If you sit down and watch an episode of Perry Mason, it’s really difficult to imagine the stoic, adept, and well-dressed criminal defense lawyer to be anything but professional. He was like the John Wayne of the courtroom. It’s baffling to imagine Raymond Burr as being any different than the iconic character that he played on TV and that’s precisely why you should stick around to see what the real Raymond Burr was really like.
His Primary Target
Apparently, Burr acted more like a jester in between takes than the rigid and righteous lawyer that audiences were accustomed to seeing on their television screens. Yes, may it be known that Raymond Burr was quite the trickster behind the scenes of Perry Mason. This practical joker’s primary target was his secretary Della Street co-star, Barbara Hale.
In the Biography Hiding in Plain Sight: The Secret Life of Raymund Burr, Hale was quoted as saying that his pranks would go on for weeks. She went on to explain that he never got tired playing his little gags.
His japery took many forms. One time, Burr hid a small baby alligator in Hales’s dresser drawer, on another occasion he filled her entire dressing room from ceiling to floor, wall to wall with flowers.
As time went on and his pranks weren’t questioned by the higher-ups, he felt more and more emboldened to try out gutsier gags. Eventually, they became more personal and annoying.
On one occasion in particular he carefully hid Hale’s car under a mound of lumber so it was completely obscured from her view. It took her hours to finally find it. On a separate occasion, he tip-toed into her dressing room and filled her toilet up with green Jell-O.
Burr took his pranking seriously. He’d invest a sizable chunk of time and effort into concocting the perfect prank. One time, he sorted through all of Hale’s very early studio headshots and photography and found a picture of her in a leopard print bikini. He took that photo and had it blown up and printed on cardboard and propped it up in the Judge’s seat on the Perry Mason set.
For the most part, Hale saw Burr’s buffoonery as good clean fun but there did come a time that she had enough of his shenanigans. There’s always a line and once you pass it, enough is enough.
The Last Straw
Raymund got the idea that it would be hilarious to take everything out of Hale’s dressing room, load it up in a moving truck, and ship it off someplace. Two weeks after her belongings went missing, Hale finally confronted Burr and gave him a piece of her mind.
She told him that she had enough of his mischief-making and that if he didn’t return her stuff immediately then she was going to lawyer up and take him to court.
Burr cleverly quipped back at her that “Nobody beats Perry Mason.” but he did eventually deliver her belongings back to her – excepts with one little catch. When the moving folks arrived on the set Hale was called to the gate. That’s when she learned that Burr had stuck her with the bill. To get her stuff back, she would have to pay up. Can you imagine how angry she must have been?
At the end of the day, the cast of Perry Mason operated a lot like a little family unit. Even though Burr liked to give his colleague’s a hard time, he also deeply cared for them and everybody did their best to look out for each other.
In fact, that’s one reason why the cast had such excellent chemistry with each other.
It might be shocking to find out that Raymund Burr wasn’t anything like the character he played on TV, but there is probably quite a lot of behind-the-scenes Perry Mason trivia that you probably don’t know about. We’ll touch on more of that in a second, but first, make sure you take a moment to give this video a like and subscribe to our channel if you haven’t already.
Only One Episode Was Filmed In Color
Of all of the 271 episodes of Perry Mason, only one episode of the courtroom drama was filmed in color. ‘The Case of the Twice Told Twist, which was episode 21 of season nine was filmed in color as a test to see if the next season would benefit by being colorized. Unfortunately, the series was canceled before full-color outside of that one episode could be implemented. It was a classic case of too-little-too-late.
Mason Only Ever Lost One Case
Perry Mason would remind us quite often that there was never a case that he couldn’t win. That rule was generally speaking true all except for one occasion. In the 6th season episode ‘The Case of the Witless Witness”, the episode opens with the jury delivering a guilty verdict to one of Mason’s clients. In fact, that would be the only case that he would lose were the verdict wasn’t eventually overturned.
There were 2 other occasions where Mason lost a case, but each time he was able to craftily reverse the verdict.
