It is cold outside. Or better: it’s freezing. And I don’t like to be cold, nor do I like anything to be cold. Least of all the weather when I have to get up in the morning and go to work. Give me cold, crispy air on a prolonged weekend I can spend in bed. Now that’s my kind of cold. That I can live with. Especially when I can wrap myself in a cozy blanket, have food in bed, enjoy a pot of hot tea and have a pile of films or a new TV show to binge-watch. Of course, I have some favorites but new gems always find a way on my shelves in mysterious ways. So here it is, my list of recommendations for anyone who, like yours truly, is in touch with her inner bear and craves to hibernate in a comfy cave. Don’t give freezer burn a chance and enjoy a good flick instead!
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.
- 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
- 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:
TV classics: Pantomime Quiz
USA 1947-59, aka Stump the Stars 1962-63, irregular seasons, episodes approximately 25 minutes each, KTLA, CBS, DuMont, NBC and ABC, black & white. Hosted by Mike Stokey. Celebrity guests: Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, Raymond Burr, Beverly Garland, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Eartha Kitt, Michael Landon, Nancy Sinatra, William Talman, Dick Van Dyke et al.
Game summary: Based on the popular game Charades, two groups of celebrity contestants compete against each other to find out who’s faster at miming the titles and sentences contributed by the audience.
Review: Pantomime Quiz is one of those shows I miss a lot these days: pure entertainment for the entire family. These game shows are great fun to watch at any age and apparently brought a lot of joy to the contestants as well back in the days. Beverly Garland was one of the regular contestants on Pantomime Quiz, Sebastian Cabot and Ross Martin. Always supported by an incoming celebrity guest, the ever-changing teams of contestants did their best to explain as many terms, names or phrases as possible. The faster a contestant managed to show his or her given term without using a single word, the more points their team got. If they didn’t stay under two minutes, no points were added to their account and thus lowered their chances to prevail in the end.
Originally airing on KTLA as early as in 1947, Pantomime Quiz survived a successful twelve non-consecutive season run on four different networks. Presented by Mike Stokey, the show won an Emmy for “Most Popular Television Program” at the first Emmy Awards ceremony. Discontinued on ABC in 1959, the show was revived on CBS in 1962 under a new title, Stump the Stars. Pat Harrington Jr. hosted the re-imagined show until veteran emcee Stokey returned to the format and welcomed celebrity guests such as the cast of the Dick Van Dyke Show and Perry Mason.
Today, selected clips are available online and on DVD to enjoy with your (grand)parents and kids. Complete episodes are a real treat, my personal favorite being an episode from 1963 featuring Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper and William Talman (displayed on the 5oth Anniversary of Perry Mason box set). I always root for each one of them to find the right clues and gestures, no matter how often I watch them play. You can have a look a full sample episode here on youtube and see for yourselves or click the links above to share my joy about the Perry Mason gang and their familiar quips and quirks. But be prepared, if you’re into game shows, Pantomime Quiz or Stump the Stars may awaken your inner Charades Queen (or King) who feels the urge to convert everyone around you to play along.
Growing up, I only knew the TV movies from the mid 1980s to 90s and the original TV show from 1957 to 66, both starring two of my all-time favorites, Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale. But recently, I finally got around to reading Erle Stanley Gardner’s original novels. Not all of them of course. Not yet. After all, Gardner wrote more than eighty stories about Perry Mason and his darling secretary Della Street. But I plan to read them all, sooner rather than later, because they are a real treat for anyone who enjoys a decent whodunit with a good portion of adventure and shyster attitude.
So far, I’ve made it through Perry Mason and the Case of…
- The Foot-Loose Doll
- The Glamorous Ghost
- The Grinning Gorilla
- The Long-Legged Models
- The Lucky Loser
- The Screaming Woman
- The Terrified Typist
- The Waylaid Wolf
I wholeheartedly recommend them all, from the first few chapters of discovering Perry’s new case to the final twists and turns in the courtroom where our attorney-at-law reveals the delinquent and remains undefeated. A reliable formula, highly entertaining and spiced up with great characterizations of Mason himself, his pretty as well as capable girl Friday Della and their P.I. friend Paul Drake.
