Perry Mason created by US author Erie Stanley Gardner who published over 80 novels that sold more than 300 million copies featuring the titular character. That feat put Gardner just two spots behind J.K. Rowling in the list of best-selling writers of all time.
Welsh Actor Matthew Rhys portrayal of Mason as a younger, disheveled drunk in a dingy vest who steals a necktie from a cadaver every time that he needs to look smart in front of a judge. It bears little resemblance to the original portrayal of Perry that captured the hearts and minds of millions decades ago. But the new HBO reboot series has re-ignited interest into the classic courtroom drama.
That being said, the strange and twisted tale of Raymond Burr, the original Perry Mason, is one that is begging to be told. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
A Very Different Perry Mason
Canadian actor Raymond Burr was quite tall – clocking in well above 6 feet – and dressed immaculately in expensive designer suits. He had a booming voice, wasn’t afraid to take command of a situation, and was a pillar in his community.
For nine years between 1957 and 1966, Burr portrayed Mason. He reprised that role for another 26 TV movies that aired from 1985 to 1993. For our British friends across the pond, Burr also starred in a popular detective series called Ironside which ran from 1967 to 1975. But Burr’s private life stood in stark contrast to what his public life appeared to be.
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And don’t you dare think about going anywhere so soon. Stay tuned to find out all about Raymond Burr’s two bogus marriages and imaginary son.
A Man Of Mystery
Burr’s life story is virtually littered with dubious claims of the most astonishing variety. And stands to this day as one of the biggest monuments to ‘mythomania’ in Hollywood. And for the uninitiated, that term has defined as a tendency to exaggerate or even fabricate someone’s legacy.
But why on earth would a rich and successful man like him have any need to embellish the details of their life? Well, Burr reportedly lived in constant fear that he might lose the role of Perry Mason. And thus his entire career, if he outed as being gay and sharing his life with his male life partner.
In today’s world, such fears might seem pretty ridiculous, but back in the 1950s in Hollywood. They were absolutely legitmate concerns. Sure, Burr was sometimes said to have sexual relationships with various Hollywood starlets such as Natalie Wood. But likely that was just a cover to throw the media off from learning the truth. We’ll touch on that in more detail in just a minute.
So Burr decided to take matters into his own hands to cover his tracks. And the only way that he knew how to pull that off was to concoct an entirely fake history of himself.
For one thing, he claimed to have been a veteran of the military even though he wasn’t. He would even show off his ‘battle wounds’ every now and again in a desperate bid to convince his skeptics of his claims. He also claimed that he had previously married twice to women who never even existed. Insisted that he had a son who died shortly after being born. And asserted that he had engaged in sexual relationships with several female stars even though he hadn’t. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
Cracks Begin To Emerge
A ton of the lies that Burr made about his life initially accepted at face value by his first biographer, Ona Hill, who published her book the year after he died. But later on, his definitive biographer, Michael Seth Starr, decided to debunk all of these claims. And set the record straight in his book ‘Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymond Burr’.
Raymond William Stacy Burr was born on May 21, 1917, in New Westminster, BC, Canada. He was a chubby little baby and that extra lingering bit of girth would prove to be both a blessing and a curse for him for the remainder of his life.
By his early 20s, Burr had yet to date anyone as far as anyone was aware. But a gossip columnist by the name of Ed Sullivan made things difficult for him when he published the unfounded rumor that Ona Munson. The actress who played Belle Watling in Gone With The Wind, had seen flirting with him.
There was just one little problem with this rumor. Even though Ona had married three times – with each union ending disastrously in divorce. She was actually a lesbian who had tied to both Greto Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.
Burr’s Marriage Was Just A Cover
Burr was introduced to his one and only wife, Isabella Ward, or Bella as she was called. In 1943 during his first season as an actor in training at the Pasadena Playhouse. Ward and Burr co-starred in Burr’s first Playhouse production, Quiet Wedding, and tied the knot for real on January 10, 1948.
That marriage was never built to last and they ended up separating just three months later before filing for divorce in 1952. Neither Burr nor Ward would ever marry again. Bella was later quoted as saying that some people are just not meant to marry people and that she was one of those people.
Burr later tried to claim that Bella was not in fact his first life. He claimed that he had previously been married to a Scottish-born actress named Annette Sutherland. Whom he supposedly met while he was on tour in Britain in the early 40s.
He further tried to claim that Annette had died in June of 1943 in the same plane crash that claimed the life of actor Leslie Howard. That plane was taken down by Nazi fire while flying over the Bay of Biscay.
