Thursday, February 4, 2016

William Talman: Birthday Tribute

And so we arrive at another February 4th. This marks the 101st year since William Talman's birth. That is an impressive figure!

I think back on how and when I was first enchanted by William and his portrayal of Hamilton Burger. The first time I ever saw Perry, I was fascinated to see such an old series still airing in reruns. I was also intrigued to see that in general, the prosecuting attorney was always the same one. I loved continuity then as I do now.

And I loved Hamilton. I thought he made an excellent foil for Perry in court and I found him attractive to boot. As the show became a favorite in the house, I watched and discovered the intriguing friendship between Perry and Hamilton. Even in season 1, the first indications of it were there and I was riveted. That became my top reason for watching.

Thanks to Simon Oakland, I rediscovered my love of watching the series on what will be five years ago this year. Hamilton was every bit as wonderful as I had remembered, and as I re-watched old favorites and found new ones too, I ended up finding him even more amazing than before.

Of course the scripts had a lot to do with that, but no less important was William Talman's portrayal. Whenever I read a script, it usually feels flat all by itself. It's when you add the human element, the freshness that the actor brings in voice and tone and expressions and gestures, that everything comes alive. And did Hamilton ever come alive! With William Talman at the helm, the character leaped out of the pages of the script and became three-dimensional and real.

From Hamilton's first appearance in court in The Reluctant Redhead to his final apology in The Final Fadeout, there are over 200 episodes with Hamilton scenes. That's impressive by any show's standards! We can watch his battles with Perry in court, see their friendship grow out of court, and enjoy all the other great scenes that make up William Talman's screentime.

For me, taking William Talman out of the equation is unthinkable. His absence was the main reason why I was uninterested in the television movies until MeTV put them on right in front of me. Even then, after I wasn't that impressed with Perry Mason Returns, it took me a while to be interested in seeing any of the others. I do feel that they should be watched at least once; it is certainly a precious gift to see Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale together again. But they are not the entire series, only two key elements of it. Hamilton is another. And for me, canon Perry Mason is still the television series and only that, since there we have all key elements and the full amazing lineup of actors who brought them to life.

What a special and marvelous privilege we have had all these years to be able to enjoy this series and William's incredible contributions. It's even more wonderful when you realize that a lot of old British television shows were destroyed when they wanted to make room for other shows. Thank goodness that wasn't the case in America! Aside from many live anthology shows, it's fairly easy to obtain most American television series. And as technology changes and the shows are preserved with the times, we're sure to be able to enjoy William Talman's legacy on many formats for decades to come.

Happy 101st Birthday, William. You are, as always, remembered and loved.


  1. so right about canonical Perry & another reason is the firm guiding hand of ESG throughout the whole series. Prior to the series, the previous PM movies were so atrocious that ESG kept his hand on the tiller for the series & it really shows.....

    To me the only worse Hollywood mangling of a gigantic fictional character were the god awful & totally inferior old Sherlock Holmes movies starring, another one in the running for the most mangled great ones were the old Jeeves movies while the later Hugh Laurie tv Jeeves was just impossibly, insanely gloriously Good :)

    To me it seems that the mangled ones always think they can "write" a better script than the original creators but who could better write about or supervise others writing or care about Perry more than ESG ? Same with the horrid old Sherlock & Jeeves scripts...

    just my 2c worth :)

    1. I don't always agree with Mr. Gardner's ideas on what would be the best; I wish he would have relaxed on the formula sometimes and let some of those other scripts come through where Hamilton won (although of course, only if the client was really guilty). But who knows; maybe if that had happened, the series wouldn't have been as successful. I've definitely heard the horror stories about the 1930s Perry movies. And I certainly don't blame Mr. Gardner for wanting to keep a tight hold on the television series.

      If the Basil Rathbone movies hadn't made Watson such an idiot in most of them, they would have been fine to me. I liked the plots of the ones I saw, and of course, me being me, I was totally cool with moving the time period to the present-day. Jeeves stuff I can't comment on.

      Agreed that it isn't likely that anyone would care more about Perry than the creator.