If you are familiar with the iconic TV show, the books will please and surprise you. They are different in some respect, but the characters are every bit as genuine, entertaining and tangible as Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and Bill Hopper depicted them. For those of you who share my fondness for romance, the books contain more than one hint towards a tingling attraction between Della and her boss. And the storylines always embrace an almost uplifting quality despite the imperative ingredient of murder and mayhem.
Having finished the first couple of novels, I now can’t wait to read on. The mix of suspense, mystery and humor is utterly addictive and a good eighty years after first appearing on the market, Perry Mason is still a gem.
TV classics: Studio 57
USA 1954-56, 4 seasons, 124 episodes, approximately 25 minutes each, DuMont (then syndication), black & white. Produced by: Revue Studios, Sponsored by: Heinz 57. Cast selection: Lex Barker, Jean Byron, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Brian Keith, DeForest Kelley, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford, Peter Lorre, James Nolan, Hugh o’Brian, Aaron Spelling, Rod Taylor, Bill Williams, Natalie Wood and many others
Plot summary: An anthology TV series, Studio 57 featured different genres, plots, actors and storylines every week.
Review: It is hard to review and sum up a program as diverse as Studio 57. Not uncommon in the 1950s, Studio 57 was one of those anthology series that featured a different storyline and cast of actors every week. Although mostly introducing unfamiliar faces, the show also had its number of rising stars and well-known actors, including Angela Lansbury, Peter Lorre, Barbara Hale, Bill Williams or Brian Keith. With its diversity of genres, Studio 57 met the style of the many other anthology shows. Due its often marginally successful scripts and not always driving force talents and names, the show was rather short-lived.
One of the better known episodes is “Young Couples Only”, starring Barbara Hale, Bill Williams and Peter Lorre. With its science fiction plot, the episode is a good example for the often well cast shows but poor storytelling. Although not extremely suspenseful by today’s standards, the episode is great fun to watch for everyone who enjoys the marvelous talents of the lead actors. The script may not have given them a lot of material to work with, but they do the best with what they have. Peter Lorre is eerily spooky as the apartment building’s janitor, and Barbara Hale and Bill Williams do a beautiful-as-always job to stir up suspense, fear and suspicions with the little meaningful lines they got to convey the plot.
All in all, Studio 57 is a program for everyone who is interested in TV history, in anthology series and rarely shown material with a beloved or sometimes little known cast of actors. Selected episodes are available on DVD and very worth checking out if you want to get a more accentuated impression of the diversity of 1950s programs and a sense of the roots of contemporary TV.
Available online here.
In the about section of this blog I promised Friday to be miscellaneous day. Hollywood fun facts and what not. Well, since time is scarce this week and rushing by all too easily, I decided to have a Hollywood fun question day.
So this is what happened: upon re-watching Perry Mason, I began to wonder about something, and my most recent TV classics post on Family Affair only added to that. I mean, I may be the only one who wonders about the question I’m about to ask, and only for the most innocent of reasons of course, but seriously: where did all the hunky men go?!
You know who I’m talking about: Raymond Burr, Bill Hopper, Brian Keith, Curd Juergens, Rock Hudson… That type of guy. Broad shoulders, tall, gentlemanly and handsome in a handy way. Totally serving the cliches of their time, on screen that is – rough charm but teddy bear qualities. I know!
But where is that mixture?! Where did it go?!
Did it really vanish because the times have changed?! And if it did, how come that in spite of these “old school” characteristics, I can’t even think of a current actor who is remotely built that way?!
