Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Memoriam: Raymond Burr

A day late, but every bit as sincere as if it were on time.

Many times has the tale been retold of how Raymond Burr and William Talman were auditioning for the opposite roles and Erle Stanley Gardner intervened and insisted they switch parts. It was a move of sheer genius.

Raymond Burr was (and really, is) our Perry Mason. I find it inconceivable to imagine someone else (anyone else) playing that iconic role. And after the series has been over so long, the very thought of Raymond as Hamilton Burger and William as Perry Mason is terribly amusing. Could they have played the opposite roles? I’m sure they could have; they were both excellent actors. But I’m so glad Gardner had them switch.

Some people aren’t crazy about Raymond’s acting style. Personally, I love it. His Perry Mason was so deadpan at times but always compassionate and devoted to justice. And he had a mischievous side; I enjoy his smiles and his teasing of Paul and Mr. Burger. Some of his “legal tightrope walking” still makes my eyebrows raise, but I have to admit that if I were in trouble, I would most certainly want him as my lawyer. He always tried to put the needs of his clients first, even if that meant getting into hot water himself.

Raymond was certainly like his character in some respects. His kindness and generosity are well-known. Ever since I read about him at The Perry Mason TV Show Book website, I have admired him for his charitable acts and, of course, never ceasing to lobby for William Talman’s return after the scandal in 1960. I love the stories of how he made the Perry set such a friendly, familial place.

I haven’t seen Raymond in too many things aside from Perry, something I plan to remedy soon. I have seen him in Rear Window, and it was certainly a switch to see him play the villain! (Seeing him with graying/white hair was unique as well.) And I viewed the Puzzlelock episode of Ironside. That character was quite interesting; I saw shades of Perry in his dogged determination and devotion to justice (and hearing him call one of the guest-starring characters “Paul” was an eerie blast from the past). But Ironside was different too—more blunt and brusque with some of his comments. I intend to view more of that series sometime.

Years ago I recall looking through our old TV Guide issues from the early nineties and seeing ads for some of the Perry Mason TV movies. While even then the thought of most of the cast being dead saddened me, I thought it was neat that the character had made such a comeback. Raymond reprised Perry Mason for 26 of those TV movies. That’s really quite impressive. And it’s a definite testament to the fact that audiences had found their quintessential Perry and wanted no other. Nineteen years after the end of the TV series, Raymond as Perry was welcomed back with open arms and high ratings.

And we still welcome him back every time we view an episode of Perry Mason. Raymond Burr left us on September 12th, 1993, but his legacy lives on. We may not be able to donate anywhere near the money or time that he did to good causes; however, we can certainly take a page from his life and do what we can to better the lives around us. It's true that even just a kind smile can go a long way.


  1. I only just saw this and just had to drop you a line in response to this entry. Like you, I also love Ray Burr's acting style. As Perry Mason or otherwise. He was a great villain in so many films, and even on Perry Mason back in the days. His portrayal of Perry's imposter always gives me goosebumps it is so great. And the 50 years boxset delivers a beautiful commentary to add to the experience. :o)

    I've always greatly enjoyed watching the Perry Mason TV movies - they actually made me fall for him in the first place, when I was still a teen.
    Like you, I also respected him even more when I learned more about his compassionate nature, enthusiasm and his on-set pranks. And yes, I'll gladly admit it, his real life friendship with my fave Barbara Hale has always been the icing on my cake. :o)

  2. I've only seen him as the villain in Rear Window, which was definitely a switch after seeing him as Perry! And I saw A Place in the Sun years and years ago where he played the prosecutor. I want to see that movie again just to see him in that role.

    I've been wanting that 50 years boxset, for the rare episodes as well as the extras! That commentary sounds awesome. And I want to see his screen test as Hamilton Burger.

    It's so squeeful about the real-life friendships the show spawned! I read an article with William Talman where he said that Raymond Burr was his best friend.

  3. Most of his parts were so different from one another. That's what makes it so amazing to watch him dive into his characters. I've still so many of his work to see, and I can't wait. Rear Window is definitely a gem, and A Place in the Sun, too. Such a great overall cast. :o) I just adore the classics.

    In general I love to watch my favorites in their many different roles. I have always loved Slim Carter for example because it features Barbara Hale and her hubby, as well as Bill Hopper before Perry Mason went on the air. :o)

    The screen tests are a lot of fun on the boxset, most definitely. Hard to imagine Ray Burr as Burger now and vice versa, isn't it?!
    It was also interesting to see a couple of other (stand-in) actresses trying to nail Della and then to see Barbara Hale's down-to-earth version of her. :o) Excellent.
    They also have the anti-smoking clip Bill Tallman recorded when he was already severely ill. Very touching. Only made me like him more.

    The real life friendships Perry Mason ignited are definitely a beautiful addition, I agree. :o) And I always feel it shows, the chemistry the regular cast had with each other. They are sparking off each other which is something you cannot put on paper and only hope for as a producer. :o)

  4. It's really fun seeing actors capture so many different kinds of characters! The classics are wonderful.

    Oh, I'll have to keep Slim Carter in mind! That does sound fun. Have you seen Jolsen Sings Again (I think that's what it's called)? It's about Al Jolsen and Barbara Hale plays the female lead.

    It really is hard to imagine! I wish the boxset had also included William Talman's screen test as Perry Mason. I saw the anti-smoking ad on YouTube. It made me cry. William's devotion to his family is one of the things I love most about him.

