Lana Turner And Lex Barker
As of this writing, to the ever-growing list of lovers who have succumbed to the irresistible charms of Lana Turner you may now add the name of Alexander Crichlow Barker of Rye, New York.
Known to his friends as “Lex” and recognized by the movie-going public as “Tarzan,” the handsome, six-foot-four giant is currently the number-one man in Lana’s constantly changing love life.
Ever since the beauty with the convertible top—Lana has dyed her naturally brunette hair 16 different shades in the past 15 years—gave Fernando Lamas his walking papers, she and Lex have been virtually inseparable, in Los Angeles, in Palm Springs, in New York, and now in Europe.
Lana has claimed that “I’m unhappy unless I have someone to love.” And in her case the necessary adjunct of love has always been propinquity, so that during the past six months she and Lex have spent practically all of their spare time together, and a good deal of their working time, too.
During the making of Latin Lovers, for example, in which Lana plays the richest girl in the world and Ricardo Montalban acts a wealthy young Brazilian horse-breeder, Lex was an almost daily visitor on the set.
Not only that, but he also brought his two children along, Lynne, nine, and Alex, five. Lana would bring her young Cheryl to the studio, and a folksy little group consisting of Lex and the three kids would stand on the sidelines and watch with childish awe while director Mervyn LeRoy sent Lana and Montalban through their paces.
I was on the set one day and LeRoy was particularly anxious to have things go well. He had dined with Alfred Gywnne Vanderbilt the night before at Romanoff’s. Vanderbilt had come out to California with his horses for the opening of the Santa Anita race track, and Mervyn, an old friend of his, had said, “Look, Alfred, I want you to come out to the set tomorrow. Lana Turner and Ricardo Montalban are going to dance a samba in this particular scene, and I think you’ll like watching it.”
Bright and early the next morning, Altred Vanderbilt was out in Culver City watching Ricardo Montalban as he rehearsed with Rita Moreno. These two did a few introductory steps. The camera moved in and the focus was fixed. Director LeRoy turned and muttered to an assistant. “Ready,” he said. The assistant shouted, “Ready, Miss Turner.”
Dressed gorgeously in an evening gown, the top half of which consisted of a form-fitting jersey trimmed with sequins, Lana emerged from her portable dressing room. Behind her came Lex and the three children.
They congregated at the left of the camera as Lana took her place by Montalban. Graciously Rita Moreno bowed out of the picture. “Okay,” said LeRoy, “let’s try it.”
He walked back to the camera and winked at Vanderbilt. One of the assistants thundered, “Quiet!”
“Okay,” LeRoy said softly to his cameraman. “Roll ’em.”
The music, a special samba entitled “A Little More Of Your Amour,” and especially written for the picture by Mario Lanza’s good friend, Nicky Brodsky, was struck up. Montalban took Lana in his arms. They started to dance. They looked into each other’s eyes.
On the sidelines, Lex looked on, enthralled and fascinated. What a difference between a musical and the Tarzan pictures he makes.
Lex’s two children looked at each other and grinned. Lana’s daughter, Cheryl, who has seen her mother in action many times, seemed to grow restless very quickly. She wandered off.
When the “take” was over, Lana came over to Lex. “You were wonderful,” he said. She blew him a little feather of a smile, then called out to her child. “Cheryl,” she said, “I’ll be finished after one more shot. Now you stay here with the other kids. Don’t run off.” Cheryl, who is nine, the same age as Barker’s daughter, nodded and returned to Barker’s side. Lex ran his hand through her hair. rolled back for a medium shot, and Lana and Montalban went into their samba again. Lex grinned as he watched his love-light.
When the Christmas holiday was over and the children returned to school, Lex used to show up on the set himself, or if he had things to do, he usually would arrange to pick Lana up after work. She rarely rode home alone.
It got so that the gatemen at the studio used to kid Lex and call him Stagedoor Johnny.
Lex makes no bones about being daffy over Lana. “She’s a wonderful girl,” he says, “and I’m more than fond of her. Maybe some people don’t think so, but Lana’s got an awful lot of depth. She’s been around. She knows a good many things, and, insofar as I’m concerned, her friendship is an extremely worthy thing. I can tell you that she’s a much higher-type young woman than a lot of the girls you come in contact with back home.”
“Back home” for Barker is Westchester County in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut. Lex is a typical product of suburban life, and he pretty much knows all there is to know about stag lines, coming-out parties, and the Junior League.
His younger sister, Frederica, was for many years one of the outstanding beauties at the various country clubs in and around Westchester; and the Barker family is directly descended from Roger Williams, the dissenter who founded Rhode Island. So that in his young life Lex has really mixed with the cream of suburban society, and when he says that Lana has much more on the ball than the girls back home, you can bet his opinion is founded on actual experience.
Lex is the first of his family to desert the world of high finance for the acting profession. To be perfectly honest about it, his father still considers the deviation as a part of growing up and expects that eventually Lex will get into some thriving business venture, Lana Turner or no Lana Turner.
When, after leaving Phillips-Exeter Academy, Lex decided to become an actor, his father looked upon the entire experiment with a jaundiced eye. He agreed to give Lex his head for a while if eventually the boy would join his engineering firm.
“I tried to learn the business from the ground up,” Lex says. “I worked around blast furnaces and hot strip mills, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I enlisted in the Army, and when I got out, I decided to resume my acting career. Probably if I’d listened to my father I’d be worth a good deal of money today, but I like show business and the people in it. Where in civil engineering are you going to run into a girl like Turner?”
When Lex first arrived in Hollywood—it was in 1945 that he was invalided out of the Army with the rank of Major—Lana Turner was just a name to him. He was married to an attractive girl named Connie Thurlow. He had a two-year-old daughter, and he was looking for a start in pictures.
