Ex-Model Doug Barr Says He's Really on the Beam Playing Lee Majors' Silly Sidekick on the Fall Guy
05/23/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT
Doug Barr and Lee Majors were setting up a chase scene for The Fall Guy, ABC's top-rated, rough-and-tumble saga of two stuntmen who moonlight as bounty hunters. The heroes' pickup was to be firebombed by some nasties. "Usually in that kind of situation our stuntmen take over," says Barr, 34. "But this time Lee turned to me and said, 'Hey, kid, want to do it?' I was new to the show and didn't want to sound like a pansy, so I said sure." Barr and Majors, who do much of their own jumping, falling and fistfighting stunts, climbed in and hit the accelerator. But the "bomb" malfunctioned and flames engulfed the cab of the truck, forcing them to bail out once they had slowed down from 75 mph. Says Doug, "I've since given up doing the fire gags."
When Barr auditioned for the part of Majors' comedic sidekick in 1980, second-banana work was not what he had in mind. His 6'2" frame and square-jawed good looks scarcely fit the TV character of bumbling Howie Munson. "Basically I'm the leading man type. At least that's how I'm listed in the Players' Guide," Barr says with a laugh. "To be sent up on a part like this was fairly inconceivable, but they were down to the wire in casting, and when I read with Lee, it just worked."
The partnership has been worth every flaming leap to ABC. After two seasons The Fall Guy now consistently scores among the top 15 shows. Reviewers have been less kind than fans. The New York Times critic wrote, "Howie's main function is to look handsome and act terribly stupid. He's what used to be called the dumb blond."
For Barr, working with Majors has provided on-the-job training. "He's been in television for 18 years and he's a remarkable technician," says Barr, who often takes off to go fishing with his co-star. Majors also gave Barr a quick lesson in showbiz politics. Originally the show was to be called The Fall Guys until Majors objected and the title was changed to the singular. "I wasn't crazy about the idea," admits Barr, "but Lee's the star."
Off camera, Doug is anything but a fall guy, least of all a dumbbell. Raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of a Department of Agriculture meat inspector and a housewife, he followed his older brother, Dennis, to the University of Northern Colorado in 1968. The mountains could hold him only a year before he got restless and embarked on a year with the World Campus Afloat, a shipboard study program. That, in turn, landed him at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where he became hooked on international relations and thought he might become a diplomat. A die-hard fan of spy novelist Ken Follett, Barr once phoned the CIA switchboard in Langley, Va. to inquire about starting salaries, but $13,000 didn't sound like much to him. Until he could make a living as an actor, he picked up money modeling in Paris and New York. After eight years a William Morris agent spotted him modeling tennis clothes on The Merv Griffin Show. That ultimately landed him a part on the short-lived 1980 series When the Whistle Blows, and then roles in two horror movies, The Unseen and Deadly Blessing. "They run on cable a lot," he says.
The Fall Guy has positively affected Doug's personal life too. He first encountered his current leading lady, model-actress Clare Kirkconnell, when she played a female wrestler on the show last year. "I had never met anyone who goes out of his way so much to make people feel comfortable," says Clare. According to Doug, "She's a strong, independent woman, but at the same time she does things for me like hem my pants." That combination qualifies her as "a good partner," but the couple currently have no marriage plans. Clare lives near Doug's one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. An avid collector, Barr has filled his digs with antique toys and furniture.
Whenever they are on the road together, Doug and Clare haunt the antique markets and auction rooms. They are planning a trip to Europe together this summer, which, for Barr, will provide a respite from the strenuous stunts of The Fall Guy. "I love it," he says of the show, "but lots of times I just go home at the end of the day, take a hot shower, and try to rest my bruises."