he's not just an actor...HE'S AND INSTITUTION
Everybody was in agreement: Raymond Burr had never looked healthier.
The star was on the set after five weeks' absence, chatting with the knot of actors and crew members who greeted him on his return from a short convalescence.
"I've never been in better spirits," the tanned, bright-eyed Burr told the Mason Regulars.
"It's great being back; I've missed you all.
"Now, let's get on with the work at hand."
Burr returned from his two week vacation at Harbor Island in the Bahamas a new man, according to his agent and close friend Lester Salkow.
He told Salkow he felt fully recuperated from the operation he underwent in December for stomach trouble, and he was free from the tension and fatigue that had built up inside him form the tough work load that comes with the role of Perry Mason.
The Mason Regulars--Barbara Hale, William Hopper, Ray Collins, William Talman and the crew--are closely knit. They joke together, party together, celebrate together.
And when Burr walked on the set to start work on Case no. 184 The Case of the Golden Oranges, he found they'd all worked together to put up big welcome signs in nine languages.
| "Ray was
quite overcome," says producer Gail Jackson.
Burr flew in form the Bahamas only three days before he was due back on the set. They were three busy days: he was arranging a one-man show of Richard Whorf' s paintings.
The actor/director has long been a friend of Burr's, and his paintings will be exhibited in Burr's Beverly Hills art gallery.
Although Burr's busy schedule often keeps him away form his gallery, he is constantly fixing things up by telephone. His dressing room at the studio is filled with art books and business memos.
Once back with "Perry Mason" Burr will be working steadily though until the end of May. Then, he says with a gleeful glint in his eye, "I'm leaving town...But I'll be back and ready for another season of Perry Mason in September."
Where is the globetrotter off to?
"I'll spend most of the time in Italy," he says smiling. "Looking for art for the art gallery, and hoping to find some property there. I have a fancy to acquire a European hideaway. And, of course, I'll get to see my foster children there.
The girl and boy Burr supports in Italy are war orphans; he met them for the first time last year, and now they are very dear to him. He shows off their pictures at any opportunity.
Although Burr was obviously looking forward to his European trip with great pleasure, he also seemed very pleased to be back in the courtroom.
Gail Patrick Jackson, his "lady boss", was equally happy to have her star back.
While Burr was away, his place was filled by four guest stars--Bette Davis, Walter Pigeon, Hugh O'Brian and Michael Rennie. None of the four hesitated a moment when they were offered the chance to substitute for Burr.
After Mrs. Jackson received each "yes", she quickly assured her guest actors that it would only be one shot appearance.
"The first question each of our guest stars asked," she explained, "was, 'Is there anything seriously wrong with Ray?'
"I told them as his doctor told me, ' there is nothing major wrong with Mr. Burr. His operation is a small one'.
"I was very grateful," she continued, "to have such fine guests, and even happier to find out that they all watched the show regularly and had no hesitation at all about appearing on it.
"No one even asked for script approval."
Has the use of guest stars given Mrs. Jackson ideas? Will they perhaps threaten the security of one Raymond Burr as the top-billed star of "Perry Mason"?"Don't be silly," she said.
"It's been wonderful having four top guest stars. But now our Ray is back. He's the one the viewers want. He's never been more popular. His public loves him. We love him.
"He'll just have to put up with the old status quo and go on."
But does Burr really want to go on?
He's not saying. But friends know there have been periods of mental stress for Burr during the months preceding his five weeks' absence when he had expressed doubts about wanting to continue on and on as Perry Mason.
His closest friends believe the actor is slowly changing his views.
"It's taken Ray a long time to realize that the part of "Perry Mason" is not just one among many in his career," one friend explains. "Now, he has finally come to know that he is an institution in homes all over the world.
"For him, there will probably never be another part as rewarding and as popular as that of 'Perry Mason'.
"I think Ray has dreams of doing more movie and stage work," the friend went on. "But what could he do to top the popularity of Mason? No actor who has tasted fame such as Ray has could be content with just any role.
"Regardless of what he's thought in the past, Ray now knows 'Mason' is a once in a lifetime part. And he gets a very real satisfaction out of bringing the lawyer to life each week. He'd be a fool to give it all up!"
Burr's contract with the CBS television network in America has three years to run. It is safe to assume that unless something unforeseen happens Raymond Burr will be playing "Perry Mason" for that much longer.
After three years, it' s anybody's guess as to what Raymond Burr will decide.