Monday, March 17, 2014

Raymond Burr Rear Window to the Senate floor

Raymond Burr for the People

From His Kind of Woman
"First of all, let me say that I find myself perfectly sober, reasonably sane and not at all surprised...."
Please Murder Me 1956 Raymond Burr as Attorney Craig Carlson dictates into a tape recorder. With Angela Lansbury, John Dehner, Denver Pyle

It was the late 1940s. We were celebrating the end of WW2 and starting up the baby boom. Canadian actor Raymond Burr worked on radio and in the movies. Some fans may be surprised to know that he was a successful character actor who played a number of heavies or bad guys. In 1946 he made his first films, San Quentin and Without Reservations.

On radio he was sometimes the authoritative good guy as a cop, private eye. He had an extended run in the show, Ft. Laramie. There were recurring roles as the Chief of Detectives on Dragnet. (He'd again have this job in Ironside.) His radio career lasted from the late 1940s through the late 1950s. 

In 1951 he appeared on a rado episode of Dr. Kildare, playing Dr. Conlon, a fake doctor who advertises a machine that will cure what ails you. Patients suffer the consequences of visiting him instead of a licensed doctor. Then Dr. Conlon suffers the wrath of Drs. Kildare and Gillespie, Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore. 

In the movies, Raymond Burr is remembered for playing Steve Martin -- but not THAT Steve Martin. (Jimmy Stewart played a different Steve Martin in 1953's Thunder Bay. This time Steve is an ex-Navy engineer.)

"My name is Steve Martin. I am a foreign correspondent for United World News. I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social call. But it turned out to be a visit to the living HELL of another world."
-- from Godzila, King of the Monsters

He worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor, the Marx Brothers, Barbara Stanwyck, Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball, Vincent Price, John Candy, Errol Flynn and of course, Godzilla to name just a few.

There was a rumor that he'd had a romance with Natalie Wood. 

In one of his most
With Natalie Wood
A Cry in the Dark
famous films where he worked with James Stewart and was seen grabbing Grace Kelly. 

Burr worked in radio, film and television. Not only did he appear in some of the great TV anthology series such as Playhouse 90, but he also appeared as a guest on comedy shows like Jack Benny and Red Skelton.

"There's a file I keep in my office. Strange offenses committed by  seemingly normal people. All of them searching for an answer." RB
Barbara Stanyck: "I'd like to see that file."
RB: "I'd be very happy to show it to you."
Burr as Police Inspector Anthony (Tony) Pope 
to Kathy Ferguson Doyle (Stanwyck) in Crime of Passion 1957
Fay Wray and Sterling Hayden also starred.

On TV, he even worked opposite himself: good guy vs bad guy personas in an episode of Perry Mason, The Case of the Dead Ringer.

Perry Mason with baddie, Seaman Grimes
The Case of The Dead Ringer
Raymond Burr faces himself
A small role, but a really bad guy in a George Raft, Virginia Mayo film, Red Light got him attention in 1949. In Love Happy, the Marx Brothers' final film also 1949, Burr is Alphonse Zoto. He's a bad guy but a humorous one, a henchman for Ilona Massey.

Major film roles were as D.A. R Frank Marlow in A Place in the Sun. Lars Thorwald in Rear Window, Steve Martin in Godzilla King of the Monsters and A Cry in the Night with Natalie Wood. These films got him status and recognition. DA Marlow in A Place in the Sun is said to be a precursor to Perry Mason. 

When asked why Perry Mason never lost a case, Raymond Burr replied that Mason had actually lost many cases, "But we only show the cases he won."
When Television Was Young: The Inside Story with Memories by Legends ...Ed McMahon

While Raymond Burr was first making pictures, the character of Perry Mason was on the big screen solving cases.

From 1934-1937, the movie version of the Perry Mason character was played by Ricardo Cortez, Donald Woods and most often by Warren William.  Perry Mason was on radio
1943-1955. A 15 minute show starred Bartlett Robinson, Santos Ortega, Donald Briggs and John Larkin as the title character. Some of the actors who'd played the part in film or on radio would guest on the television show.

Godzilla is coming for us

The Perry Mason television series ran 1957-1966. He began making special tv movies with the character in 1985. A final film in 1993 aired after Burr's death from kidney cancer.

Many famous and soon to be famous guest stars appeared both on Perry Mason and Ironside, including Bette Davis, Robert Redford, Myrna Loy, Angie Dickinson, James Coburn, Lee Meriwether, Paul Winfield, George Takei and Leonard Nimoy.

Both Jodie Foster and Rod Serling from The Twilight Zone appeared on
1972 Ironside called Bubble Bubble Toil and Murder.

