Perhaps someday someone will make a study on what it is that drives some actors to self destruction after they have achieved success. Ken Maynard was legendary for the way he would literally burn his bridges before he had finished crossing them. Don “Red” Barry was another such case of success driving a man to alienate those around him during the height of his stardom. Director William Witney goes into great detail about his run ins with the tempermental cowboy hero in his autobiography In a Door, Into a Fight, Out a Door, Into a Chase. Herb Yates, who always envisioned Barry as Republic's answer to James Cagney reportedly once got so fed up with Barry's prima donna attitude that he told the actor that he was a truck driver when Yates found him and if he didn't straighten up, Yates would send him back there. Conversely George “Gabby” Hayes has always maintained that he never saw any of the on set temper tantrums Barry was known for throwing at the drop of a hat.
Barry was a college football star who gained his acting experience touring with a stock company. His film debut was in Night Waitress (1936). Small roles in Dead End (1937), Calling Dr. Kildare (1939) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939) soon followed. Then Republic cast him as the lead in their serial adaptation of the popular comic strip The Adventures of Red Ryder (1940). Barry proved so popular in the role that the nick name “Red” became a permanent part of his name for the rest of his career.
During the forties Barry was one of Republic's biggest stars, making such popular westerns as Texas Terrors (1940), The Cyclone Kid (1942), Days of Old Cheyenne (1943) and The Plainsman and the Lady (1946). Moving into the fifties Barry left Republic to produce his own films. Train to Tombstone (1950) was based on his own screenplay and Jesse Jame's Women (1954) was directed by the star. Unfortunately tastes were changing, causing these ventures to fail and Barry went bankrupt. His last role of any major significance was in the low budget horror film Frankenstein 1970 (1958).
Despite appearances in films like Ocean's Eleven (1960) and The Carpetbaggers (1964), Barry was desperate for money. He embarked on an ambitious and humilating campaign in which he asked his fans to each donate one dollar to help him finance a new series of films. It ultimately failed. But things looked up in the seventies as fans like John Wayne and Burt Reynolds got him work in their pictures Rio Lobo (1970, Hustle (1975) and Hooper (1978). It was also during this time that he had the recuring role of Larrabee on the popular Michael Landon TV show Little House on the Prairie.
Sadly he committed suicide in 1980.