first US actors to make a career in Italian film. In the 1960s in particular, many US actors came to Italy and shot there, for example, sandal films or spaghetti westerns . It was usually actors like Barker who had trouble getting good roles in Hollywood.

Success in Germany

At a party in 1960 he met the German film producer Artur Brauner . From this he was hired for the role of Joe Como in two Doktor Mabuse films. The film “Gynecologist Dr. Sibelius ”. When the novels by the German author Karl May were about to be filmed in the early 1960s , producer Horst Wendlandt immediately remembered the American who looked "German than all Germans" and who he had previously perceived as the killer in the leather stocking film. He tried to cast Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand in the first film adaptation of Karl May's western novel Der Schatz im Silbersee (1961).

At first Barker was not very enthusiastic about starring in German films, as they had little international significance at the time. He also considered the relatively low budget of the Karl May films to be unprofessional. Only after persuading his then wife, the Swiss Irene Labhardt, who knew the importance of the figure, did Barker sign the contract. The treasure in Silbersee became a huge success and sparked the Karl May film wave of the 1960s. Barker embodied the figure of Old Shatterhand a total of seven times and became - together with his French screen partner Pierre Brice , who played the Apache chief Winnetou - one of the most popular film actors of this genre in German-speaking countries. The Karl May films triggered a real hysteria and a cult around the two actors. The popularity of Barker and Brice was evident, for example, in the turmoil that broke out when they attended film premieres. Barker received a Bravo star cut and was dubbed "sexy Lexy" in the press because of his still dazzling looks. He was considered the perfect leading actor in westerns, crime novels and adventure films and personified the ideal image of the hero with moral integrity, who was characterized by intelligence, skill and almost superhuman physical strength. On January 21, 1967, Lex Barker received the Bambi for Best Foreign Actor for 1966.

The leather - costume that Lex Barker as Old Shatterhand was wearing was in line with its role as Deerslayer in the filming of The Deerslayer been selected (in the 1950s). The belt, made from Navajo silver, had been a gift from a Sioux Indian to Barker's great-grandfather, which Barker contributed from his private collection. Only the hat, which always hung on the saddle side, was never worn on his head during filming. Because Lex Barker was supposed to embody the idol of a youthful hero. In addition to the westerns, Lex Barker also made several adventure films based on Karl May novels, in which he played Kara Ben Nemsi and Dr. Karl Sternau appeared. These strips were produced by Horst Wendlandt's competitor Artur Brauner.

In the second half of the 1960s it became apparent that the recipes for the Karl May Westerns were beginning to run out and that the increasingly stereotyped films were no longer able to attract a large audience. With Winnetou and Shatterhand in the Valley of the Dead , Artur Brauner produced the last Winnetou film in 1968, the concept of which was heavily based on the successful film The Treasure in Silbersee . Plans for further Karl May films were then dropped.

Towards the end of the Karl May era, a new cinema series with Lex Barker was planned, which would be based on the successful Mister Dynamit crime novels by the author Karl-Heinz Günther (CH Guenter). But even during the shooting of the first film Mister Dynamit - Tomorrow Death Kisses You From 1967, disagreements arose when Barker first had to claim his fee. After that he was no longer interested in further film adaptations, which meant the end of this project.

Barker could understand the German language, but only rarely spoke it, and when he did, only a few sentences on the occasion of premiere parties. In addition to English, he also spoke French, Spanish and Italian fluently with an accent .

Last years and post-fame

After the Karl May wave ended, Lex Barker could no longer find any worthwhile role offers; the hero type he normally embodied was no longer in vogue and the public's taste had changed significantly. Barker's attempts to regain a foothold in Hollywood, where he had been completely forgotten, failed.

From 1969 Lex Barker was in TV series such as FBI ( The FBI ) or your appearance, Al Mundy ( It Takes A Thief ) and was planning her own TV series. In the 1970 Spanish film Aoom , he played an aging actor reflecting on life. With this film, Barker fulfilled his long-cherished wish: to be allowed to play a role that required all of his acting skills. In 1970 the typical musical comedy If you are with me was created , in which Barker was seen alongside Roy Black as a flight captain in Thailand. These were the last films with Lex Barker.

In the following years of life, Barker largely withdrew from the public. He looked tired and worn out on his family and friends, not least because of his increasing health problems, his professional failures and also because of the conflicts with his last wife Tita Cervera . Sometimes he had to keep himself afloat financially with tennis exhibition fights.

His last work was an episode of the American mystery television series Night Gallery , episode The Waiting Room . This strip was shown on German television under the title Where all ways end . Lex Barker died shortly after it first aired in 1973: three days after his 54th birthday, the actor died at the intersection of Lexington Avenue and 61. Street in Manhattan, New York, suffered a heart attack while on his way to see his girlfriend at the time, actress Karen Kondazian . Since Barker had no papers with him, the once so popular actor could only be identified by the engraving on his wristwatch.