Cast of Ironside

While he is most famous for playing Perry Mason, a role he would later play again in TV movies, he played the character of Chief of Detectives Robert Ironside for nearly ten years. Burr, known for his expressive blue eyes, had said that his eyes were damaged making the show, seated for long periods of time looking up into the hot, bright studio lights.

In 2013 when Blair Underwood reprised the role of Ironside, the show was canceled almost immediately, within the same month. 

There was a controversy from the disabled community. Why should an able bodied actor play the role? 

One point is that there are not as many roles for disabled actors to choose from as there are able bodied actors. Another is that an actor who lives what the character lives may be able to bring another dimension of authenticity to the role and consequently to the film or show as a whole. 

This sort of thing was rarely spoken of in the 1970s. There were other complaints about the new show in general.

Burr and his characterization of Perry Mason are very ingrained in American culture. In July 2009 then-noimnee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was going through her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Minnesota Senator Al Franken included a question about Perry Mason.  

Fans sometimes forget about how varied, interesting and full his career was.

As Thorwald seen through a telephoto lens
in Rear Window
"What do you want from me? ... What is it you want, a lot of money? I don't have any money. Say something. Say something! Tell me what you want. "
-- Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald to "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart) in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window 1954

Quite a bit of Burr's biographical data is convoluted. Through the years chunks of his background were either created or exaggerated by publicists and as some of his friends said, Mr. Burr mythologized himself in print and interviews. 

This may have become somewhat unintentional as time went on and we'd assume that many celebrities' bios have been smoothed or punched up by publicists. 

Serpent of the Nile
Burr is Marc Antony
Rhonda Fleming is Cleopatra

"A woman like you ought to travel, wear pretty clothes, have some fun. Life runs away too fast if you don't hold onto it with both hands. .... You're confusing gratitude with love -- a woman wants to be loved."
-- Burr as Barney Chavez to Mrs. Dina Van Gelder (Barbara Payton) in Bride of the Gorilla

The fact that Raymond Burr was gay had to be kept a secret from the public. This appears to be as much Mr. Burr's choice as anyone else's. In the times when he was acting, starting in the 1940s-50s, it's believed that coming out of the closet would have really hurt his career. We saw this with other actors such as Rock Hudson and George Nader. George Nader's Amazon page] Nader went on to have a later career writing science fiction and gay novels, such as Chrome. The stigma was so great, some of his books he wanted published only after his death.

As with other actors, several stories were created about Burr's being married and having children; so many stories that it's hard now to separate fact from fiction. 

The times were different, the press was different then. In the 1960s he purchased an island in Fiji, a place where he could go, be himself and get away from everything.

In Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, there are some quotes from the actress and some history of the relationship between Burr and Wood. Their public relationship, appearing ambiguously have had an affair, served both of them well. They were good friends. This is confirmed in different sources.
-- Natasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood, Suzanne Finstad

In a 2010 interview in the magazine, The Advocate the actor Richard Chamberlain said, "It's complicated. There's still a tremendous amount of homophobia in our culture. It's regrettable. It's stupid, it's heartless and it's immoral, but there it is. 

"For an actor to be working is a kind of miracle, because most actors aren't, so it's just silly for a working actor to say, 'Oh, I don't care if anybody knows I'm gay' ...  especially if you're a leading man. Personally, I wouldn't advise a gay leading man-type actor to come out."

We can look at a list of some popular actors who have come out, Sir Ian McKellen, George Takei, Neil Patrick Harris, Rupert Everett and Richard Chamberlain, but it's up to the individual. We don't know every person's story, male and female.

Raymond Burr had a great sense of humor. Film historian Leonard Maltin once said that his sense of humor may have been one thing that set him apart from other character actors. His guest appearance on programs such as the Jack Benny show are must-sees for any Burr fan.

His companion of over thirty years was Robert Benevides. Mr. Benevides continues to run the Raymond Burr Vineyards which is in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County, California. They ship wines and you may join the Ray Burr Wine Club. If you visit the Winery you get a treat of seeing the Emmys that he won for Perry Mason. Barbara Hale, who played Mason's right-hand woman Della Street, won an Emmy in 1959.

Raymond Burr's last feature film was with John Candy, Delirious 1991. Tom Mankiewicz was director. 

Burr died before he finished filming a television movie in 1993. Sadly John Candy died in 1994 at age 43. John Candy's last films were Cool Runnings and Wagons East. His very last film, Canadian Bacon was released posthumously.

If you live near Ventura, California you may find a walking tour dedicated to places related to the author and lawyer, creator of Perry Mason, Erle Stanley Gardner. I haven't seen it advertised for a couple of years. It may still exist.

The Erle Stanley Gardner Building in Ventura, now a Historic Landmark was put up for sale in 2013. I haven't been able to find the current status of the building. There is an Erle Stanley Gardner virtual tour

There is an Erle Stanley Gardner Museum in Temecula, California. Gardner had other interesting books, radio and television shows. Check out The Court of Last Resort. He was a mystery guest on What's My Line.