The Actual Perry Mason Shows Up In The Last Episode
The Perry Mason novels that the show was based on were written by author and real-life attorney Erie Stanley Gardner. In the series finale episode ‘The Case of the Final Fade-Out’, Gardner makes a cameo appearance as the presiding Judge over the 2nd trial.
Burr Had To Lose A Bunch Of Weight For The Part
Producers of Perry Mason took issue with Raymund Burr’s weight. They insisted that he lose a few pounds if he wanted to keep playing Perry. Reportedly, Burr lost over 120 pounds throughout the production of the show. Although, as most people know, people’s weight typically fluctuates quite a bit throughout their life. Over the 9 years that Burr was on the show, he lost all of that weight and subsequently packed most of it back on by the end of the series.
Burr Played Perry Mason For Almost 4 Decades
Perry Mason ran from September 21, 1957, to May 22, 1966. But even after 9 seasons and 271 episodes, Raymund Burr remained committed to his character for decades after the series cancellation.
In 1973, The New Perry Mason show premiered but was panned by critics and audiences for lacking the original cast. As such, Burr was called upon in 1985 to reprise his role for a Perry Mason television film. The movie was so successful that Burr would continue to play Perry Mason in 25 subsequent made-for-TV films. In total 30 were made but the 26 that starred Burr were the ones that resonated most with fans.
Burr played Perry Mason all the way up until his death in 1993.
William Talman Was Fired For Violating The Moral Clause Of His Contract
Talman played LA district attorney Hamilton Burger.
He was let go from the series in 1960 for supposedly violating the terms of the morality clause of his contract. Apparently, he was at a party that got raided by the cops and was slapped with charges for allegedly engaging in ‘indecent activities’ – whatever that means.
Talman maintained his innocence and eventually, his lawyers were able to get the charges dropped. After he was acquitted of any wrongdoing Perry Mason’s producers agreed to have him back on the show.
Burr Originally Auditioned For A Different Role
Raymund Burr actually first tried out for the part of Hamilton Burger. The execs at the audition loved him so much that they gave him the lead role instead.
William Talman, whom we already mentioned ended up landing the Burger part, had previously played a ruthless serial killer in the film noir classic The Hitch-hiker in 1953.
Fans Thought That Raymond Really Was Perry Mason
When people watch actors on the same TV series for almost a decade, they begin to associate them entirely with the characters that they are used to seeing them portray. The line between fact and fiction begins to fade.
On one noteworthy occasion, a woman approached Burr thoroughly convinced that he was actually Mason and asked him how on earth he was able to keep his streak going and not lose any of his cases. He smirked and slyly replied that he just doesn’t lose any of the cases that he tries on Saturdays – which happened to the day that Perry Mason was airing on CBS at the time.
Ray Collins And William Talman’s Tragic Deaths
Collins played Lt. Arthur Tragg but he only appeared in a handful of episodes after the 1960 season. He had been diagnosed with emphysema after a lifetime of heavy smoking and he was beginning to show the early signs of dementia as well. He couldn’t remember his lines anymore and was thus forced to leave the show halfway through the seventh season.
Even though he was no longer on the program, producers made the decision to keep his name in the credits. They figured that might help him keep his spirits up but it also allowed him to continue to tap into the healthcare benefits provided by the actors union.
Unfortunately, Collins passed away in July 1965, right before the filming of the final season began. Incidentally, William Talman was also a lifelong heavy smoker. In the mid-sixties, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and proceeded to be the first Hollywood actor to star in an anti-smoking television commercial. He too passed away in 1968 at the age of 53.
Well, here we are once again at the end of another facts-packed video. It’s still wild to imagine Raymond Burr as some kind of merry prankster. He always seemed so serious, it’s almost impossible to picture him as a goofball.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, HBO has rebooted Perry Mason with Matthew Rhys as the title character. In July it was announced that the new series was picked back up for a second season set for release in 2021.
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And before you go, consider this. Imagine a court case with Perry Mason and Ben Matlock presenting their client’s cases before a judge and jury. Who do you think would win? Let us know how you think that would unfold in the comments section below.