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.