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TV writer, drama teacher produced controversial play

From a Times Staff Writer

Robert Guy Barrows, a former UCLA instructor of playwriting and theater arts who wrote for television in the 1960s and ‘70s and was repeatedly arrested on obscenity charges while producing Beat poet Michael McClure’s play “The Beard” in Los Angeles in 1968, died Jan. 31 in Pueblo, Colo. He was 81.

Barrows died of complications from surgery for intestinal cancer, the Writers Guild of America announced.

He wrote episodes for the TV series “Mission: Impossible,” “The Virginian,” “Daniel Boone” and “The Fugitive,” among others, from 1964 to 1971.

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Barrows faced numerous obstacles while staging “The Beard” at the Warner Playhouse in January 1968.

He and McClure, along with the two actors, Richard Bright and Alexandra Hay, were arrested more than a dozen times for alleged lewd conduct, and Barrows also was cited for producing the play without a police permit. The play, depicting an imaginary meeting between Billy the Kid and actress Jean Harlow, was sprinkled with obscene language and ended with a simulated sex act. Suspected arson at the theater forced the production to another location before it closed in the spring of 1968.

Charges against Barrows for staging the play without a permit were eventually dismissed, and the California Supreme Court ruled in 1970 that the lewd-conduct law did not apply to live theatrical performances, which are protected as free speech under the 1st Amendment.

Born in Fort Collins, Colo., on Feb. 9, 1926, Barrows served with the Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Italy during World War II.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1950 and a master’s degree in theater arts from UCLA in 1954.

After teaching at New York University from 1957 to 1962, he returned to UCLA, where he was on the faculty from 1964 to 1970. He also taught at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and Loyola Marymount in the early 1980s.

He continued writing and produced low-budget independent films.

Barrows is survived by his fourth wife, Jeri Wacaster; six children; one stepchild; two grandchildren; a brother; and a sister. Services will be private.


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