Lex Barker: “I Didn’t Marry An Angel”
When I asked Lana and Lex if they used “Until love do us part” in the marriage ceremony, as Eugene O’Neill did for his second wedding, I saw right away I was downbeat.
They both looked solemn.
“How could love part us?” asked Lex, casting an ominous glance at a long, antique Sikh sword with blade thin and supple as a Gillette.
“Oh, ha,” I said lightly. “It might not be an outside job. Might be too much love inside.”
Lana looked perplexed. Lex was still looking at the slicer.
“With too much love,” I plunged on, “husband gets jealous, wife possessive. The old green dragon stuff.”
Lex said: “I am not jealous. You can look at her. But don’t wink unless you want to lose your arms and legs.”
I looked at Lana and tried to control the right eyelid, but it was difficult.
Lana said: “I am not possessive. Lex asked if I would mind if he flew to Paris for a few days. I said, ‘Of course not, dear.’ He said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Certainly, provided you leave your arms and legs with me. But would you have a nice time in a basket, sweetie?’ ”
In their amputating mood, they weren’t fooling. They did not want this marriage to get away from them. They slipped on a double wedlock, and they aim to make it burglar proof with bambini and Sikh sword.
They married first in Europe. To make sure the marriage was made in heaven they flew there. To Italy, that is, which is heaven in a way, because Italian marriages stay stuck. At Italian weddings the guests do not speculate on how long the marriage will last, but on how many bambini will bless it.
In Turin, the beautiful Italian city where Lex and Lana fixst plighted troth, the copious bosoms of old signoras heaved rapturously. “Bellissima! Bellissimo! Venus e Appollo vero. All their children will be little gods and goddesses.”
The prophecy of the old Italian soothsayers is supported by advocates of eugenic marriage who declare that when men exercise as much sense in mating as they show in the matchmaking of livestock they may produce a race of gods. Vero, vero.
Moved by the auguries, Lana said earnestly: “If wanting will do it, we will do it.”
Lex said, “You can’t foretell the sizes the bambini will come in. I am tall but my father is a little man. Every fourth generation you get a small one.”
Lana’s face clouded.
“I feel ours will be a shrimp,” she said.
“Shrimps are all right. I like them,” said Lex, always on the upbeat.
Some eight years ago, I met Lex. He had just arrived in Hollywood. Sol Lesser, impresario of the Tarzan classics, had scrutinized two thousand photographs of muscular males, sent scouts to college campuses, model agencies and gyms full of muscle men. He wanted the All-American Apollo for the next Tarzan. “Because,” said Sol slyly, “we find women are coming to see Tarzan along with the kids.”
When Lex was unveiled the old Tarzan studio hands agreed he was a production to beat the Greeks. They were staggered when they found he could give the jungle scream in French as well as in literate English.
Apollonian of brow as well as of torso, Lex, a son of wealthy parents, had lived abroad with a tutor and taken on a load of culture. Consequently, he knows art and antiques and how to bargain sharply for them in the flea markets of Europe. That’s how he came by that old Sikh pruning knife.
With the Tarzan jungle well behind him, he is a star of rising stock because of his linguistic talent. Wearing a tweed jacket and grey flannels, clear-eyed and fresh of complexion, he had the bounce of a cheerleader.
“You look younger than when I first saw you,” I said.
“I’m happy,” he said.
He was alone. Bride Lana was working with Gable in Betrayed at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio. Lex suggested lunch. Over steak and kidney pudding and a glass of English lager which he recommended, he briefed me on the bride.
Only after lunch was safely tucked in was I so rash as to ask if Venus had no slaw.
Startled, Lex said: “Of course she must have. I could not live with an angel.”
The effort to specify threw him into the stance of Rodin’s The Thinker. After cogitating he said, “She will give you an argument.”
“Has a mind of her own, hm?”
He raised an emphatic hand and laughed. That she has. She can get mad. But he cannot hold a grudge. If we have an argument at night, each tries to be first say hello in the morning.”
Carefully summing up the faults she did possess, he said, “Lana is not small. There is no pettiness about her. She is incapable of meanness, envy, malice, scheming.”
Agreeing that this was my impression of Sweetie Pie, I got invited for cocktails in their apartment.
Lana with her own lustrous rich brown hair seemed to me a lot warmer than the blonde she used to be, and that blonde was salutary to the circulatory system. Lex prefers the brown hair to the blonde.
“It softens her face. The natural thing is always best,” he says. This explodes the theory that gentlemen prefer blondes. Gentlemen prefer Lana.
Lana’s eyes have the chameleon’s gift for changing color naturally. At times they are green, other times blue or grey. They accommodate by matching the color she wears. When she wears grey they are dovey. With a blue dress she says hey look like the eyes of a china doll. This day they were grey. Lex was wearing a grey suit.
