Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leigh Snowden, Lex Barker & Robert Fellows

On May 11, 1982, actress Leigh Snowden died. She was a model and TV bit player who first made a splash on a Jack Benny TV show, sashaying across a stage at the San Diego Naval base. Twenty thousand sailors gave the curvy sweater-clad starlet a standing ovation that made headlines in Variety Magazine, and every talent scout in Hollywood was on Snowden's trail the very next morning. Three days later, she was hired to make her film debut in director Robert Aldrich's obtuse crime classic Kiss Me Deadly (1955) (Aldrich expanded her bit part and gave her featured billing). In January 1955, she signed a seven-year contract with Universal, beginning by playing up her Dixie drawl in their glossy soap opera All That Heaven Allows (1955). She got Universal's usual cheesecake buildup while playing many of her early roles in fantasy or Sci-Fi movies: Francis in the Navy (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) and I've Lived Before (1956). In September 1956, Snowden married Dick Contino, a singer/accordion player, after which she retired from acting. She died of cancer at age 51 on May 11, 1982. The disposition of her cremated remains is unknown.

On May 11, 1973, Lex Barker died. He was an actor who was best known for playing Tarzan. Born Alexander Crichlow Barker, Jr. in Rye, New York, he reportedly was in the direct lineage of Roger Williams, co-founder of the Rhode Island colony, and of Sir Henry Crichlow, governor-general of Barbados. He attended Princeton University for a time, but dropped out in order to join a theatrical stock company, much to the chagrin of his family. Barker made it to Broadway once, in a small role in a short run of Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1938. He also had a small role in Orson Welles's disastrous Five Kings, which met with so many problems in Boston and Philadelphia that it never made it into New York. Barker reportedly was spotted by scouts from Twentieth Century Fox and offered a film contract in 1939, but could not convince his parents to sign it (he was underage).

Disowned by his family for his choice of an acting career, he worked in a steel mill and studied engineering at night. In February, 1941, nearly a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Barker left his fledgling acting career and enlisted in the U.S. Army. The 6'3", 208-pound soldier rose to the rank of major during the war. He reportedly was wounded in action (in the head and leg) fighting in Sicily. Back in the U.S., Barker recuperated at an Arkansas military hospital, then upon his discharge from service, traveled to Los Angeles. Within a short time, he landed a small role in his first film, Doll Face (1945). A string of small roles followed, the best of which was as Emmett Dalton in the Western, Return of the Bad Men (1948). The next year, Barker found the role that would bring him fame.

In Tarzan's, Magic Fountain (1949), Barker became the tenth official Tarzan of the movies. His handsome and intelligent appearance, as well as his athletic, now 6'4" frame, helped make him popular in the role Johnny Weissmuller had made his own for sixteen years. Barker made only five Tarzan films, but he remains one of the actors best known for the role. His stardom as Tarzan led him to a variety of heroic roles in other films, primarily Westerns, and one interesting (and quite non-heroic) part in a World War II film, Away All Boats (1956). In 1957, finding it harder to get work in American films, Barker moved to Europe, where he found enormous popularity, starring in over forty European films.

In Italy he also had a short but compelling role as Anita Ekberg's fiancé; in Federico Fellini's, La Dolce Vita (1960). It was in Germany where he would have his greatest success. There he starred in two movies based on the Doctor Mabuse-stories (previously filmed by Fritz Lang) and in thirteen movies based on novels by German author Karl May. In 1966 Barker was awarded the "Bambi Award" as "Best Foreign Actor" in Germany.

He returned to the U.S. occasionally and made a handful of guest appearances on American television episodes. But Europe, and especially Germany, was his professional home for the remainder of his life. Barker was married five times. His third wife was actress Lana Turner. According to detailed allegations in a book written by her daughter Cheryl Crane fifteen years after Barker's death, Turner ordered Barker out of their home one night at gunpoint after Cheryl, 13, accused him of molesting her over a long period of time. Divorce followed quickly, though no charges were filed and the couple's 1957 divorce record does not allude to the allegation. On May 11, 1973, three days after his 54th birthday, Barker died of a heart attack while walking down a street in New York City on his way to meet his fiancée, actress Karen Kondazian. His remains were cremated and given to the family and final disposition is unknown.

On May 11, 1969, much-admired movie producer Robert M. Fellows died. He was the producer of numerous films of the 1940’s and 1950’s, movies that starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names such as John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Glen Ford, Bing Crosby, and Ronald Reagan. Celebrated film credits include Virginia City (1940), Knute Rockne; All American (1940), Santa Fe Trail (1940), They Died with Their Boots On (1941), Back to Bataan (1945), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1949), and Big Jim McLain (1952). In 1953, he produced Hondo which starred John Wayne. This film was nominated for two Academy awards, best actress (Geraldine Page) and for writing. The following year 1954, brought Fellows more accolades, when he produced The High and the Mighty, again starring John Wayne. This film garnered six Academy Award nominations, winning one for best musical score. Robert Fellows died of a heart attack on May 11, 1969 in Hollywood, California. His final resting place is located at Merose Abbey in Anaheim, California within the Carnation Urn Garden, lot 160. author of Fade to Black Graveside Memories of Hollywood Greats, 1927-1950 and Final Resting Places Orange County's Dead & Famous

No comments:

Post a Comment