Hollywood actor Gene Barry died today at the age of ninety. He starred in the superb sci-fi film War of the Worlds and successful and entertaining TV series such as Bat Masterson, Burke’s Law, and The Name of the Game. Barry’s persona typically was that of a natty, intelligent, suave, sophisticated man of the world.
His characters tended to be free with alcohol, tobacco, and the opposite sex, but they also had impeccable manners and were strongly committed to protecting the weak and upholding traditional values. As such Barry was a consummate mainstream 1960s figure: committed to liberal bourgeois values but never priggish and indeed often rather libertine. This looks like hypocrisy to current-day Americans, yet it has a certain sense to it, in acknowledging human weaknesses without an excessively condemnatory attitude.
As such, Barry was quite likable and popular in his time, until the culture turned its attention toward increasing attacks on bourgeois values during the 1970s and ’80s. Barry’s film and television work lasts as a reminder of a time when the American culture represented a perhaps precarious but definitely stimulating balance between tradition and innovation and between individualism and community.