Remake News of the Day

Ever since Hawaii 5-0 has been rebooted, producers are trying to jump on the bandwagon of remake success. Only most of them don’t make it and fall on their fannies instead. Ironside, Charlie’s Angels and Dallas (which was just recently canceled) are recent examples of a trend that’s not new but feels increasingly overdone.

I know, I know. Battlestar Galactica did fairly well and Matthew Perry may actually surprise us as Oscar Madison in the revival of the Odd Couple. But what do I hear is in the works now for NBC? A Bewitched spin-off focusing on Samantha’s granddaughter? I’m stunned. Didn’t the movie version scar us deeply enough?!

Advertisements

TV Intros

As requested by Ben Masters on Facebook, I am following up on my TV themes post and have a look at the visual aspect of TV intros. I don’t know about you, but if an intro is well done, I’m already getting into the mood for a show I want to watch. If the music and visuals match, the better the effect. So when I think about intros without primarily listening to the songs, the shows that have had a lasting effect on me with their introductions are definitely Charlie’s Angels, Bewitched and (you probably guessed it) Perry Mason. Like many other fans (so I’m sure), I’ve always wanted to know what was in that silly script that brought out Raymond Burr’s handsome dimple smile.

Charlie’s Angels, like Hart to Hart or Babylon 5 used narration to add to their pictorial introductions, explaining the background or premise of the show. While Lionel Stander introduced his screen bosses with scenes from the Hart to Hart pilot and only slight textual changes in the five years the show was on TV, Babylon 5 used a different introduction every season. Merging scenes from the show with the voices of lead characters, the season intros offered an outlook on the individual seasons, as well as a quick summary of what you needed to know to follow the plot of this complex show. And since I’m speaking of the 90s, who could forget ER, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, The X-Files or Chicago Hope – all equipped with visual intros that made clear what to expect from these specific program. Friends and Mad About You, two sitcom flagships of the era, also put us right into a quirky, urban mood, something Sex and the City would perfect in 1998 by making Manhattan a visual main character.

Looking at the evolution of these TV intros, in the 1980s, Cagney and Lacey and Scarecrow and Mrs. King already used their urban setting (New York City and Washington DC), as well as scenes from episodes to give the audience an idea of the content and nature of each show. The Golden Girls and Who’s the Boss did the same while The Cosby Show, Growing Pains, Roseanne or Valerie primarily introduced us to the type of family we were about to visit for half an hour every week. In the 70s, the intros of Happy Days, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Family set the tone for very different shows while the 60s had already distinguished themselves from the often sponsor-laden intros of the 1950s. As the first era to introduce color TV, the 60s loved to use colorful effects and a contemporary style of music that showed a development away from family-friendly entertainment to more adult-oriented shows. While Hazel still proved to be traditional and rather quiet in the early 60s, Ironside‘s intro made clear the show was going to be filled with action, not unlike Adam-12.

In the new millennium, The West Wing tackled the unthinkable and turned politics into popular TV, the show’s intro already setting the mood and quality of a show that had a good run of seven seasons. The original CSI uses a similar pattern, creating a symbiosis of music and images, teasing the audience without giving too much away while the intro to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica did not only set the tone for a dark-edged series, but also treated its audience to a glimpse into each new episode. Whether you enjoy the classic style of merging video material with a catchy tune like Trapper John M.D. did in in the late 70s and early 80s, prefer graphics as used in Cheers or are fond of the genuine way The Closer interlaced its credits with an already commencing episode – TV show intros are a like a good business card. Selling your product without being obtrusive while making a lasting impression on your audience.

Beyond Kit Carson

Remembering the Charm and Talents of Bill Williams

Born in Brooklyn, New York on May 21, 1915* as Hermann Wilhelm Katt, Bill Williams started his career in Vaudeville, touring the US and Europe as an adagio dancer until he joined the army in WWII. Following an honorable medical discharge, he returned to show business, starting out as an extra in Hollywood and playing small, uncredited parts before he finally landed a deal with RKO in the mid 1940s. As a contract player, he was slowly cast as a budding co-star, opposite popular colleagues such as Spencer Tracy in Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, Robert Young in Those Endearing Young Charms, Robert Mitchum in Till the End of Time and Susan Hayward in Deadline at Dawn while in private life he quietly divorced his first, long estranged wife. In 1946, two years after shooting West of the Pecos, a small Western featuring RKO starlet Barbara Hale whom he had previously been introduced to by acting coach Lillian Albertson, he got married to his former co-star gone studio sweetheart and saw a bright future laid out before him. Considered for a series of pictures following A Likely Story co-starring his young wife, Bill’s stream of luck ended with the sudden death of RKO president Charles Kroener and the structural changes that followed at the studio.