“If you want to see her blue eyes I will change to my blue suit,” said Lex obligingly.
“I can think of something better,” Lana said.
She was wearing a Christian Dior dress of Chinese red, no jewelry except her wedding ring, a plain gold band. When she disappeared from the room I assumed she was changing to a blue frock. But she was gone only a moment. When she sparkled back the room was flooded in blue radiance from a ninety-five carat star sapphire, guarded by a squad of diamonds.
“My engagement ring,” she announced.
Lex discovered it in Capri and it looked like a piece of Capri heaven at the deep blue twilight hour with the single evening star.
Lana looked long at it, and when she looked up at Lex, sure enough, she was starry-eyed. He was too. They were co-starry: They’d like to be that way in a picture.
Only the night before, a student of Shakespeare and of Lana who had seen a performance of Antony And Cleopatra by the Stratford-on-Avon players, declared that Lex and Lana would surpass in the roles.
“I should be terrified of speaking the lines,” Lana said.
“Your lines,” said the authority feelingly, “are letter perfect.”
The Shakespeare pun goes for eye and for ear. Although Lana says she still suffers tension during the first couple of weeks in a production, her voice is beautifully modulated and under control. And though she was wearing this Christian Dior garment comprising more material than Cleopatra would approve, it was obvious to the naked eye that her lines might make Mare Antony go A.W.O.L. and lose an empire.
“She was wearing a swim suit the first time I saw her,” said Mare Antony Barker. “I was in a pool at Palm Springs. Behind. me I heard a chug-chug-chugging. I looked around and there she was.”
“It was then you first met her?” I asked.
“No. It was then I got the gleam in my eye,” Lex said.
Lana in a swim suit weighs 118 pounds.
“Just right for her height, five, three-and-a-half,” Lex said. “She takes bending exercises every morning with me. I am ten pounds over my average 202.”
“So I take exercises,” said Lana, “to reduce him.”
They were sitting on a davenport, Lex with one leg crossed horizontally over the other. When tea arrived with a tray of pastries Lex reached for an éclair and Lana reached for a smack at Lex’s ankle.
“I thought you were keeping to 750 calories a day,” she said.
Lex said: “You can eat what you like so long as you keep your stomach muscles hard.”
“He eats like a horse,” Lana said.
He passed her the pastries. She said she never ate them, had not touched sweets since she was a girl.
“Sugar is not as fattening as salt,” Lex countered.
“I don’t eat salt, either,” said Lana.
Lex said salt is fattening because it calls for liquids, and liquids make you bulge. He reached for another pastry and got another smack.
“We will play a lot of tennis and eighteen holes of golf,” said Lex. “Lana and I like the same things.”
“Eighteen holes of golf,” said Lana. “I can barely walk around nine.”
I asked Lana what her favorite exercise was.
“Lying in bed,” she said.
“With me,” said Lex.
“With a book. You!” said Lana, smacking hard.
“With a book, me!” said Lex, getting up from the davenport to escape a busted ankle. From the secure height of six feet, three, he again helped himself to calories before resuming his place beside her.
Speaking of lying in bed, an exercise beloved by all book lovers, I was reminded of those New York socialites whom an advertising man approached for an endorsement of mattresses. He told them they would confer a great favor if they permitted a photograph of their bed in an advertisement. In return for this great favor his company was prepared to offer them five thousand dollars. He awaited their reply with trepidation. It was not slow in coming.
“For five thousand dollars you can have a photograph of our bed with us in it,” they said.
Lex and Lana laughed. Under cover of the laughter I suggested that a photograph of the Lex Barkers in bed with their favorite books would be inspirational in the promotion of the classics, such as MODERN SCREEN.
“Are you offering us five thousand dollars?” asked Lex who has a sordid side.
“The studio allows us to endorse only soap. And we get paid in soap. I have two rooms filled with soap,” said Lana. “I would like to endorse stoves. I want a new stove.”
Lex said. they should endorse automobile tires. The Jaguar needed two new ones.
Asked why they didn’t just endorse checks, Lex said, “We endorse them over to the tax man. I divide my salary by three, figuring a third for us.”
Lana remarked impressively that she had saved money while working in Europe. She bought only two little wool dresses which she needed when weather over there turned cold. She got the Dior dress she was wearing in America. Simple frocks in Paris cost from three hundred to seven hundred dollars. “That,” she said practically, “is for the birds.”
Her greatest stroke of fortune, though, was in saving on her house. She would have taken a loss had she sold it.
“I didn’t want to sell it; I love it. But it was much too large for Cheryl and me. Luckily I found a big man to fill it.” Her hand reached Lex’s ankle but this time it was a caressive pat.
The big house should bulge with bambini, if wanting will do it. And they’ll all be little gods and goddesses, if prophecies are fulfilled.
—BY JIM NEWTON
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE APRIL 1954