Raymond Burr has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work on Television. The address is 6656 Hollywood Blvd.  He also has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame (as do John Candy, Dan Aykroyd and SCTV, started by the Toronto version of The Second City franchise).

In 1986 Burr worked on both Perry Mason Returns and Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn 

In May 2014 a new Godzilla movie is set go come out. Stars are Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen and Bryan Cranston.

At the end of the 1986 movie, Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn, Burr's character, Steve Martin, gave a speech:

"Nature has a way sometimes of reminding man of just how small he is. She occasionally throws up the unbearable offsprings of our pride and carelessness to remind us of how puny we really are in the face of a tornado, an earthquake or a Godzilla. 

"The reckless ambitions of man are often dwarfed by their dangerous consequences. For now Godzilla that strangely innocent and tragic monster  has gone to earth whether he returns or not or is never again seen by human eyes the things he has taught us remain."

Godzilla is one of the few fictional characters with a star on the Hollywood walk of fame 6925 Hollywood Blvd.

The Perry Mason Theme... with lyrics by The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi) Elwood Blues supplies the lyrics. "You see, we're recidivists..." They're looking for "good, honest legal help."


Some books of interest:
(Don't forget to visit your local library or used bookstore. Some bookstores will trade books and give you credit toward other books. You might also do this with videos and music.)

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr This book has its positives and negatives, but it appears to be the main Burr biography on the market.

Lawyers in Your Living Room!: Law on Television Perry Mason is included

Perry Mason DVD set (50th Anniversary Edition) Includes great extras like his audition to play Paul Drake. At first they thought Burr might have too bad a reputation to play Perry Mason. [Mr. Burr was did not get the role of Paul Drake. But he was just right for the lead.]

Screened Out: Playing Gay in Hollywood from Edison to Stonewall

No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement Ironside is included

On the Air:The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio This great book is now available in digital format. If you create or are just a fan of podcasts, it's a real gem.

Made in America You can find The Perry Mason Theme on several of The Blues Brothers' vinyl albums, audio CDs. I believe it's in MP3.It is definitely available in MP3 version by other artists in different versions. If you ever get the opportunity to hear it live it's really worth it. Check your local symphony's schedule. They may be doing a theme devoted to film and television, noir or to crime drama, etc.

More About Perry Mason, Related pages of interest:

Perry Mason (1957 - 1966) An article by Caftan Woman written for the Sleuthathon Blogathon

Warren William as Perry Mason An article from Outspoken & Freckled written for the Sleuthathon Blogathon

Black cats bring stars good luck

Psycho Tees
Psycho Tees by PsychoBudgieRags
Design your own customized t-shirts at Zazzle.


  1. Wow, fascinating stuff. I had no idea Burr had such an interesting life, not to mention a vineyard. PS: I've awarded you a Liebster :)

    1. Thank you -- I'd never heard of this before. May be a little slow in getting my list up but it is much appreciated! What a great idea and nice for newer bloggers who are trying to get a voice. :)

  2. Thanks for comprehensive look at Raymond Burr's TV career,and the YouTube clips.

  3. You may be interested to know that for many years there was a theatre in Raymond Burr's hometown, New Westminster, British Columbia, that was named in his honour. When the facility changed to a comedy club it was decided by Robert Benevides and the new owners that it would no longer be a tribute to Raymond, so the name was changed.

    1. Thanks for the information. I knew a little about this but not all of it. Interesting. I appreciate the comment.

  4. Great post and I enjoyed reading it. I've begun watching the Perry Mason tv show on the Hallmark Movie Channel, and a recent episode featured Ellen Burstyn! Thanks for the Jack Benny Show-hilarious! I loved how the jury and the judge clapped when Jack's defense attorney entered the room...the judge in the clip often played a judge on Perry Mason, too!

  5. Loved this informative post and especially the Jack Benny Show. I've begun tivoing old Perry Mason's and was tickled to see one of that show's judges play the judge in Jack's dream-great stuff!

  6. Yet he is best known as Lars Thorwald, without a doubt he was a great actor. There are some films of him I have yet to see, but he always gives a great performance. I loved how interesting and informative your article was. And the Perry Mason T-shirt is to die for.
    Don't forget to read my contribution for the blogathon! :)

  7. Raymond Burr's homosexuality wasn't revealed (or at least talked about much) until after his death, but I had always suspected he was gay. Why? When I was a teacher in Jacksonville, FL. in the 1980's, one day, one of my students wrote a paragraph about how his uncle was a lawyer who lived with "the guy who used to play Perry Mason on TV." The student's name? Robert Benevides.

  8. Thank you for writing about a man who was generous throughout his life as well as a great actor.


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