After serving as good-will ambassador from Hollywood to the public in 1946 and 47 for several months, keeping his popularity afloat by touring he country, he was struck down by an old injury that would further interrupt his career while Mrs. Williams was expecting their first child. With A Likely Story under his belt, however, the press didn’t lose interest in him and focused on the private life of the growing Williams family instead, presenting them as happy, lovely and homey. After bowing out of The Window, his second would-be collaboration with wife Barbara, Bill regained his health and starred with her in The Clay Pigeon. Shortly thereafter, the couple faced a new challenge in their conjoined careers when Howard Hughes entered the scene to change the course of RKO by letting all the contract players go. While his wife managed to land a career-breaking part in Jolson Sings Again and a follow-up contract with Columbia Pictures, Bill Williams continued working as a freelance actor, starring in a number of small Westerns and memorable films like The Stratton Story until he got his big break on television in 1951. Landing the title role in The Adventures of Kit Carson, Bill breathed life into a character who soon turned into a kids’ favorite and guaranteed him long hours on set. Successful for four consecutive seasons, the show turned Bill into a household name and Western hero, a good fortune he tried to continue with Date with the Angels in 1957. Starring opposite TV darling Betty White, Bill was seen as a newlywed husband who showed splendid comedic timing. Although promising, entertaining and less strenuous to work on than his predecessor series, the show did not last longer than a season. Instead, his wife Barbara Hale started an unexpectedly long career on television when she agreed to star as Della Street on Perry Mason, a show that would last from 1957 to 66. After years of putting her family first, it was Bill now who spent more time at home with the three children. He did not return to the small screen until 1960 when he starred in Assignment: Underwater, an underwater adventure show modeled after Sea Hunt, a surprise hit Bill Williams himself had turned down in 1958. Following the show’s cancellation, Bill returned to being a working actor and guest starred on a variety of popular programs including his wife’s great success and her co-star Raymond Burr’s follow-up smash Ironside until he retired from acting for good in 1981.

Although originally a city boy with a defining Brooklyn accent, Bill was frequently cast as a handsomely talented cowboy throughout his career. With his boyish grin, tender eyes and natural athleticism, he was the perfect ‘good guy’ when he was young and a credible character actor when he got older. Always deeply committed to his craft, he worked hard at doing most of his own stunts, oozed honesty and earthy charm. Not unlike his darling wife, Bill Williams is now often remembered for his one career-defining role as Kit Carson, but it would be a pity to forget all the other characters he breathed life into, including the many different men he played opposite Mrs. Williams – from their first feature West of the Pecos in 1945 to their last in 1976, Disney’s Flight of the Grey Wolf.

Twenty years ago, on September 21, Bill Williams died in Burbank, California at the age of 77. He left his wife of 46 years, two grown daughters and his son, William Katt, a working actor who continued the tradition of keeping the business in the family by repeatedly working with his mother, Barbara Hale, on the same projects. By his fans, he is still remembered with great fondness, especially by those who grew up loving Westerns.

* Author’s note: Apparently, there’s some confusion about Bill Williams’ date of birth. (Thanks for the mention, Gina!) Wikipedia now lists May 15th as his birthday while imdb still mentions May 21st. As soon as I get confirmation on the validity of one of these dates, you’ll be the first ones to know.

Raymond Burr

Everyone who grew up with a TV set knows his brooding face, his kind blue eyes and dimple smile. Raymond Burr, star of two consecutive hit shows, Perry Mason and Ironside, is still a household name due to his haunting qualities as an actor who started as a villain and would become America’s favorite lawyer.

