Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lex is More

The local UHF channel frequently played old Tarzan movies on the weekend, usually starring Johnny Weismuller. One day I happened upon one of the old flicks and the vine-swinger was suddenly different. He was a little younger and tan and BLONDE! Though most purists prefer Johnny, I can't say I minded the switch because, to me, Lex Barker was as close to physical perfection as my poor little 8 year-old mind knew. I still think the man was gorgeous.

Hailing from a rather well-to-do family, Lex had to practically say goodbye forever to all of them when he chose to pursue acting as a career over a more prestigious occupation because they heartily disapproved. He worked in a steel mill and served (with success) in the army until he could make his acting dream a reality. He toiled away in smallish roles before landing in the loincloth for a series of jungle epics. He was also married during this time to Miss Lana Turner, who knew a hot man when she saw one, even if he was trouble. (Turner's daughter accidentally killed one of mom's lovers during a heated incident and Lex, himself, was accused by the same daughter of sexual abuse, though these allegations came to light long after his death.) In one of those almost incestuous quadrangles that can only happen in Hollywood, Lex was married to Arlene Dahl at the same time Lana was carrying on a torrid romance with Fernando Lamas. Lex divorced Arlene and married Lana and before long Arlene married Fernando! (This resulted in Lorenzo Lamas, which is a good or bad thing depending on one's point of view.)

Anyway, Lex possessed stunning features and a beautiful physique, but was unable to get past any of that and be taken seriously as an actor. In time, he migrated to Germany and appeared in many, many films there, becoming one of that country's favorite stars! He made quite a few westerns based on the books of Karl May including the campy, but very beautiful and highly entertaining The Treasure of Silver Lake. A lavishly illustrated biography of him and his career is a big seller in Germany, but hasn't been translated into English for the rest of us to enjoy.

Never one to stay unmarried for long, he was on his way to meet the woman who was to be wife number six when he was stricken with a heart attack at the reasonably young age of 54. It's hard to know exactly what went on with this man in his private life, but it's equally hard to ignore the visual benefits he brought to many films (and, later, acting prowess.) A series of comic books based on his tenure as Tarzan feature covers that are alternately amusing, beautiful, revealing and downright corny (sometimes he'd be forced to pose with a chimp and/or a banana and have animals superimposed behind him.)

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