April, 1962 Atlantic Edition Vol. 57 No.5
You'd think it was one of the rare and perishable orchids that Raymond Burr makes a habit of growing--that's how carefully the reports of a budding romance between the scholarly Perry Mason of television and the ever-glamorous movie queen, Barbara Stanwyck, are being handled by those who love to play Hollywood's most popular parlor game: "is it or is it not love?" Why this delicate approach in a town where few secrets are kept and most rumors blown up to brutal proportions? The answer in simple. There are few performers who hold the respect, admiration and affection of the public "Missy" and Ray Burr do. It is obvious that if real love has come to them, it would not be a light or casual thing. Both are intelligent, mature and possessed of depthless pools of sensitivity. Each has known unhappiness and has paid the inevitable price for fame....This is why nobody with any knowledge of Ray or Barbara expects them to admit to more than friendship until they are absolutely certain in their own hearts that love and marriage is their mutual path to happiness. At the moment, they meet such questions with the secret, happy smile of a collector who has just acquired a precious Tang vase. They have no intention of sharing their delight with anybody. Thus an eager town is asking this hopeful question: Will the wonderful friendship between these two blossom into the most popular love affair Hollywood has known in years? While the town asked, TV Radio Mirror went after the answer. This is what we found out:
In an exclusive interview with Burr, we tried to pin down some definite admission of a serious romance. His answers did point to more than the usual casual Hollywood "friendship" where an actor and actress are in secret cahoots to date and be seen on the town purely for purposes of attraction photographers and roving reporters. Here are a few samples of how the tables were turned on Perry Mason Burr, when we put him in the witness box.
Question: How did you first meet Barbara Stanwyck?
Answer: We were cast as co-stars in a radio show, and after taking one look at her, I forgot my lines. We first met socially at a dinner party given by Helen Ferguson, one-time movie star and now a leading publicist. From all I've been told it was a lavish, delightful, memorable party. But all I remember of the evening is Miss Stanwyck. And how lovely she looked in that pink gown...
Question: What qualities most attract you to a woman?
Answer: The qualities possessed by Barbara Stanwyck.
Question: Could you give a "for instance"?
Answer: I can give some. It would take too long to give all. Her forthrightness, her complete awareness of everything within sight or sound, her absolute professionalism in her work, her talent and dedication to the job at hand, her perception of the needs and wants of her fellow workers and her kindness to them, her absolute honesty with herself and those around her, her charm, her brains, her humor and, above all, her supreme and unsurpassed femininity...
Question: Do you see her often?
Answer: I can see what you're leading up to. Well, I don't see her often enough. She has a rigorous schedule of work and so have I. Our routines are so carefully timed that, as a result, we have to forego some of the best things in life. The future may give us more opportunity to be together.
Question: To get off the subject a moment, you're an art collector and it's known you have a real passion for painting and sculpture. Does Miss Stanwyck share that interest? What schools of art do you both favor?
Answer: I'd say our interests in art run parallel. We both enjoy a very broad spectrum of Old Masters and contemporary--even experimental--work.
Question: What other interests do you share?
Answer: Music, theater, literature, politics, dancing, good food, the outdoors, boating, fishing, horses.
Question: How do you account for Miss Stanwyck's long hold on the affection of the public?
Answer: Well, there are the qualities of character that I outlined before. But aside from her great talent and dedication, any man, woman or child watching a Stanwyck performance senses at once the unforced sincerity and truthfulness of her interpretations. On or off screen, she is a magnificent human being...
Question: Do you feel you might marry again, and what would you want from it if you took the step again?
Answer: So at last we come to the big question you've been leading up to. Well, I'm not going to relate this directly to Barbara Stanwyck. But I will say that I do hope to marry again. When I do, I'd hope to get from it what I always desired--the opportunity to love someone and be loved in return.
Question: One last question. When Perry Mason leaves the air eventually, what are your plans?
Answer: I'd like a good solid two weeks' vacation. After that, I have no concrete plans just yet. But projecting myself into the future for a moment, I wouldn't ask anything better than to do a couple of shows a year with Barbara Stanwyck--and that goes for the next fifty years. I view that prospect as a most agreeable future.
Barbara's side of it
In as much as Missy Stanwyck, always reticent, was in the hospital with a case of virus pneumonia at this time, a thorough interview with her was impossible. Burr, however, had been a regular bedside visitor--especially considering the pressure on his time--and he sent loads of flowers.