Career: Born on May 21, 1917 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Raymond Burr came of age in the Great Depression and worked a variety of jobs before he finally broke into acting. Starting out on the stage at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1937, he starred on Broadway in Crazy with the Heat and landed his first movie contract with RKO in the 1940s. Soon typecast as a villain in film noir and other genres due to his broad frame and impressive figure, Raymond Burr appeared in over sixty movies before he finally found fame on television as Erle Stanley Gardner’s courtroom hero Perry Mason.

Originally auditioning for the part of district attorney Hamilton Burger, Raymond was the author’s own first choice for the famous lawyer who had already appeared in books, on the silver screen and radio since the 1930s. With its hour-long format, the TV show was a new attempt of using Gardner’s original characters in a suspenseful and entertaining way. Joined by Barbara Hale as Mason‘s girl Friday Della Street and Hedda Hopper’s son as private eye Paul Drake, Raymond Burr started a journey of unprecedented nature when he shot the pilot in 1956. Although starving for success after his bumpy relationship with big screen Hollywood, the actor was soon exhausted from the six day weeks and long hours on set, the whole production relying on a main character he breathed life into by reciting endless monologues. While enjoying and enforcing the cordial atmosphere on the Perry Mason set, Raymond Burr’s lack of breaks soon resulted in him living in a studio apartment in order to get some rest. As a pastime, Raymond loved playing pranks on his dearly beloved cast members, Bill Talman and Barbara Hale especially – her high-pitched screams, predictable schedule (as an actress, wife and mother of three) and eagerness to respond to his endless list of jokes making her his favorite target. It was the heavy schedule however, his lack of time and variety in acting that ultimately brought Raymond to enjoy Perry Mason less and less. After nine years of rewarding team play on “the happiest set in town” yet grueling working conditions for its star, the show was finally axed in 1966 by CBS. Sad to part from his cast and crew but eager to explore new territory, Raymond Burr soon found himself another show to star on, a show that would allow him more downtime and more right to a say in the matter of storytelling.

As Robert T. Ironside, he re-entered American living rooms in 1967 and managed to repeat his previous success. As an ex-police chief tied to a wheel chair, his new character was different from Perry Mason. A hero by his own means, Ironside and his team conquered the hearts of their audience for a good eight years before its cancellation, releasing its star into a decade of fading fame.

In 1985, Raymond Burr accepted an offer to return as Perry Mason but insisted on Barbara Hale reprising her role as Della Street as well. As the only surviving cast members of the original show, they were joined by Barbara’s son Billy Katt who starred as Paul Drake Jr. in the first nine out of twenty-six common TV movies. In 1993, Raymond Burr also returned as Ironside for one TV movie and then made his last appearance in Perry Mason and The Case of the Killer Kiss. Already tied to a wheel chair on set, Raymond said a long goodbye to his friends before he lost his battle against cancer in the privacy of his home in California, only weeks after wrapping his last project.

Characters: Although he started out as a villain in films like Raw Deal, Borderline or M, it was Raymond Burr’s portrayal of idiosyncratic heroes like Perry Mason and Robert T. Ironside that brought him lasting fame beyond the days of his original success.

Convincing as ruthless characters, as well as disturbed, aggressive or lion-hearted ones, it was his sense of vulnerability, his brooding expression, his kind yet piercing eyes that added depth and realism to his performances. Versatile, tall, broad-shouldered, handsome and blessed with an expressive voice, Raymond Burr’s characters may have been disreputable at the beginning of his career, his screen presence however made it impossible for them to be ignored. After all, who could forget his haunting appearance in Hitchcock’s Rear Window – his eyes intense and full of threat? Or his portrayal of Barney, the cursed murderer in Bride of the Gorilla, an excellent B movie that lives from his no-nonsense performance. Godzilla‘s Steve Martin is another example or Please Murder Me – two films that show the complexity of an actor who defined his characters by making them unique.

Perry Mason then brought on the change he had been hoping for in film. As a righteous guy it was finally him who was chasing the villains and his credibility was so acute, his audience soon started mistaking the actor for the character whenever they met or wrote to him. Adding to his authenticity was the chemistry he had with his co-stars, first and foremost Barbara Hale, Perry Mason‘s highly valued Della Street. Building up a system of non-verbal communication with his partner-in-crime, he soaked up what his co-star offered and allowed her to shine even without any lines.

