Word came from Los Angeles this evening of the death yesterday of actor Gene Barry at the age of 90. Barry’s career was a very long one – he made his Broadway debut in 1942 – and highly varied. In 1944, he performed opposite Mae West in her show Catherine Was Great. A decade later, he was starring in what probably still is, despite the best efforts of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, the most loved film adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War Of The Worlds. By the end of the 1950s he was starring as the dapper Bat Masterson on television, and a few years after that was a hit as the wealthy policeman Amos Burke on Burke’s Law. Another popular series, The Name Of The Game, followed.
The next decade proved rather more low-key, as Barry shuttled between TV guest spots and that vanished institution which is an even more cherished memory of the 1970s than pet rocks or Pong, the dinner-theater circuit. Then, in 1983, he came back to Broadway for the first time in 21 years as Georges, the gay nightclub owner in the blockbuster musical La Cage Aux Folles, a role which earned him a Tony nomination and ultimately helped win him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
But it came as quite a surprise, reading Barry’s obituaries this evening, to find out that the previous year, he had starred in a show that seemed destined for Broadway but (according to this interview with the actor) opened and closed in Atlanta in July 1982, proving so expensive to produce in its three-week run that plans to bring it to New York were set aside.
The show was co-written by Tommy Oliver and Edward J. Lakso, and its title was simple yet quite descriptive – Watergate: The Musical – with Gene Barry starring as Richard Nixon. His wife, Betty Clair Barry, played Pat Nixon. Ed Herlihy, the instantly recognizable narrator of countless ’40s and ’50s newsreels, played Sen. Sam Ervin.
I imagine many readers of TNN are trying to visualize TV’s Bat Masterson trading in his embroidered vest for a dark blue suit and wingtips, so here’s a photo of Barry as RN – before the offer to play Georges came and he went back to his finery.