Barbara Hale was a film and television actress best known for portraying he character of Della Street on the hit television series Perry Mason, alongside star Raymond Burr. Barbara was on her way out from the entertainment industry when she was offered the role, as she wanted to spend more time with her children. However, she ended up being talked into it, and the rest is history! Join Facts Verse as we explore how Barbara Hale confirmed the rumors in her last interview.
Barbara Hale Personified the Independent Woman
According to the late Barbara Hale herself, the actress enjoyed playing women that exhibited a kind of independent streak. This sentiment is apparent when one examines the actress’s most iconic role. From 1957 to 1966, Barbara became a big star thanks to her work as the character of Della Street on the show Perry Mason. The show ran on CBS, and featured star Raymond Burr as the titular character. The show followed the life and times of attorney Perry Mason, who was based on a famous real-life lawyer by the name of Erle Stanley Gardner. Unlike many real-life figures that have gotten pieces of media based on them, Erle took great care to make sure that Perry Mason portrayed him correctly. One way in which he exerted his power was by ensuring that Perry and Della never hooked up.
The star of Perry Mason was Raymond Burr, but the ability that Barbara Hale had to draw in audience members can’t be denied. Perry may have been the show’s main and titular character, but Barbara’s Della Street was integral to its success. Barbara brought the sex appeal whenever she showed up on screen as Della, and television audiences quickly fell in love with her. Many assumed that Perry Mason was going to eventually fall in love with her as well. According to Barbara, she received loads of letters from fans asking when the characters of Perry and Della were going to get married. In fact, some even asked whether the performers that played the characters were ever going to get married in real life. Some even assumed that they already were based on their unspoken on-screen chemistry alone!
Perry and Della never did hook up on Perry Mason, and this was at the behest of the aforementioned Erle Stanley Gardner. Erle was so adamant about Perry and Della keeping romantic distance from each other that he ordered a scene in which Della sat on Perry’s lap to be reshot after seeing it in the dailies. There was supposed to be an unspoken bond between the two characters that hinted at something more to the audience, but the truth about whether or not Perry and Della were hooking up was intentionally unclear. However, what is clear is that the performers that played the characters were never anything more than friends. This is because Barbara was already married by the time that she was offered her iconic role on the show.
Della Street Was a Unique Female Character for the Time
The character of Della Street was Perry Mason’s secretary. As a working woman not defined by any type of romantic relationship, Della was certainly a television character that was ahead of her time. The importance of Della didn’t go unnoticed when it came to the woman that played her. Barbara Hale was well aware of how revolutionary of a female character Della was. So was the audience, as well as the creative staff behind the scenes of the show. Barbara got plenty of letters from fan asking about the potential romantic relationship between her character and Raymond’s. However, she got even more letters from fans telling her that they had been positively impacted by her character.
According to the late Barbara Hale, she received numerous letters every week while working on Perry Mason from female fans that were planning to follow in the fictional character of Della Street’s footsteps by getting into law themselves. This was around a time in history when more women were getting into the workforce than ever, and in more serious positions. Barbara greatly enjoyed being a makeshift figurehead for a movement that saw women getting into law. The actress certainly made a good choice when she agreed to portray the character of Della. Even so, the offer was something that she had almost turned down when she initially received it. Barbara felt as if she was on her way out from her career in the entertainment industry when she got the offer to portray Della on the series.
Most women over the course of Hollywood history have had to audition to secure their most iconic roles. However, the role of Della Street was something that essentially just fell into Barbara Hale’s lap. The reason was because the actress was old friends with two of the producers on the show. Those producers were Corny Jackson and Gail Patrick Jackson, who also happened to be husband and wife. Long before Perry Mason was a thing, Barbara had worked with both Corny and Gail on separate occasions. She worked alongside Corny back during her days as a model. Cory was working at a Chicago advertising agency that Barbara ended up doing some work for. Meanwhile, she met Gail when the two of them became involved in a doll-making adventure that never panned out. Years later, when Cory and Gail were developing Perry Mason, they thought of Barbara as soon of the character of the secretary came up.
Barbara Almost Didn’t Take the Role of Della
When her old friends Corny and Gail called her up to offer her a new role on a television series, Barbara Hale turned them down. At the time, Barbara had three young children that she was taking care of and she was planning on retiring from the entertainment industry for good. Her old friends ended up convincing Barbara to take the role by telling her not only that the series was only going to last for around 18 episodes at most, but that it was also going to allow her to work alongside the legendary Raymond Burr. Barbara was old friends with Corny and Gail, and she was also old friends with Raymond. As a matter of fact, Raymond was one of the first people that Barbara had befriended upon first arriving in Hollywood some many years previously. The two were both signed with RKO Pictures when they had first met.
Corny Jackson and Gail Patrick Jackson may have talked Barbara Hale into signing on to Perry Mason by saying that she show was going to only last for 18 episodes, but the show ended up lasting for many more! Even so, Barbara ended up staying on for the series’ whole run and then some. Perry Mason became a hit, lasting for 332 episodes from 1957 to 1966. One might imagine that Barbara took the opportunity of the end of the series to finally retire like she had always wanted. However, she continued acting in the years afterwards and all the way up until her death. Not only that, but she continued working alongside Raymond Burr.
In the 1970s, Barbara Hale reunited with Raymond Burr for the television series Ironside. This series became another hit front he two performers. Two decades later, the two performers reunited once more. This time, they reunited under the Perry Mason banner. In 1985, a made-for-television movie premiered by the name of Perry Mason Returns. This made-for-television movie was a success, and it led to a whole series of made-for-television sequels. All in all, around 30 of these made-for-television Perry Mason movies were created. In addition to starring Raymond and Barbara, the movies also starred Barbara’s real-life son.
Barbara Got to Work with One of Her Kids Later On
One of Barbara Hale’s kids is a performer by the name of William Katt. William was introduced into the Perry Mason made-for-television film series as the character of Paul Drake, Jr. Of course, Perry Mason fans will know that this character was supposed to be the son of the original show’s Paul Drake. On the original series, the actor William Hopper had portrayed the character of Paul Drake. William had sadly passed away from lung cancer before the Perry Mason made-for-television movies became a thing. William Kat’s character helped make up for Paul Drake’s absence.
William Katt had some previous acting experience under his belt when he was brought into the Perry Mason made-for-television film series. Audiences had previously become introduced to him in the early 1980s via his work on the ABC series The Greatest American Hero. William ended up quitting the Perry Mason made-for-television film series before it came to an end. A performer replaced him by the name of William R. Moses. Raymond Burr also had to be replaced over the course of the made-for-television film series, though his need to be replaced came not as a result of him quitting but as a result of his 1993 death.
Raymond Burr passed away in 1993. The actor David Odgen Stiers then took over the role of Perry Mason. The final made-for-television Perry Mason film aired in 1995. Barbara Hale herself had a few more decades in her, not passing away until 2017. At the time of the actress’s passing, she was 94 years old. The actress is most fondly remembered today for playing the character of Della Street, which is ironic when you consider that she also didn’t take the part!
Now that you know the truth about Barbara Hale’s time playing the character of Della Street on Perry Mason, good luck trying to watch the series the same way again! Now it’s time to hear from you: did you know that Barbara Hale almost didn’t take the role of Della Street on Perry Mason, and that her character was explicitly prohibited from hooking up with titular star Raymond Burr’s? Comment down below!