RKO’s “Tarzan and the She-Devil” (1953) was
the fifth and final ape man film for lead Lex Barker. Producer Sol Lesser
offered him a contract for seven more Tarzan pictures, but Barker, hoping
to expand his range with other films, asked to be allowed to contract for
one film at a time. When Lesser declined Barker’s counter-offer, Barker
signed with Universal-International and was given the lead in the Western
“Yellow Mountain” (1954).
Hoping to play leads in the Errol Flynn mold, Barker
opened negotiations with the late Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs' company
for rights to the medieval novel “The Outlaw of Torn,” but the two could
not come to terms.
In 1957, Barker moved to Europe to continue his film
career, becoming a Swiss Citizen and basing his production company in Geneva.
Fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and German, he shot pictures in Brazil,
Germany Spain, Yugoslavia, Italy, Lebanon, and France. He maintained homes
in Rome and Barcelona, and on Lake Geneva, where he enjoyed sailing his
50-foot yacht “Peter Pan”.
Barker credited Federico Fellini for resurrecting his
film career when the director cast him in “La Dolce Vita” (1960) as Anita
Ekberg’s jealous boyfriend. Barker went on to become one of the highest
paid stars and one of the biggest box office successes in Europe.
He was a German film hero, and the most popular American
actor in that country, from his role as cowboy “Old Shatterhand” in film
adaptations of German pulp novelist Karl May’s Westerns. “Winnetou” (released
domestically by Columbia as “Treasure of the Silver Lake” in 1965) was
a surprise hit and the most profitable German film of 1963. Barker won
the German Bambi Award for “Most Popular Foreign Actor.”
Barker’s five wives included Constanze Rhodes Thurlow,
actress Arlene Dahl, actress Lana Turner, Irene Labhardt, and Maria del
Carmen Cervera, a former Miss Spain. He had two children with Thurlow,
and a son with Labhardt.
Barker had returned to the U.S. hoping to mount a Hollywood
comeback when he was stricken with a fatal heart attack in New York City
on May 11, 1973, and died on the street.