If I were to say “Perry Mason” to you, my guess is this is the face that would pop into your head.
Raymond Burr (source: MeTV.com)
Raymond Burr would be 98 today (he died in 1993). As far as most people are concerned, he was the only man who could play Perry Mason. Back in 1973, Monte Markham starred in what was to have been a reboot of the series; it lasted a season and languished in the ratings. Everyone, it seems, was watching the reruns of the original series in syndication. My grandmother hated Markham as Mason; she said “No one can play Mason but Raymond Burr! Read the books, Burr is the Mason he’s talking about!” Funny thing was, that was what the producers of The New Perry Mason were saying about Markham.
It’s interesting to note that the original actor slated to play Perry was William Talman, and Burr was to have played Hamilton Burger. It was Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the “Perry Mason” books, who suggested (no, insisted) that the two actors switch roles, and television history was made. Another actor that tested for the role was William Hopper, who got the role of Paul Drake. Here’s his screen test. Ray Collins plays Lt. Tragg, the part he played on the show.
But Burr played many more roles in the movies and on television. He played reporter Steve Martin in the US release of Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, and reprised the role in Godzilla 1985. He was in Love Happy, the last Marx Brothers movie. He played a number of roles on such shows as Family Theater, Chevron Theater, and The Ford Television Theater, when short dramatic plays provided much of the TV fare.
Maybe his biggest roles outside of Perry Mason were as Lars Thorwald in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window with James Stewart, Grace Kelly, and Wendell Corey, and as Robert Ironside, the wheelchair-bound former chief of detectives of the San Francisco Police Department, in the TV series Ironside.
He was a philanthropist and was particularly involved with the USO, having made a number of trips to Vietnam and Korea. He and his partner, Robert Benevides, cultivated orchids and wine grapes (Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Port). There were rumors that Burr was gay, but nothing was confirmed until after Burr’s death. Now, we think nothing of someone being gay, but it was scandalous when he started acting.
Mary and I watch Perry Mason almost nightly; it’s on twice a day on MeTV, at 10 AM and 11:30 PM Eastern time. We enjoy watching for actors who went on to fame and fortune later. This past week, a couple of episodes aired that featured Jesse White, who played the Maytag repairman for many years, and Richard Anderson, best known for his role of Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man. One night, George Takei made an appearance; it took us a while to recognize him.
Happy birthday, Raymond Burr. You made the world a better place.
from The Sound of One Hand Typing