As Ironside, he managed to create a character who was not limited to his disability but who coped with the restrictions of a wheelchair without allowing his situation to define his abilities. When he returned to his most defining parts in the 1980s and 90s, Raymond Burr added further depth to his portrayal of his two alter egos, especially to Perry Mason whose twenty-six new adventures finally allowed him to suggest a romance between him and Della Street.

Charity and Hobbies: Once described as an oversize personality inside and out, Raymond Burr was a strong believer in giving rather than taking, a humanist at heart, warm and wicked. He excelled as a cook who loved to invite friends to elaborate dinners at his Malibu home, was a distinguished gardener who grew numerous new orchids he named after his friends, including his Perry Mason co-star Barbara Hale, and was interested in art and antiques. A co-owner of a gallery in Beverly Hills and a Hans Erni enthusiast, Raymond Burr was also a man of vast reading and an actor who went at great lengths for his characters and colleagues.

Recognized for his engaging portrayal as Perry Mason, Raymond often attended lawyers gatherings and received an honorary doctorate from two different universities. At the height of his fame, he fostered several children around the world and donated most of his money to institutions and educational programs in the US and Fiji where he also owned an island. He toured Korea and Vietnam to support the troops by sitting down with soldiers in remote areas of the war zones, cultivated wine and refused to have his property named after himself. The Raymond Burr Vineyards didn’t get their name until after his passing, when his business partner decided to honor him posthumously and still continues his work today.

Private Life: Reserved and cautious about sharing his private life, Raymond Burr had a difficult relationship with the press throughout his career. Though repeatedly praised by critics for his work, he was often misquoted in papers and thus grew weary of the coverage that came with his many years of television success. Always outspoken and silver-tongued, he circumnavigated questions about his bachelordom and refrained from commenting gossip about seeing Barbara Stanwyck or Natalie Wood. Never reluctant to discuss the long hours on set as Perry Mason however, he focused on answering questions about his work without presenting himself as the center of attention. Eager to highlight the qualities of his fellow cast members and crew, Raymond Burr made sure to find a balance between describing his workload and the bond he shared with his set family.

As a habit, he never commented on wrongful insinuations about his cordial friendship with his Della Street or his changing weight, nor did he respond to rumors about his supposed homosexuality. Staying true to his convictions of living the kind of life he wished others would live, he made no secret of how much he disliked the press for trying to expose what shouldn’t concern them in the first place. Unfortunately, he did not get around to writing his planned autobiography before he died on September 12, 1993. It would have been a pleasure to read about his career from his own point of view. I’m sure he would have surprised a lot of people with a book filled with a myriad of stories but only little information about himself.  

Filmography:

  • 1994 Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss (TV movie)
  • 1993 Perry Mason: The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host (TV movie)
  • 1993 The Return of Ironside (TV movie)
  • 1993 Perry Mason: The Case of the Skin-Deep Scandal (TV movie)
  • 1992 Perry Mason: The Case of the Heartbroken Bride (TV movie)
  • 1992 Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo (TV movie)
  • 1992 Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing (TV movie)
  • 1992 Grass Roots (TV movie)
  • 1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Fashion (TV movie)
  • 1991 Delirious
  • 1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin (TV movie)
  • 1991 Showdown at Williams Creek
  • 1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Maligned Mobster (TV movie)
  • 1991 Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (TV movie)
  • 1990 Perry Mason: The Case of the Defiant Daughter (TV movie)
  • 1990 Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer (TV movie)
  • 1990 Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate Deception (TV movie)
  • 1990 Perry Mason: The Case of the Poisoned Pen (TV movie)
  • 1989 Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (TV movie)
  • 1989 Perry Mason: The Case of the Musical Murder (TV movie)
  • 1989 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (TV movie)
  • 1988 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (TV movie)
  • 1988 Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (TV movie)
  • 1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (TV movie)
  • 1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (TV movie)
  • 1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (TV movie)
  • 1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (TV movie)
  • 1986 Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (TV movie)
  • 1986 Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun (TV movie)
  • 1985 Perry Mason Returns (TV movie)
  • 1984 Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn
  • 1982 Airplane II: The Sequel
  • 1981 Peter and Paul (TV movie)
  • 1980 The Night the City Screamed (TV movie)
  • 1980 Out of the Blue
  • 1980 The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb (TV movie)
  • 1980 The Return
  • 1979 The Thirteenth Day: The Story of Esther (TV movie)
  • 1979 Disaster on the Coastliner (TV movie)
  • 1979 The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (TV series) – The Mob Comes to Orly (1979)
  • 1979 Eischied (TV series) – Only the Pretty Girls Die: Parts 1+2 (1979)
  • 1979 Love’s Savage Fury (TV movie)
  • 1979 Centennial (TV mini-series), 12 episodes
  • 1979 The Love Boat (TV series) – Alas, Poor Dwyer/After the War/Itsy Bitsy/Ticket to Ride/Disco Baby: Parts 1+2 (1979)
  • 1978 The Jordan Chance (TV movie)
  • 1978 The Bastard (TV movie)
  • 1978 Tomorrow Never Comes
  • 1977 Harold Robbins’ 79 Park Avenue (TV mini-series)
  • 1976-1977 Kingston: Confidential (TV series), 14 episodes
  • 1977 Godzilla
  • 1976 Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence (TV movie)
  • 1967-1975 Ironside (TV series), 196 episodes
  • 1973 Portrait: A Man Whose Name Was John (TV movie)
  • 1972 The Bold Ones: The New Doctors (TV series) – Five Days in the Death of Sgt. Brown: Part II (1972)
  • 1963-1970 The Red Skelton Hour (TV series) – Freddie’s Desperate Hour (1970), The Magic Act (1970), Appleby’s Soul (1965), Disorder in the Court (1964), Episode #13.10 (1963)
  • 1968 P.J.
  • 1968 It Takes a Thief (TV series) – A Thief Is a Thief (1968)
  • 1957-1966 Perry Mason (TV series), 271 episodes
  • 1961 The Jack Benny Program (TV series) – Jack on Trial for Murder (1961)
  • 1960 Joyful Hour (TV movie)
  • 1960 Desire in the Dust
  • 1960 The Christophers (TV series) – Joyful Hour (1960)
  • 1957 Playhouse 90 (TV series) – Lone Woman (1957), The Greer Case (1957)
  • 1957 Affair in Havana
  • 1957 The Web (TV series) – No Escape (1957)
  • 1957 Undercurrent (TV series) – No Escape (1957)
  • 1957 Crime of Passion
  • 1956 Ride the High Iron (TV movie)
  • 1956 The Brass Legend
  • 1956 Climax! (TV series) – Savage Portrait (1956), The Shadow of Evil (1956), The Sound of Silence (1956)
  • 1954-1956 Lux Video Theatre (TV series) – Flamingo Road (1956), The Web (1955), Shall Not Perish (1954), A Place in the Sun (1954)
  • 1956 A Cry in the Night
  • 1956 Secret of Treasure Mountain
  • 1956 Great Day in the Morning
  • 1956 Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
  • 1956 Celebrity Playhouse (TV series) – No Escape (1956)
  • 1956 Please Murder Me
  • 1956 The Star and the Story (TV series) – The Force of Circumstance (1956)
  • 1954-1956 The Ford Television Theatre (TV series) – Man Without a Fear (1956), The Fugitives (1954)
  • 1956 Chevron Hall of Stars (TV series) – The Lone Hand (1956)
  • 1955 The 20th Century-Fox Hour (TV series) – The Ox-Bow Incident (1955)
  • 1955 Count Three and Pray
  • 1955 A Man Alone
  • 1955 You’re Never Too Young
  • 1955 Schlitz Playhouse (TV series) – The Ordeal of Dr. Sutton (1955)
  • 1954 They Were So Young
  • 1954 Passion
  • 1954 Thunder Pass
  • 1954 Khyber Patrol
  • 1954 Rear Window
  • 1954 Gorilla at Large
  • 1954 Mr. & Mrs. North (TV series) – Murder for Sale (1954)
  • 1954 Casanova’s Big Night
  • 1953 Four Star Playhouse (TV series) – The Room (1953)
  • 1953 Fort Algiers
  • 1953 Tarzan and the She-Devil
  • 1953 Serpent of the Nile
  • 1953 The Blue Gardenia
  • 1953 The Bandits of Corsica
  • 1953 Your Favorite Story (TV series) – How Much Land Does a Man Need? (1953)
  • 1953 Tales of Tomorrow (TV series) – The Mask of Medusa (1953)
  • 1951-1952 Family Theatre (TV series) – A Star Shall Rise (1952), That I May See (1951), Triumphant Hour
  • 1952 Horizons West
  • 1952 Gruen Guild Theater (TV series) – Face Value (1952), The Leather Coat (1952), The Tiger (1952)
  • 1952 The Unexpected (TV series) – The Magnificent Lie (1952)
  • 1952 Mara Maru
  • 1952 Rebound (TV series) – The Wreck (1952), Joker’s Wild (1952)
  • 1951 Meet Danny Wilson
  • 1951 Chesterfield Sound Off Time (TV series) – Dragnet: The Human Bomb (1951)
  • 1951 Dragnet (TV series) – The Human Bomb (1951)
  • 1951 FBI Girl
  • 1951 Bride of the Gorilla
  • 1951 The Magic Carpet
  • 1951 The Whip Hand
  • 1951 His Kind of Woman
  • 1951 A Place in the Sun
  • 1951 New Mexico
  • 1951 Stars Over Hollywood (TV series) – Pearls from Paris (1951), Prison Doctor (1951)
  • 1951 M
  • 1951 The Amazing Mr. Malone (TV series) – Premiere (1951)
  • 1951 The Bigelow Theatre (TV series) – Big Hello (1951)
  • 1950 Borderline
  • 1950 Key to the City
  • 1950 Unmasked
  • 1949 Love Happy
  • 1949 Abandoned
  • 1949 Red Light
  • 1949 Black Magic
  • 1949 Criss Cross
  • 1949 Bride of Vengeance
  • 1948 Adventures of Don Juan
  • 1948 Walk a Crooked Mile
  • 1948 Station West
  • 1948 Pitfall
  • 1948 Raw Deal
  • 1948 Fighting Father Dunne
  • 1948 Ruthless
  • 1948 Sleep, My Love
  • 1948 I Love Trouble
  • 1947 Desperate
  • 1947 Code of the West
  • 1946 San Quentin
  • 1946 Without Reservations
  • 1940 Earl of Puddlestone

