December, 1962 Midwest Edition Vol. 59, No.1
by Raymond Burr
I often tease Barbara by saying there must be some deep Freudian meaning in the fact that she's completely forgotten our first meeting. She's under the impression that we met the day producer Gail Patrick Jackson called us to her office to sign contracts for the "Perry Mason" show. "Maybe you're prettier than I am," I tell Barbie, "but I'm smarter--because I do remember when and where we first met!"
It happened when we were both working for RKO in 1943. I was there briefly before she came out from Illinois. She certainly made a lasting impression on me. When I left for service again, I took with me the image of a bright, lovely and wholesome personality whose charm kept lingering in my mind.
During this interim, she met Bill Williams and, being no fool, he lost no time in snapping her up. Since then, I've followed her progress as a woman and career with great interest. It is something of a hobby with me. I enjoy watching the growth of other people, much as I like to watch the unfolding of the orchids I grow as an escape from the pressures of work. When I have a part in this unfolding of talent, it is a source of genuine pride to me.
Though she doesn't have the vivid and flamboyant personality of certain glamour girls, Barbie is a natural beauty and her quiet, outgoing friendliness affects people much longer than the splashier effects of others in show business. She is one of the warmest-hearted and most understanding women I know. She takes a real interest in people and their problems without getting nosey, and the nicest thing about this understanding is that it's never forced.
If people have troubles, Barbie is eager to help. If they have happy news, she's delighted to share it. She's never, as far as I have observed, either condescending or envious of others. She's a great listener, not only for the above qualities, but because she's unobtrusive. She doesn't overwhelm people with her offers of aid or comfort. But she has an instinct for the exact moment when the other person would welcome her advice or sympathy. I think it indicates that Barbara is a shrewd judge of human nature. She knows when a smiling silence speaks louder than ten thousand fine words.
I've been asked many times if Barbara in real life is as close-mouthed as in her role of Della Street. Well, in all honesty--and I'm sure she'd want me to be honest--that woman can talk and talk, But, of course, she is a woman and that's her privilege as long as she talks sense. And bless her heart, Barbie can talk sense.
To my mind (with apologies to Bill), Barbara is all-woman. I admire her for it and for keeping a sane balance between career and home. Certainly, she has lots of drive--she wouldn't have come as far as she has without that essential commodity--but she never lets it cut in on her obligations to her husband and children. That also goes for her friends. With her, it's first things first, and being a useful, decent, responsible human being is first. Then come her acting and dedication to the show.
Barbie makes a marvelous wife. Ask Bill Williams. When he appeared on our show, she saw with her usual tact that he was a bit nervous about invading a precinct where, after all, she had it made as a star. She let no opportunity go by to fuss over him and make it clear that the guest star was the North Star in her sky. She introduced him to everyone, including the crew, all of whom he'd met on his previous visits.
But Bill took it with a twinkle in his eye, and then doubled her in spades by calling some of the boys by their first names and asking about their wives. He also assured her that she should forget he was her husband on the set, and think of him only as an actor. I watched them throughout shooting of that episode and I was impressed again, even more than I had been before, by their love and devotion to each other.
Bill and Barbie have insight. They have seen too many marriages ruined by the tensions and burdens of two careers. They do all in their power to avoid this catastrophe. Bill was Kit Carson on TV and has more recently starred in " Assignment Underwater." Both series have done well. But Barbie has had the " Perry Mason" show for five years now and--for the past two, especially--has had to step up her pace with guest appearances and publicity interviews.
Bill had balanced this by giving more time to the home and the children, and is being quite cautious, for the present, about taking on another series. Not that he hasn't plenty to do, what with guest spots, managing their rental property and--let's not overlook this!--hurrying to the bank to deposit he residual checks.
I'm trying to make a point here: That they are good parents, good family people, and the kind who work at making marriage a success. Neither will fly, because of the family. Oh, in case of an emergency, of course, they would--but then not in the same plane. It's their view that, should one go down, there would still be the other to care for the children. The education of these three youngsters, and their futures, are of more importance to them than an award or income form acting.
On and off set, we have a warm, pleasant and loyal friendship going. They have been to my home and I've been invited several times to theirs, in Van Nuys. I'd like to make a public apology, to both of them and the kids, for not having taken up their invitation as yet. Time! Or rather the lack of it, is the villain here, not me. And I promise here and now to get out and spend an evening with them at the first break. I say this in all sincerity because I like being with them. They are a wonderful American family.
The Williams kids go to school in their suburban community under Bill's real name of Katt, so there is almost no limelight or attention drawn to them. They are accepted at school by the other kids strictly on their own merits, which is how Bill and Barbara want it. In order to keep the family from losing that compactness and intimate sharing of funny, sad or cultural experiences, Bill and Barbara have avoided acting commitments that would take them to locations far from home. They want no long separations, no matter what the cost.