Well, maybe it’s like the myth of the curvy, practical yet glamorous lady – a bygone image Hollywood has discarded and replaced with a skinny replica to serve the supposed demands of our time. Not that this would be a recent development, I mean Twiggy and Jane Fonda are appreciated silver-agers these days.
But here’s why I began wondering about this in the first place: I have so much fun watching those classic movies and shows with people who aged all right, who were adults and looked like them. Who did not fit themselves in ridiculously short miniskirts and dieted non-stop to pass as forty although they had well reached fifty-five. It’s all of that, with women and men, and mind you, I am aware of the beauty tricks and the pressures Hollywood has put on its stars early on. The nipping and tucking. But maybe it just feels more genuine to see people age on screen, to see men looking good without brushing their hair incessantly or women working out as if they wanted to make the Olympics team.
Fashion has changed, standards and likes – so I guess my hunky men just aren’t in vogue in our times. So I’ll stick to my classics in-between enjoying some of what this millennium has to offer. After all, old school escapism still works its wonders and may be revived eventually.
TV Classics: Perry Mason
USA 1957 – 66, 9 seasons, 271 episodes, 50 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Executive Producer: Gail Patrick Jackson, Theme Song: Fred Steiner, Based on characters by Erle Stanley Gardner, author of over eighty Perry Mason novels
Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Hopper, William Talman, Ray Collins
Plot summary: Perry Mason, attorney-at-law, Della Street, his confidential secretary, and Paul Drake, private detective, are working on a new case each week to defend their innocent clients. The charge is murder and the cases often come with a twist, helping Perry Mason to never lose a case.
Review: Perry Mason is a procedural show. Every episode is about a case. The characters move along with it, but there is not a lot of screen-time left for their private lives. Thus Perry Mason does not have time for a love interest other than an occasional flirt with a guest star or his confidential secretary Della Street who always finds a way to sneak in a question, comment or a smile. Perry Mason lives for his job. He is the unquestioned hero. Not a but the attorney-at-law. The man everybody wants to turn to in times of trouble. Mind you, he tampers with evidence every once in a while and could get away with murder. But he’s an honest character who bends the law to get an acquittal for his not always truthful but always innocent clients.
Perry Mason is loyal to his clients and he is surrounded by a loyal supporting cast. Della Street runs his office and always stands by her boss. Sometimes she even gets in trouble for him and her steadfastness. Paul Drake is the private eye who always investigates the cases Perry Mason takes on. Although he doesn’t get much more time to pursue a private life, he is the only character who has frequent dates.
But that lack of private character development is not a weakness. The beautiful thing about this show is its witty dialogue, the sense of humor and its cast. The chemistry they have on screen. The fun that comes across, although with thirty-nine episodes in season one and six working days a week, the production must have been much more exhausting to shoot than today’s standard weeklies. A striking factor is how the actors bounce off each other with their lines, their actions. Barbara Hale was often praised by her co-stars for being the epitome of a supporting actress. She was rewarded with a lot of brotherly on-set pranks, predominantly masterminded by Raymond Burr, and two Emmy nominations including one win in 1959.
Raymond Burr was nominated three consecutive years and won his first Emmy the same year his co-star and friend Barbara Hale walked home with an award in her hands. He won again in 1961 when Barbara Hale received her second nomination. William Hopper was nominated once in 1959, which was the most popular year of Perry Mason in respect to acting awards. The show itself also received a nomination in 1958.
Those three main characters aside, William Talman as Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg did as convincingly a job as the shows protagonist(s). A mere adversary in the beginning of the show’s run, Hamilton Burger becomes a fleshed out district attorney who may despair of Perry Mason‘s methods, but also respects him.
Ray Collins is a pleasure to watch with his tendency to barge in a little too early on Perry Mason and his cases. And like the rest of the male cast, he likes to flatter Della Street a lot, but never too much.