Availability:

  • DVD: Airplane II, Borderline, The Brass Legend, Bride of the Gorilla, Centennial, Crime of Passion, Fort Algiers, Godzilla, Ironside, Ironside TV movie, M, Passion, Perry Mason TV series, Perry Mason Returns, Pitfall, A Place in the Sun, Please Murder Me, Rear Window
  • VHS: Jack Benny Program, Perry Mason TV series, Perry Mason TV movies
  • Internet: The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, I Love Trouble, Please Murder Me

Personal recommendations (in alphabetical order):

  • Bride of the Gorilla, 1951
  • The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, 1980
  • Dragnet (TV series) – The Human Bomb (1951)
  • The Ford Television Theatre (TV series) – Man Without a Fear (1956), The Fugitives (1954)
  • Ironside (TV series), 1967-75
  • Perry Mason (TV series), 1957-66
  • Perry Mason (TV movies), 1985-94
  • Please Murder Me, 1956
  • Rear Window, 1954

Sources for more on Raymond Burr:

Happy Birthday, Handsome(s).

Today, two of my favorite actors were born – Bill Williams in Brooklyn, New York, in 1915 and Raymond Burr in New Westminster, British Columbia, in 1917. Their career paths, parts and looks were as different as they get, but they were both the leading man in the life of one darling lady, Barbara Hale.

Getting acquainted on the RKO studio lot as fellow contract players gone sweethearts, Bill married Barbara in 1946, had three children with her and frequently co-starred with his wife in the same projects. Raymond met Barbara at RKO a year before she met her husband, but didn’t work with her until they were both cast for the Perry Mason TV show in 1956. As Perry Mason and Della Street, they had nine successful years of companionship on screen and off, a gift they shared with Bill when he came to guest star on the hit show for four non-consecutive episodes. In the late sixties and seventies, after the conclusion of Perry Mason, Bill continued to co-star with his wife in movies and on TV while Raymond invited his former leading lady to join him for an episode of his Ironside series. While Bill resigned from acting in 1981, Raymond stepped back into the shoes of the famous lawyer in Perry Mason Returns in 1985 and talked Barbara into joining him to reprise her own popular alter ego. During the success of the renewed franchise, Bill Williams died on September 21, 1992, after forty-six years of marriage to his wife. One year later, on September 12, 1993, Raymond Burr passed away shortly after finishing his 26th Perry Mason TV movie.