And Barbara did say: "In the past I've said that Hollywood is essentially a lonely town and stardom makes it even lonelier. I still believe that's true. But it does help to have a friend as dear and devoted as Ray Burr." Would she go so far as to suggest that such a friendship could ripen into love? With her celebrated candor, she replied at once, "I'd suggest nothing of the sort. I've always believed that the words friend and love are taken too lightly. I don't take my friendship with Ray lightly and that's all I care to suggest. Let me say that when you are walled off for the time being, as I am now, from your friends and dear ones, any town, not just Hollywood, seems the loneliest place on earth. Work is another such wall. It brings people together sometimes. It did Ray and myself. But it also divides with respect to time and opportunity for seeing friends and exchange of experiences..."
When we asked her what she admired in Raymond Burr, her answer was less evasive and more to the point. "Who wouldn't admire a man of his caliber? He's fascinating, a man who mingles an exquisite sense of humor with great knowledge both of books and current events. And his humanity! His consideration! Last year when we were both up for Emmys, he took me to the Awards affair. On the way he bet me a dollar that I'd win. His concern was completely for me, to calm my nerves and give me confidence. You know he won an Emmy, too, that night, but form his actions when I won, you'd think that was the sole reason for his being there. His many acts of kindness have been told before. They're well known, not through his lips. Charity, good causes, he's always ready to do his share. When Bill Talman got into trouble with the network, it was Ray who went to bat for him and recovered his job. This is a man with a great heart, a great talent, and an instinct for goodness that is not as stylish nowadays as it should be, I'm afraid..."
When we told her that Burr had declared that he'd like to do shows with her for the next fifty years, Barbara smiled enigmatically. "I'm not a teenager, you know. I don't think I ought to look forward to fifty years of anything...but I do hope, I do believe that my friendship with Ray will last as long as I do."
For those who would like a blunt, straight yes or no as to whether a possible marriage is brewing, this must be said in explanation. The tragic marriages of both Ray and Missy, which might have wrecked the lives of weaker characters, cause them to proceed with caution along a path strewn so plentifully with the broken marriages of show business. Burr's first wife, British-born Annette Sutherland, died in the same plane crash that killed Leslie Howard in 1943. A son by that marriage, Michael Evan, died of leukemia when he was only ten. Burr, in his loneliness and sorrow, married Isabella Ward in 1947, but they were soon divorced. In 1950, he tried again, this time with Laura Morgan. They were preparing for a honeymoon, unfortunately postponed several times, when she took sick. It was cancer, and death came again into Burr's life.
Barbara, on her side, was an orphan who fought her way to young womanhood in Brooklyn, lacking the love and protection of a mother and father. She was only too eager for someone of her own to love, someone who would cherish her, when she met Frank Fay. Fay was one of Broadway's brightest stars, while Barbara was still in her teens but rising rapidly in show business. He was her first, her greatest love, but the marriage was a disaster. Perhaps because Barbara's career was taking meteoric turn in films while Frank's had sadly declined, a bitterness arose, wholly on his side. That she tried, in spite of humiliations and rebuffs, to keep the flame alive, has been testified to by mutual friends. The divorce was inevitable. Barbara suffered, but suffering lent her panther-like grace and a new dignity. Then Robert Taylor hove into sight on her horizon. She fell in love again and they were married. It could not have been too happy a time for her. She speaks even less about Bob than she will about Frank.
One ironic aspect of this Burr-Stanwyck "friendship" is based on a disparity in their ages. Ray is several years younger than Barbara. Although the vast majority of people are all for him, a very few have also spoken about the inadvisability of such a relationship, if or when it grows more serious. "He's too young for her," they whisper. In this connection, it might be well to recall that when Burr was dating Natalie Wood in 1955 this same group commented then, "He's too old for her..." Burr laughs contemptuously at both opinions. His attitude then was, "Natalie's very mature for her age," And now, "Nobody's as young as Barbara Stanwyck..."
Perhaps the best way to sum up this "maybe romance" is to quote an elder statesman and seasoned observer of Hollywood. Preferring to remain anonymous because of his "respect for both of these fine performers," he made this wry comment:
"Burr and Stanwyck are aware of the old axiom of the art world, 'Never tamper with a masterpiece...you can only harm it.' I think that's the reason for their posture of defense against a world that, in all eagerness for their happiness, would like to force an admission of love from them. If there is love budding or coming to flower between these two great artists and wonderful human beings, they are going to guard it jealously and are not likely to risk it by exposing it to a premature frost."