But if you do a little digging you’ll find that there is no record of any Annette Sutherland from this period . And certainly not on the Leslie Howard’s flight log. 13 passengers were accounted for on that flight, including three women and four crewmen. And of course none of them bore that name. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
Burr’s None-Existent Son
Raymond later tried to spice up his story by adding in another heart-pulling element pertaining to the supposedly tragic death of his son.
Burr claimed that Evan Burr was born in 1943, not long before Annette’s spurious plane crash. Raymond also tried to say that Michael had died in 1953 at the age of ten after a fierce battle with leukemia.
Suspiciously, no member of the Burr family ever met either Michael or Annette. If Michael truly had existed as Burr claimed. Then he would have been about five years old when Raymond got hitched to Bella Ward in 1948.
When Bella was asked if she knew of Burr’s son’s existence. She replied by revealing that she never met him because there never was a son. But instead of spilling the beans on the subject entirely. She said that she didn’t want to talk about it because it ‘wasn’t her place’ to do so.
And as far as the equally elusive Annette went, Bella added that she was Ray’s first and only wife. If he had been married before her, he would have told her so. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
The Lies Kept On Coming
Seven years after divorcing Bella, Burr started talking about another previously unmentioned wife from his mysterious past. This imaginary wife was supposedly named Laura Andrina Morgan. And he claimed to have gotten married to her in either 1955 or 1953. The fact that he couldn’t get his story straight on the year of their marriage should have been a pretty big red flag. But apparently no one questioned it at the time.
Very conveniently, such was the case with his other phony wife, Morgan conveniently died shortly after she and Burr got together. Having lost her battle with cancer right before the couple’s planned honeymoon In the Bahamas. But once again, no one close to Burr ever met Laura or even heard about her until he started talking about her. And even more damning is the fact that no evidence has ever been found to substantiate her existence.
But you can’t just make details up as you go like that and expect no one to ever catch on to your scheming. Eventually, people started to suspect Burr’s chronology as being bunk. If he really had married Laura in 1955. That would have to have meant that their courtship began shortly after the death of his supposed son Michael Evan. That would have also been right around the same time that Burr was spending well-documented time in Korea performing for US Troops during the Korean War. He later tried to say that he only ever married Laura because she was dying. And knew that her time was running short.
What About Natalie Wood?
Natalie infamously has some experience dating gay and bisexual men. After all, her first marriage to actor Robert Wagner ended when she caught him with another man in their own home.
When asked about the rumors swirling around back in the day about her and Burr. Natalie revealed that they were just something that publicists made up to protect him. She further expressed how much she loved him. And how close of friends they were but asserted that they weren’t in any way, shape, or form lovers.
Burr however tried to say that the affair was genuine but that it had been ended by the studio bigwigs who wanted to split them up.
Nearly everything that Burr tried to say about himself during his career turned out to be fabrications, including his military past which obviously didn’t exist. The closest he ever came to serving was a brief stint that he did in the Coast Guard. And yet he still tried to claim that he was an Army Veteran.
There were even some press accounts, which we can safely assume were encouraged by himself. And that tried to stake that claim that he was shot in the stomach at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He even tried to say that he still had bullet fragments lodged in his belly. And that he had been awarded the prestigious Purple Heart of heroism for surviving the attack, but of course, none of that was true.
If he had actually served even just one day in the military. There would be proof to back his claims, but alas none of that has ever surfaced because it frankly was all a farce. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
Burr’s Life Partner
While on the set of Perry Mason in 1957, Burr met his life partner, actor, and Korean War Veteran, Robert Benevides.
They got a home together in 1960 and continued to live together for the remaining 33 years of Burr’s life. There were even rumors that the couple secretly ‘married’ in 1963. Burr would always refer to Robert as his husband. And was completely content with playing the role of ‘wife’ by performing all the household’s domestic duties.
Burr continued to live in the closet until 1993 when he found out that he was dying of kidney cancer.
He died at his home in California at the age of 76 on September 12, 1993. He left behind his entire $32 million estate to Benevides and his family.
Before you condemn the man for his dishonesty, keep in mind that being gay in Hollywood back in his day was definitely not the kind of thing that you’d want everyone to know about. It was a much different time and the stakes were arguably a lot higher than they are today.
These days, no one even bats an eyelash when a star ‘comes out’. But Burr had to be extra cautious to not lose everything that he had worked so hard to achieve. He lied out of fear, not out of malicious intent. Join Facts Verse to know more about the Raymond Burr’s Life Was a Complete Lie.
Anyway, now’s your turn to let your voice be heard. What do you think about Raymond Burr and his tangled web of lies? Do you forgive him considering the time period he had to contend with, or do you still think that he should have been open about his identity? Let us know in the comments section below.
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