December, 1962 Midwest Edition Vol. 59, No.1
by Barbara Hale
The first time I remember meeting Raymond Burr, he was wearing his usual leisure-time outfit of blue denim pants, sweat shirt and tennis shoes. I remember asking myself "This is going to be the dignified Perry Mason?" He was younger than I had expected from his movies, in which he usually played older menace-types....What impressed me most were his eyes, which have an almost hypnotic quality. They are blue, with a very steady, piercing gaze. And his voice and manner were that of a gentlemen, a direct contrast to his sloppy attire. I liked him immediately, but still, inwardly, I wondered how he would fit into Perry Mason's shoes. But as we worked on the show I became aware that here is a man who could do anything! After five years of close association, I can honestly say my first impression has been a lasting one: Raymond Burr is a great person, as well as a truly great actor.
Proof of that is the many letters I get about him. It's natural, I suppose, that women, seeking information about Perry Mason, should write to his secretary and Girl Friday, Della Street. For instance, Ray's realism has led quite a few secretaries to write me asking, "Do you mind not having regular office hours?" They want to know whether Perry Mason is a stern taskmaster. Others, maybe with recollections of their own experiences ask whether Perry ever makes "passes" at me when we are alone!
I think, at this point, it would be a good idea to clear up any confusion regarding the identities of Della Street, secretary, and Barbara Hale, actress, wife and mother. As Della, I have no outside ties, no attachments, no great interests besides helping Perry win his cases. I live for Perry Mason. And my reward is not my salary, but the trust, reliance and occasional dependence this famous lawyer places me in.
As Barbara Hale, I am the second of two sisters born in DeKalb, Illinois. I'm married to Bill Williams (I call him "Will"), an actor who needs no introduction to TV fans who know his series, " Assignment Underwater," and we have three children--Jody, 15; Billy, 11; and Juanita, 8.
Between my obligations to the show and keeping my family happy, I'm busier than the proverbial bee. When the refrigerator breaks down at home, it causes a calamity because my job prevents me from getting things fixed as fast as they break. Sometimes I'm at the studio from seven to seven and, much as I love my work, this situation is not exactly elating to a husband and three children. Being faithful Della Street also interferes with P.T.A meetings and keeping dental appointments.
As both Della and Barbara, I think Ray is the living end. He is wonderful. As an actor, he is not only handsome, in perfect vocal control, authoritative in manner, but also thorough. He knows his lines and how to react to everyone else's lines so as to give them added values. He takes the trouble to continue studying, though the show is an unqualified success, and his knowledge of law and TV production is astonishing. If I were in hot water with the law or law-breakers, I'd as soon have Ray defend me as Perry Mason.
Ray finds out what's going on with the people around him and, when someone is in trouble, he immediately extends a helping hand. One crew member had his garden washed out by heavy rains. Ray overheard him talking about it. The next morning, several flats of plants were delivered to his door--a gift from Ray to help get his garden replanted. Another crew member knew Ray was going to Chicago. He jokingly suggested Ray call his family and say hello. Ray not only called but did so in person-- spending two hours with the man's relatives.
It's sometimes amusing the way people react to the relationship of Perry and Della. One lady told me that her children, five and six years old, showed her a picture of Ray in a magazine and said, "Look, it's Perry Mason... but where's his mommy?" Mommy, to them, is me! Well, Ray, with his fiendish sense of humor, swiped that letter and tacked it to the bulletin board at General Service where we do our filming. The entire cast and crew took up the joke, and it was days before I learned why Ray and everyone else was calling me "Mommy."
Ray's gags keep us all on our toes. There are times when he has me literally screaming. I never know what he's going to try next. Maybe I should give an example. There was the time we were all on a diet--Ray himself, Bill Talman, Ray Collins, Bill Hopper and I. We were felling right noble and lost no chance to let Ray know it. Well, he got his revenge soon enough.
One afternoon, in came a friend of mine carrying three huge, lovely, luscious chocolate sundaes. (I still think Ray put her up to it.) I admit--I gazed at temptation, and I fell. My friend and I devoured two of the sundaes. That left one more. I had an inspiration; I'd pull a fast one on Ray. I sneaked into his cottage and stuck the third sundae in his refrigerator.
I arrived the next morning, ready to tease Ray unmercifully for succumbing to the ice cream. And do you know what I found? My dressing room was carpeted with twelve dozen grapefruit, a live chicken, an egg--and a sign with the reminder that grapefruit and eggs were about all we were allowed on our diets.
Aha, I thought, I'll shake him up. I painted my face with lipstick dots, and ran to tell him I'd contracted chicken pox as a result of his leaving the chicken loose in my room. When I got to his place, he was gone and there was a sign saying, "Out investigating Case of the Missing Sundaes!" Well, I nearly scrubbed my skin off, trying to get the lipstick marks off. But the shenanigans weren't through. Just before shooting began, I stuck the chicken into a box. Half an hour later, I went to my car and there was the chick--big as life.
I said to myself, "What would Perry Mason do in a spot like this?" So I bought two dozen eggs that night. Next morning, I hid them all over Ray's dressing room. Not a word was said all day, and I was beginning to think he hadn't noticed anything, which did seem strange. But the next morning when I arrived at seven, I had my answer. Cold fried eggs were strewn everywhere!