The press openly speculated that alcoholism was the actor's cause of death. The actual circumstances of his death were largely ignored, as was the fact that Barker's father had already died of a heart attack. The funeral service took place in New York. His last wife "Tita" Cervera took the urn with her to Spain.

The success of the Karl May films made Barker a well-known actor, especially in German-speaking countries, after his death. In the USA, the Karl May films went unnoticed, which is why Barker is only known in his home country as the actor of Tarzan.


Barker was married a total of five times and had three children:

The marriage to actress Lana Turner was marked by scandals and often a topic in the rainbow press . In contrast, the fourth marriage to the Swiss drama student Irene Labhardt was harmonious. But Irene Labhardt took her own life in 1962 at the age of twenty-six when she learned that she was terminally ill with leukemia . Barker himself described her as the only great love of his life. His last marriage to the Spanish beauty queen Carmen "Tita" Cervera ended in an excessive war of divorce , the consequences of which continued until after his death. Lex Barker spent the last months of his life at the side of actress Karen Kondazian .


Barker was known as a passionate gin rummy player, smoker and whiskey drinker.

Lex Barker's son from his marriage to Irene Labhardt, Christopher Barker , enjoyed classical singing training as an opera singer and, as a result, training in acting. He stepped into the 1980s and 1990s in musicals and television series on, played at the Karl May Festival in Bad Segeberg the role of his father, the Old Shatterhand , and tried to be in Germany crooner to establish. Christopher Barker lives alternately in Switzerland , where he grew up, and in New York City , where he also worked as a real estate agent .

Lex Barker's name hit negative headlines in the 1980s when Cheryl Crane , daughter of Lana Turner, claimed in her book biography that he was sexually abused. Christopher Barker, who stood up for his father and publicly defended him against these allegations, accused the Turner daughter of a dirty and ruthless advertising campaign at the expense of his father's reputation, who after his death could no longer defend himself against these allegations.

The dispute over Barker's legacy (including a valuable historical weapon collection), about which Christopher Barker and Maria del Carmen "Tita" Cervera, his father's widow, had a legal dispute, also got into the press; Not only did Christopher feel that he was seriously disadvantaged, but she also did not see his father's legacy adequately appreciated.

Lex Barker as a singer

In 1965, Barker recorded two pieces of music under the direction of Werner Scharfenberger : I'm on my way to you tomorrow (music: Martin Böttcher) and girls in velvet and silk (music: Werner Scharfenberger). Martin Böttcher later said that “Lex Barker didn't have to make any technical gimmicks in the studio and his voice was so strong that it had to be muffled”. Two other already recorded titles ultimately remained unreleased, as Barker's record deal was terminated at his own request; According to his own statements, he could “not identify” “with the music and text” of these pieces.


  • 1965 - Bravo Otto in bronze
  • 1966 - Bambi as the most popular foreign film actor
  • 1967 - Silver Bambi


  • I'm on my way to you tomorrow / Girl in Velvet and Silk (Single, 1965, Decca D 19 725)
  • Winnetou, you were my friend (CD, 1996, Bear Family Records) - contains both music tracks as well as the vocal performances of Pierre Brice

Voice actor

In the films released in Germany, Barker was mostly spoken by Gert Günther Hoffmann , who made a significant contribution to Barker's success in Germany through his unmistakable dubbing . Horst Niendorf spoke in the first Karl May flick, Der Schatz im Silbersee . Also used were Peter Pasetti and Reinhard Glemnitz .

Filmography (selection)


  • Reiner Boller, Christina Böhme: Lex Barker - The Biography . Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-896-024-442 .
  • Reiner Boller: Wilder Westen made in Germany, Frankenthal 2018, ISBN 978-3945378410
  • Manfred Christ: From Tarzan to Old Shatterhand - Lex Barker and his films . Günter Albert Ulmer, Tuningen 1994, ISBN 3924191816 .
  • Michael Petzel: Lex Barker - Immortal Old Shatterhand. Pictures of his life. Karl-May-Verlag, Bamberg 2014, ISBN 978-3-7802-3019-5 . (With numerous photos)
  • Arild Rafalzik , Fritz Tauber: Lex Barker, Mr. Old Shatterhand - his life - his films . Filmland-Presse, Munich, ISBN 3886902005 .

See also

  • Gregor Hauser: Muzzle flashes: The 50 best B-Westerns of the 50s and their stars . Verlag Reinhard Marheinecke 2015, ISBN 978-3-932053-85-6 . Pp. 215-218.
  • Reinhard Weber: "The Karl May Films." Specialized publisher for film literature Landshut 3rd edition Oct. 2018 ISBN 978-3943127089

Web links

Commons : Lex Barker  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files