September, 1962 Atlantic Edition Vol. 58, No.4
It was obvious to the "Perry Mason" cast: Barbara Hale was seriously troubled. But why? There was only one man in her life, Bill Williams, her husband now for sixteen years; they had three beautiful children, a fashionable ranch house in San Fernando Valley, an enviable bank account. Didn't this add up to everything a woman could desire?
Yet the close-knit cast could tell that their Della Street was in some kind of trouble. Barbara Hale appeared gaunt and tired that day as she reported for the seven A.M. call. Purposely but politely, she avoided conversation.
"Wonder what's bugging her," an actor said as she left the set.
This was not idle curiosity, but deep concern. The members of the "Perry Mason" show are a real family, almost as much as if they were tied together by an umbilical cord. Years of filming the television series together, years of sharing each other's good fortunes and even disappointments all have blended to make them a family unit.
So it was not unusual that last spring the company was worried. Usually, Babs (as most call her) would stand around and chit-chat with the predominantly male cast. They would sip steaming cups of coffee, crack jokes and discuss the headlines of the morning until it was time to face the camera.
This morning, Barbara would have no part of the coffee gang. She didn't even take a cup to her room. When it was time for her first scene, she emerged calmly but coolly. Her face wore a rigidly fixed expression.
Soon the routine of playing Della Street, Perry Mason's Girl Friday, seemed to snap her back to normal. Yet, throughout the day, Barbara periodically lapsed into stony silence.
"She looks like she didn't get a wink of sleep all night," one of the crew members whispered.
The following days found Barbara in the same mood. One of worry. One of apprehension.
Burr and the others tried their best to thaw out the actress. They invited her to lunch. She politely refused.
Soon whispers circulated around the set as to the cause of the trouble. "Have you heard?" one of the players said. "Barbara and Bill are thinking about a divorce."
This dumbfounded the other.
"Why, I can't believe it," he replied.
Yet, it was true. Barbara and husband Bill Williams were having marital problems. It was a closely guarded secret, though. Only a handful of their close friends knew.
Most Hollywoodians have become conditioned to accept the unexpected with only a blink of an eye. Too many so-called perfect marriages have been torn apart in recent months.
Still the intimates of Barbara and Bill were shocked that these two were having trouble.
They had married in storybook fashion on June 22nd, 1946. The wedding took place in a stone church outside of Barbara's hometown, Rockford, Illinois. Their courtship was equally as romantic. They met while making a screen test together two years previously at the old RKO Studios. Both wound up with contracts. Both fell in love almost at first sight.
Bill's career, at the time of their marriage, was at its peak. Barbara's was just getting into orbit.
"This will be a marriage for keeps," Bill told newsmen at the wedding.
Following the honeymoon at Niagara Falls, the two settled down in a two bedroom San Fernando Valley home. The breaks were really going Bill's way. He became one of television's first big cowboy stars, starring in the "Kit Carson" series. Barbara, too, was riding high and very much in demand.
One bright fall day, Barbara was ecstatic as she emerged from her doctor's office. And when she told Bill, his chest swelled bigger than Mickey Hagitay's. In July of 1947, Jody was born. Again, in 1951, the stork sopped off at the Williamses. This time with Bill Jr. And another little girl came along in 1953, thus rounding out the family.
Barbara appeared happier having babies than making movies. In fact, one day in 1952 when she was pregnant with her third child, the actress came close to making a decision that would affect her future. She wanted to retire.
Bill left the decision up to her. Then came an opportunity the actress couldn't afford to turn down.
Enter "Perry Mason"
She couldn't refuse to play Della Street in the "Perry Mason" TV series. The series appeared to be a sure winner. And the pay was tops.
Bill took Barbara's good fortune as enthusiastically as she did, even though his own career was on the downhill.
Nonetheless, the next few years were happy ones. The Williamses moved into a larger home, complete with swimming pool. The three children were tanned and healthy in the California sun.
Season after season, the series was renewed. Each year, Barbara received a fat raise. Other rewards, too, like the coveted Emmy.
Then, according to their circle of friends, trouble signs began to appear.
"Bill's career practically was at a standstill," one of them confided to TV Radio Mirror. "He remained home most of the time. Therefore the rearing of the children more or less fell in his hands. Barbara was on call for the series nearly every day, leaving at the crack of dawn and not returning until late at night. Naturally, Bill felt neglected. Felt hurt. Felt that Barbara wasn't spending enough time being a mother."
How could she? When not working on the soundstage, there were other demands. Interviews, public appearances and other musts limited the time she had to spend with the family.
"She spent more time with her television family," another friend said.
The once happy home in the Valley became a potential tinderbox. According to a friend, Bill and Barbara had sharp words, followed by days of icy silence.
How long could this situation last? Divorce seemed to be the only alternative. Bill didn't want to be married to Della Street. He wanted Barbara Hale as his wife. Barbara felt he should be more understanding.
The relationship of Barbara and Ray Burr since the show's inception has been one of brother and sister. When Ray was hospitalized several times with a chronic throat condition, Barbara was usually the first to see if she could do anything for him.
So when the chips were down and Barbara obviously was grieving about conditions at home, it was Burr who was equally concerned.
Burr and Williams always have been the best of friends. The two have enjoyed many evenings together along with Barbara.
So perhaps Ray sensed the main problem the two were facing. Bill felt neglected; Barbara persecuted.
"If Bill could only become busy again," the speculation went. "He's brooding too much. Spending too much time at home."
Unknown to either Bill or Barbara, a campaign was waged to help them.. Bill soon found himself on the set of the "Perry Mason" show. Not as a guest to see his wife, but as an actor. He had been cast in a guest-starring role. On the set, Ray went out of his way to make Bill feel at home. He took every opportunity, too, to remind Bill how lucky he was to be married to a girl like Barbara. He used the same tactics on Barbara.
Suddenly, Bill also found himself up for two motion picture roles.
And as for Barbara, the smile returned to her face. Why? Her close friends attributed it to Ray Burr's help. He began to kid her about her home life--but, each time, the joke had a point to make. "He made us laugh at our problems...he made us laugh and love again..." is how she described it.
"Ray speaking as a big brother to his sister," one of her closest friends confided, "bluntly told her that she wasn't spending enough time with her family.
"Even if it meant sacrificing a portion of her career, she should do it. Being a good wife and a mother should always come before being a good actress."
Will Barbara now decide to retire and devote full time to Bill and the children? Her friends think not, mainly because the marriage is on an even keel again.
So even, in fact, that Barbara and Bill stole away for a second honeymoon. Just the two of them. They spent ten days in their power cruiser off the Southern California coast, and the trip did much to reassure them that their love is too precious to allow anything to destroy it.
Naturally there will be other problems that will come between them in the future. They know, however, that their love for each other is stronger than ever. They know that Raymond Burr and their other friends are depending on them. Are on their side. They've vowed not to disappoint them.