Later, when we went into rehearsal, I pretended to forget my lines. Raymond asked, "What's the matter, Barbie?" I said, "Raymond, have you ever faced a mob of cold fried eggs glaring at you at seven a.m.?" He drew himself up as only Perry Mason can, when he has both law and righteousness on his side, and snapped, "Have you ever stayed up all night, frying a mob of eggs?"
Actually I'm aware, and so are the rest of our bunch, that Ray looks on these gags as a sort of morale-builder, a safety valve for the tensions that build up in the course of putting an exciting show together.
Mainly for that reason, I think, he has taken over the role of Peck's Bad Boy. I'm not the only one in our company who holds the theory that, any day now, he's going to tie a bundle of logs together and go sailing off into the sunset. And much as we'd like to bid him a "bon voyage" during the times when he makes us the patsies for his jokes, I honestly believe we'd all jump into the water and go swimming after him if he ever did sail off. Why? Because we love him--practical jokes, orchids, paintings and all. How empty our lives would seem without him!
I don't know what Ray's politics are, but I'm dead sure he'd make a winning candidate. He's both a thinker and an eloquent speaker. As for me, I'd back him for any office on any ticket he stood on, that' s the extent of my faith in him. If he's a good talker, he's an even better listener. People know this, and they bring him their problems, secret hopes, hobbies and frustrations, knowing he will give them his full attention.
His own number-one interest, of course, is his art gallery in Beverly Hills. At one time, I studied at Chicago's Academy of Fine Arts with the idea of becoming an illustrator of children's books or a portrait artist. Going to see the shows at Ray's gallery has become one of the joys of my off-stage, out of-home existence.
My family and I have been guests at Ray's oceanside home from time to time. It's a real treat to be included at one of his dinners. He's a fabulous cook, and his house has a kitchen anyone would envy. He usually holds his guest list down to six or eight, but I recall one time when he accidentally invited ten. Then he decided he might as well have a few more, and before he realized it, 130 were on the list. That was one party he had catered!
Dinners at his home usually start and end with a dip in his swimming pool. In between there are drinks, hors d'oeuvres (rarely less than 20 kinds), then some of Ray's specialties, such as: Abalone cannellone, stuffed with shredded shrimp and lobster, cheese and chives, then baked in light cream sauce with white wine, champagne and mushrooms; beef fillets stuffed with ham, truffles and hard-cooked eggs, then topped with artichokes and simmered in beef gravy with Burgundy wine and tomatoes; many, many such delicacies!
This is followed by wonderful after dinner talk, then those who desire take another dip in the pool or stroll down for a visit to his private zoo to see what's been added to his collection of dogs, cats, a burro and about a dozen varieties of birds!
Ray's house is near Malibu Beach. It is not pretentious and probably from the outside attracts little attention. But, once inside, you know it is a home that is "lived in." He has a forty-foot living room with walls covered by paintings he has collected over the years; a kitchen dining-room with a twelve-burner stove and a table that seats about eighteen; and three bedrooms. There is one item absent that might cause upraised eyebrows. Ray has no TV set! In fact, he has never watched himself perform as Perry Mason.
But to be a guest in his home is a great experience. No matter how many other guests there are, you somehow are made to feel that , if you hadn't come, you would have been missed. Ray is a relaxed host, yet he is ever aware that you are there. Because he organizes so carefully, everything always runs smoothly, without strain on anyone.
What can I say about Ray in conclusion? All children, including my own, adore him. I recall the first time little Nita visited the set. Ray had picked her up and carried her around, pointing out various things of interest to a four-year-old. When he left, I asked her how she liked him. Nita's answer was, "Oh, Mommy, I love him. He has such nice fat eyes." I guess Nita isn't the first or last woman to fall in love with Ray's big, mischievous but gentle eyes.
Ray says he is simply "being kind" to our children when he gives them baby alligators, snakes and hamsters as pets. Maybe he is helping them get closer to nature. But I hae me doots, as the Scots say. Personally, I wonder if he isn't trying to give their mother a nervous fit! During the recent rains, my kiddies insisted their pets couldn't be left outdoors. So all Ray's gifts, plus the rest of the menagerie, were hauled inside.
Have you ever lived for a week with twelve guinea pigs, eight hamsters, three dogs, half-a-dozen pigeons, a snake, a cat and a skunk in your family room? Thanks to Raymond Burr "interesting" my brood in nature, I have.
As most people know, Ray is a widower, and leads a secluded life. His parents are still in his native Canada and their visits are not as frequent as he'd like. But I did have the pleasure of meeting them last year. I immediately realized that Ray was a composite of both. "He's a very nice man, your son, " I told Mrs. Burr, who is a sweet, soft-spoken woman.
"Thank you," she replied warmly. "We're very proud of him. You know, when he was a child, I used to say one day he's going to be a great actor."
Then his father, who has that same twinkle in his eye as Ray, said, "But I always wanted him to be a lawyer. Isn't it wonderful that, today, he's both?"
I agreed--it is wonderful.--The End