I've been informed (as Perry Mason, and expert snooper I) that Barbie accuses me of turning her home into a menagerie. Well, I really can't take all the credit, or blame, for that. True, I gave the children some pets, but they are great nature-lovers and they started their collection before I hove into sight. I just kept the ball rolling. It's my opinion that being around growing things, animal or plant, gives children the chance to learn how life begins, how it grows and runs its course. It also relieves parents of the painful duty (sometimes!) of having to explain the facts of life to children, facts like sex, pregnancy and birth.
Children, especially in this chancy world we live in, should get acclimated to the presence of death in the world. Being around pets allows them to recognize sickness and to learn methods of nursing and cure. It also gives the kids their first brush with death when a loved animal passes on. I have put this down as though it were entirely my original viewpoint. But, to be frank, much of these ideas did come from the discussions with Barbara and Bill.
If the Williams zoo keeps growing, it's because Bill and Barbie are too soft-hearted to draw the line. Ray Collins gave the kids two rabbits. Barbie at once went into a panic that they might multiply. She took them to the school zoo. In exchange, the teacher gave her a little banty hen. Later, Barbie was all shook up when she learned that both rabbits were male! However, the chick became the mama of two, one of which was a rooster.
Bill was working on "Assignment Underwater" at that time and had to get up at five A.M. He had no trouble getting up, because the rooster woke him up at four. Barbara and the children somehow slept through the cacklin' and cussin' that went on. Each morning, Bill left a note saying, "Kill that rooster!" But Barbara just couldn't have it done. Finally, she told Bill to do it himself. That was the last he mentioned it. Finally the rooster died of natural causes.
As I've said before, visiting my friends has become an impossibility with my present schedule. My friends have been very kind and understanding. They know I'm caught these days between rehearsals, story conferences, my art gallery, my orchid growing and a few other activities, all of which are vital to my profession and state of well-being. So they usually compromise by coming to my home in groups, which is easier on me than entertaining them one couple at a time.
This is one of the reasons I often look forward to the day when I exit "Perry Mason" and its heavy work schedule and become Raymond Burr again. I plan to pick up the many outstanding rainchecks on invitations from friends like the Williamses. When I do, I estimate I'll be able to eat out for free almost every night for three solid years--and I'm likely to get richer form that than from my art gallery.
I believe Barbie has mentioned her interest in art. I enjoy talking to her about it. She really could be a first rate sculptor or painter, if she gave her full time to it. On set, she sketches constantly and has molded an excellent head of the chief hairdresser. She and Bill make regular trips around the art galleries and they've bought several painting from mine.
There are people who think Barbara, being a star, should act more like one. I don't precisely know how a star should act, but if behaving with tact, dignity, sprightliness and quiet joy and appreciation of all she sees and hears is not Hollywood, then more actresses should act un-Hollywoodish. They would seem more alluring and less pretentious.
Barbara and Bill could be big spenders, I suppose, and live in a mansion in Bel-Air. But they prefer the more modest atmosphere of San Fernando Valley and using their money to invest in real estate which will benefit the family and give them security. They will never face the panic that strikes some stars who, when their careers begin to wane, find themselves in debt and over their heads.
I've been asked form time to time about Barbara the actress. She is far better, let me say, than her role of Della Street would suggest. Barbie appeared with me in a play for charity. She played my daughter, a teen-aged girl in pigtails. I opened my eyes. She was magnificent. Bill was also in the play and did an equally expert job.
In the show , Perry and Della are suppose to be romantically inclined toward each other, though he never had time for following up this affair of the heart. It's now going on five years and still no romance. Barbara announced one day that, when she met Bill Williams in "West of the Pecos," it was love. "Bam, wham, love at first sight and I didn't wait five weeks before I made up my mind I'd marry him if he asked me," she said. "And I made up my mind he would ask me."
As her true self, Barbara wouldn't have had Della's patient, resigned philosophy. "Why," she explained recently "Erle Stanley Gardner has been writing Perry Mason stories for over thirty years, and poor Della still hasn't had a wiff of a promise of marriage. It's outrageous!" I must agree. Barbara is a very attractive and utterly feminine woman and I don't think Perry Mason or any of his clients or aides would have let Della hang around that office thirty years without a proposal.
In conclusion, I'd like to add just this: I not only love Della Street. I love Barbara Hale Williams. She's one of the most admirable women I've ever known. As the "great lawyer," I should perhaps explain that I use the word "love" in its popular nuance of liking, respecting and approving.--The End