    The chemistry is definitely amazing! Not every show has something like that or even close to it.

  5. :o) Jolsen Sings Again, oh absolutely, it's one of my ab faves. Barbara Hale plays such a darling character. :o) And she's so great with Larry Parks whom she also became friends and starred in a second movie with (before he got black-listed :o/).
    I've seen all but three or four films with Barbara so far, I just love her work - and the ones I haven't seen are hard to come by. But I don't give up. ;o) Her acting really resonates with me and I love her characters, so I'm motivated enough. And sometimes I even get lucky and find a gem on youtube like her Insight episode from 1969. It gets me every time!

    Yes, that's true. I would've loved to see Bill Tallman's version of Perry Mason, too. Bill Hopper's is a lot of fun, but it would've been perfect to see Burger as Mason, I absolutely agree.
    Devotion to one's family always gets me and melts my heart. One of the many reasons why I love seeing Barbara Hale acting with her hubby so much (or with her son in later years).
    I definitely have to check out Bill Tallman's other work - I'm still behind on that front. Same goes for Ray Collins. Shame on me, I know...

    I'm all with you - not a lot of shows have that kind of chemistry and not every cast bonds so lastingly. What a gift for them that also makes me happy, until today. :o) Team spirit in its truest sense and a rare example of a true set family. Gotta heart that. And I always loved to read about it or listen to interviews about the show, esp since the cast and crew was aware of their genuine situation. Another rare quality. :o) Back then and today.

  6. That's neat! What was her other film with Larry Parks?

    Oh, I'll have to look up that Insight episode!

    I can give you some great recommendations for William Talman. I've seen him play both amazing good guys and bad guys, but I prefer him playing good guys. ;) Two-Gun Lady is a fun little film where he's a federal marshal. The Persuader has him playing the dual roles of twin brothers. And he did a couple of heart-breaking films with Robert Mitchum, The Racket and One Minute to Zero. I also like Smoke Signal, a Western where he plays a dark and conflicted character who is still ultimately a good guy. Ray Collins is in The Racket too, by the way! And amusingly enough, he plays a D.A. while William is a cop.

    I need to watch some interviews about the show. I've read a few, but I haven't watched any.

  7. Emergency Wedding is the other film Barbara starred in with Larry Parks, from 1950 (so only one year after Jolson). She plays a lady doctor in this one. :o) It's not my ab fave story (I refer The Jackpot with James Stewart and The First Time from around that time, both of which allowed her to show off her comedic side), but it's still a lot of fun to watch.

    You can find the Insight episode here btw: http://www.youtube.com/user/Scullymouse?feature=mhsn#p/c/7B6F3200F55DE017/0/xEmgZwZuWNc

    That playlist also includes some Perry Mason clips and parts of a talk show interview with Ray and Barbara from 1985 - very cute.

    Thanks so much for the Bill Tallman and Ray Collins recs! :o) Awesome. The Racket sounds like a lot of fun and Westerns are also always a treat in my world. I'll c/p all of the titles you mentioned and put them on my ioffer & amazon list. :o) I can't wait to see Ray and Bill switching parts so-to-speak. :o) Really, how funny is that?!

  8. Barbara Hale being comedic? That certainly sounds intriguing!

    Thanks! I'll watch it probably tomorrow morning. And I'll check out the interview too!

    The Racket is pretty serious and sad, but it's definitely an enjoyable watch. And I love Westerns too. I love them even more since I've been watching William and some of my other favorites acting in them! ;)

    Two-Gun Lady and Smoke Signal are both available for reasonable prices on iOffer. (Also, if you have Netflix Streaming, you can watch Two-Gun Lady. We just cancelled our streaming service because we use the mailable DVDs section more, and I'm very sad I can no longer watch Two-Gun Lady whenever I feel like it!) The first scene of Smoke Signal can be watched on YouTube, but don't buy it from the person who has it up there! His price is horrid. He charges about $26 total, compared to the iOffer guy who only charges about $10 total.

  9. :o) Barbara is such a doll playing funny (and a darling with kids on top of that). It just seems to suit her energy, she's so quick on her toes and bubbly and all. So very different from Della Street. She's also fantastic in Westerns, before or after Perry Mason. I can def recommend Buckskin and The Oklahoman in that respect.
    Her parts have all been rather versatile throughout her career. She often said that she tried to play "real people" but different ones all the time. Mission accomplished I'd say. :o)

    As for Bill Tallman, I really can't wait to explore his acting more. I really like his style on Perry Mason and the different layers he brought to his originally so unpopular part. He really turned Burger into a likeable courtroom adversary who was greatly missed whenever he was absent from the show.

    Thanks so much for the info on the Two-Gun Lady and Smoke Signal btw. That is good to know! :o) And I don't have Netflix Streaming yet, but it sure sounds as if I should finally consider it. :o)

    Now I also feel obliged to continue my Ray Burr viewing habits. :o)

  10. Awesome! I love versatile actors. Simon Oakland is also that way; he can play any character and make him so believable and real it's incredible.

    Oh, totally. William (and the show's writers) made Hamilton such a three-dimensional character. I am very unhappy whenever the local station airs episodes that Hamilton isn't in. I'm glad we're finally past season 4, but watching that again has made me even less agreeable to episodes without him. I watch them, but find something seriously lacking.

    A lot of movies with the various cast members are available on the mailable DVDs part of Netflix too.

    I should do likewise! A while back I watched the very first Dragnet episode, in which he played the Captain. That was awesome.