All in all, Perry Mason is a fun show to watch for those who enjoy classic whodunits and old-school, plot-driven stories. The twists may be surprising at times, the murderers more obvious to some or impossible to guess, but the way Perry Mason goes about solving his cases, his attitude, his quest for truth and justice is addicting. Never mind that the show is in black and white, that only adds to its appeal. The music, Della Street‘s attire, the genuine 1950s style. And Los Angeles as a supporting character in a way. It’s the entire package. It works – did so for nine seasons till 1966 and does on DVD today.
Perry Mason featured a lot of recurring guest stars during its nine-year run, including Barbara Hale’s real-life husband Bill Williams (The Adventures of Kit Carson, Date with the Angels, Assignment: Underwater) who appeared on the show four times in different roles (from 1962 – 65).
Side note: The first Perry Mason novel, The Case of the Velvet Claw, was published in 1933. The last, The Case of the Postponed Murder, posthumously in 1973.
Perry Mason first graced the silver screen in the 1930s. Six movies were made between 1934 and 1937. Another film was loosely based on the characters and books. It was shot in 1940. In The Case of the Velvet Claws (1936), Della Street got married to Perry Mason, picking up on Perry Mason’s proposals to his secretary in the early novels, something that was never openly referred to in the original TV show although Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale added to their on-screen chemistry by including looks and gestures and thus left the audience wondering. Unlike their literary predecessors, Perry Mason and Della Street never kissed on screen. Not until 1993 in Perry Mason and the Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host.
In 1973, 20th Century Fox, executive producer Cornwell Jackson and consulting producer Gail Patrick Jackson tried to revive Perry Mason on the small screen and launched The New Adventures of Perry Mason aka The New Perry Mason with a new cast. It was short-lived.
In 1985, Perry Mason returned to TV with Della Street being accused of murder. The show lasted another decade, broadcast by NBC. Thirty movies were shot altogether. Twenty-six of which featured Raymond Burr. Barbara Hale appeared in all thirty episodes, including the last four that went on the air as Perry Mason Mysteries.
The original Perry Mason show is available on VHS and DVD (up to season 5 now). Perry Mason Returns is available on the 50th anniversary of Perry Mason DVD. Other TV movies are scarcely available on VHS.
Trivia: In the TV movies, Perry Mason was, again, portrayed by Raymond Burr who asked for Barbara Hale to return as Della Street to work by his side. William Katt, Barbara Hale’s real life son, was cast as Paul Drake Junior. Then later, William R. Moses joined the cast as Ken Malansky who replaced Paul Drake in 1989.
Guest stars included David Odgen Stiers, Jean Simmons, Tom Bosley, Brian Keith, Genie Francis, Barbara Babcock, Holland Taylor, Tippi Hedren and others.
Raymond Burr’s last appearance as Perry Mason was in 1993 in Perry Mason and the Case of the Killer Kiss. He died on September 12, 1993, losing his battle against liver cancer at the age of 76. He had postponed surgery in order to shoot the Perry Mason movies and invited friends to several farewell parties, knowing he would die. Following a tradition started on the original show when Raymond Burr had been indisposed, Perry Mason was replaced by guest stars (including Hal Holbrook in 1994 and Bette Davis in 1963) stepping in for him. Perry Mason was sent off to Europe to try a case. He was mentioned in all of the remaining four TV movies and Perry Mason and the Case of the Killer Kiss was dedicated to Mr. Burr.
Barbara Hale last appeared in A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester in 1995 (it was shot in 1994). She was reluctant about bowing out of the complete shoot for the film and did not tell the cast and crew about her real reasons. After losing her husband of 46 years in 1992 and her real life friend Raymond Burr one year later, she was fighting her own battle with cancer. Her character Della Street followed Perry Mason to Europe. Della Street was not recast after Barbara Hale’s iconic portrayal but replaced by her assistant called Janice. Barbara Hale has not appeared as an actress in a TV or film production since. Recent interviews with her about Perry Mason are displayed on the 50th anniversary of Perry Mason DVD.