The post-war era of 1945-1948 will go down in the history of the cinema as the age of extravagance. Business was so good, motion picture companies were making so much money that they could afford to expand their list of contract players with almost reckless abandon.
Lex was one of them. Fresh from the Army, he’d had very little acting experience, a few years of summer stock, two bit parts on Broadway, nothing else. And yet MCA, a talent agency, got him signed by 20th Century, then Warners’, then RKO, and finally, when Sol Lesser was looking for a new Tarzan, switched him from RKO to enact the character fathered by the late Edgar Rice Burroughs.
There is an old saying in Hollywood that frequently the price of fame is heartache. Certainly this was true in Barker’s case. The more successful his career became, the faster his marriage began to founder. By 1949 Lex and Connie both decided they’d had enough. Six months after the final decree was issued on November 2nd, 1950, Lex Barker took a second wife, actress Arlene Dahl. The willowy redhead was never too sure about the eventual success of the marriage but after changing her mind a couple of times, decided to go through with the wedding ceremony.
As you know Arlene used to be under contract to MGM. So, of course, is Lana Turner. Occasionally when Lex drove over from RKO-Pathé, where Sol Lesser has his headquarters, to see Arlene, he would run into Lana. There would be an exchange of polite greetings and nothing else.
Lana was married to Bop Topping at the time. She had a heart full of troubles, and she wasn’t at all “on the make.” Only when Topping packed his bags and moved out did she snare Fernando Lamas in a fast three seconds. In 1951 when Lex and Arlene Dahl were first married, the possibility of Lex getting together with Lana was about as remote as a marriage between Margaret O’Brien and Mickey Mouse.
Career trouble is what broke up the Dahl-Barker marriage. That, at least, is what Lex says. He thinks in retrospect that Arlene was more interested in becoming a movie star than in becoming a good wife.
“The best part of our marriage,” he says, “was when Arlene left Metro and sat around home for six months doing nothing. Then someone came along and offered her a deal selling lingerie. She thought she’d get into it just as a sideline. It wasn’t a sideline at all. It became a big thing. Then her career started up again. She was offered movie jobs. Naturally, she took them. We had one break-up and then decided on a reconciliation. I went out of town on location for three weeks and when I came back she hit me. with the divorce She said she had decided that our marriage wouldn’t work. Boy! What a reconciliation!”
You have probably heard or read somewhere that Lana first “picked up” Lex at the Marion Davies party, that wild extravaganza thrown in honor of Johnny Ray.
All that Lana did was to ask Lex for a dance since her own date, Fernando Lamas, was none too attentive. Lex was not a stag. He had come to the party with Susan Morrow, but when Lana asked for a dance he gallantly consented.
By now, everyone knows what happened. When Fernando saw his Lana snuggled up in the arms of Lex Barker, the fiery South American from Buenos Aires blew his top.
Two days later the Lamas-Turner love affair was a thing of the past and Fernando was bounced out of Latin Lovers, the film he was originally scheduled to star in opposite Lana.
“I’m sorry,” Fernando said, “that Miss Turner refuses to be my friend but I respect her wishes.”
A week later, Lamas was dining in public with Arlene Dahl, and Lana Turner was dining in private with Arlene Dahl’s ex-husband. In short, the two beautiful actresses had exchanged lovers. By-gones were by-gones.
Arlene and Lamas made no secret of their mutual affection. They were seen everywhere together. Lana and Lex were a bit more circumspect. It took three weeks before their companionship became public property. When it did, it blazed brightly, especially in Palm Springs where both of them spent their vacation.
Not too long ago, Lex, who has a comfortable little apartment a mile or so from 20th Century-Fox, was visited by a family friend from back East. This woman, an elderly lady in her-50’s, was touring the studios, and Lex told her to please use his apartment as her Hollywood headquarters.
“During the course of the day,” he ex! plained, “you’re liable to get tired. I wan you to come up to the apartment and rest any time you feel like. it Here’s a key.”
One afternoon the visitor from back East did exactly that, whereupon the phone in Lex’s apartment rang and the lady answered it. Lana Turner was on, and when a woman answered, the actress boiled. When Lex phoned for a date that night, Lana wouldn’t talk to him. Presently she did, demanding to know, “Who is the girl you had in your apartment around four this afternoon you two timer, you!”
Lex explained everything satisfactorily, but this merely shows that when Lana gives her heart to any man she expects him to play fair. She has always been a one-man-at-a-time woman.
Oddly enough when you ask Lana about Lex, she weighs her words very carefully. “He’s an extremely nice gentleman,” she says, “and great fun to be with—or I wouldn’t be with him.”
When you ask if there is any chance of her marrying Lex, she says, “I’ve had enough of marriage to last me for some time.” Lana has said this before, however, so it doesn’t mean much. What does mean a lot is that Barker will not be free to marry until October 15, 1953, at which time Lana will be living somewhere in Europe, probably in Monaco where she is in residence at the time of this writing.
Despite the fact that she has earned close to a million dollars in the past 15 years, Lana doesn’t have very much money. If she works in Europe for the next 18 months, she can earn approximately $350,000 tax free.
Lana insists, however, that the tax-exemption is not why she left Hollywood. “I just wanted to get away from around here,” she explains. “I needed a new outlook, a new environment, to meet some new people.”
And being the Lana she is, she also needed a new heart interest. In Lex Barker she has found a most avid one—and as they’re saying in Hollywood tonight, “Here are two fine people who really deserve each other.”
—BY MAUSHA SAUNDERS
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE JUNE 1953