Both equally committed to their craft, Bill Williams and Raymond Burr gave their audience a variety of memorable characters who are every bit as genuine today as they were back in the days. With his stage background, Raymond Burr was a versatile supporting actor and frequent villain before he broke through as a charming leading man on TV. Bill Williams, with his roots in Vaudeville, was one of RKO’s great new hopes and leading talents before he found success as TV’s Kit Carson in the 1950s. Guest starring as a character actor in many contemporary programs towards the end of his career, he seemed to finish on characters Raymond Burr had started on. Both unique in their charm, approach and expression, the two actors will always be remembered for entertaining their audience with talent, quality and good looks. After all, who could resist those two handsome men?

Author’s note: Apparently, there’s some confusion about Bill Williams’ date of birth. Wikipedia now lists May 15th as his birthday while imdb still mentions May 21st. As soon as I get confirmation on the validity of one of these dates, you’ll be the first ones to know.

Happy Birthday, Barbara Hale!

Today, the lovely Barbara Hale celebrates her 90th birthday and this post is my way of wishing her well. So please feel invited to walk down memory lane with me through her career on screen and her public life which started in the funny papers when she was modeling for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill and ended when she retired from acting in 1994 to fully commit herself to her beloved family.

Born on April 18th, 1922*, in DeKalb, Barbara Hale grew up as the second of two daughters of Ezra and Willa Hale in Rockford, Illinois. Interested in art early on, Barbara was encouraged by her mother to pursue her goal of becoming a commercial artist. Working after school to show her dedication to her craft, her father gave his consent for her to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts after her high school graduation. Living at the YWCA where she shared a room with a friend, Barbara was soon asked to model for fellow students and finally landed a job posing for a comic strip called Ramblin’ Bill. She was a fashion model when a talent scout spotted her and offered her a chance for a trial contract with RKO in Hollywood. Young, ambitious and thrilled about acting, Barbara hopped on the train out West and landed her first job as the replacement of a sick extra in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day on her day of arrival in 1943.

Getting her education on the studio lot, Barbara immersed herself in her new profession, eagerly embracing singing, horseback riding, voice and dance lessons while continuing to work as a model for a variety of products. Prone to being sociable and charming, it didn’t take her long to meet fellow contract player Bill Williams with whom she fell in love on studio grounds. Working together on West of the Pecos in 1944, her first big part after debuting on Higher and Higher alongside Frank Sinatra, she soon knew she wanted to marry her “Ramblin’ Bill”. Although committed to founding a family while missing her own, Barbara kept working hard for her career and landed strong parts in First Yank into Tokyo and Lady Luck.

In 1946, Barbara and Bill got married and started working on A Likely Story. In 1947, a little more than a year after taking their vows, their first child was born, daughter Jody. Two more children followed in 1951 and 1953, son Billy and another daughter, Juanita. While being a dedicated mother and wife, Barbara kept working on movies such as The Boy with Green Hair, The Clay Pigeon and The Window until she left RKO when her contract ended with the studio. She started working for Columbia and secured herself a part in Jolson Sings Again, then also worked for other studios before tackling television. The Jackpot with Jimmy Stewart, Lorna Doone, A Lion is in the Streets with James Cagney and The Houston Story were some of her memorable films, as well as a number of Westerns such as The Oklahoman with Joel McCrea.

In 1956, Barbara was approached by Gail Patrick Jackson who urged her to join the cast of a new show called Perry Mason. Skeptical at first due to the young age of her three children, Barbara finally accepted the promising offer and became TV’s most famous secretary when the show went on the air in 1957. Rewarded with a congenial atmosphere on set, lasting friendships, two Emmy nominations and one win, Barbara soon had a reputation of being everyone’s favorite cast member. Adored by fans and press alike, coverage on the Perry Mason family and “Della Street” in her private life returned to an old-time high. Although strenuous at times, being on set six days a week (even when she didn’t have any lines) and leading a rich family life, Barbara embraced her part with full abandon and was grateful for the steady work.

In 1966, after nine years of television fame, Perry Mason was discontinued and Barbara took a well-deserved break from acting to unwind and enjoy more time with her family – her husband and their three children, then nineteen, fifteen and thirteen. In 1967, Barbara made her big screen comeback in a Western called Buckskin, continuing the family tradition of working with her husband on the same film. More common projects followed, including guest stints on Insight and Adam-12, as well as movies such as The Giant Spider Invasion and The Flight of the Grey Wolf.

After numerous guest stints on popular shows like Ironside, The Doris Day Show and Marcus Welby M.D. and supporting parts on movies such as Airport in 1970, Barbara also returned to making a living with commercials when she became the Amana spokesperson for Radar Range microwave ovens in the 70s. She also starred in two of her son Billy Katt’s projects, Big Wednesday and The Greatest American Hero before he joined her on the reprise of her career’s biggest success. In 1985, Barbara was asked to reunite with her longtime co-star and friend Raymond Burr for Perry Mason Returns, a TV movie that launched another ten years of steady work. After the death of her husband of forty-six years in 1992 and the passing of Raymond Burr only one year later, Barbara Hale continued her performance as Della Street in another four Perry Mason Mysteries before she retired from acting in 1994 for personal reasons. She has led a private life with her family in the Los Angeles area  since but given occasional interviews. Some of her latest interviews are available on the 50th Anniversary of Perry Mason DVD which was released in 2008.

After this sketchy introduction to a very rich life and a darling lady what else is left to say but this: Bless your heart, dear Barbara Hale, for being such an inspiration, and best of wishes on your special day.

* Author’s note: There’s some confusion about Barbara Hale’s actual birthday. While most sources list April 18, 1922 as her day of birth, others say she was already born in 1921. I decided to stick with the most commonly used date. Should that be wrong, I’ll gladly make the necessary changes here on Talking Classics.

Ironside

TV classics: Ironside

USA 1967-75, 8 seasons,  199 episodes, approximately 45 minutes each, NBC, color. Created by: Collier Young, Theme music composer: Quincy Jones. Cast: Raymond Burr, Don Galloway, Don Mitchell, Barbara Anderson, Elizabeth Baur

Plot summary: Former San Francisco PD chief Robert T. Ironside solves crimes with a little help from his expert team.

Review: Raymond Burr had just left the air as Perry Mason after nine full years in 1966 when he returned to the small screen for another multi-season run of a new hit show called Ironside only one year later. Although fighting for justice once again, the character of his new show was distinctly different from his previous courtroom drama success. Not only did he play former police chief Robert T. Ironside who solves his crimes from a wheelchair after a failed attack on his life, he was also now based in San Francisco and surrounded by a team of young supporting actors.

During its eight season run, Ironside kept the same kind of storylines of murder and mayhem but also featured some background information and stories about the main character and his team of experts. Barbara Anderson left the series after four seasons and was replaced by an equally convincing Elizabeth Baur for the remainder of the show. The rest of the cast stayed on for as long as NBC kept the show on the air. The cancellation of Ironside in 1975 was rather abrupt and an answer to dropping ratings. In 1993 however, the Ironside reunion movie was well received by the audience and graced with the complete set of stars from the original show.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, Ironside managed to attract a large number of popular names and faces to guest star in individual episodes of the police drama. The sample episode I’ve chosen to include in this post featured Roddy McDowell for example and also reunited Raymond Burr with his Perry Mason co-star Barbara Hale.

All in all, Ironside was a good show with a cast of excellent actors, guest stars and scripts. It is still highly entertaining, smart and funny at the oddest of times. Robert T. Ironside was a brilliantly gruff character who gave Raymond Burr another chance at TV stardom which only added to his popularity. Today, he is still dearly remembered for his body of work and rightly so. Just have a look at this show and see if you agree.

Available on DVD and on Hulu. Sample episode “Murder Impromptu”, 1971