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Q&A

RAYMOND BURR: Stating His Case

March 01, 1992|SUSAN KING | TV Times Staff

Raymond Burr is back as Erle Stanley Gardner's intrepid ace attorney-at-law Perry Mason in the Sunday NBC mystery, "Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing."

This time around, Mason, with the help of his loyal secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale), and investigator Ken Malansky (William R. Moses) must defend a photographer (Mark Moses) who is accused of murdering a painter (David Soul).

A native of Canada, Burr, 74, began acting on stage there in the late 1930s and came to Hollywood in the '40s, appearing in such films as "A Place in the Sun," "A Cry in the Night," "Great Day in the Morning" and "Rear Window," as the alleged wife-killer Thorwald.

Burr became a TV superstar and won two Emmys as Perry Mason on the CBS series, which aired from September, 1957, until September, 1966, and which still airs around the world in reruns. In 1985, he reunited with Hale to star in the NBC movie "The Return of Perry Mason." The movie was such a success that Burr and Hale have appeared in at least three new "Perry Mason" films for NBC each season since.

But "Perry Mason" isn't the only successful series in which Burr has starred. From 1967 to '75, he starred in the NBC series "Ironside," as the paralyzed special consultant to the San Francisco Police Department.

Burr talked about "Perry Mason" and his long career with TV Times Staff Writer Susan King.

Before "Perry Mason" you appeared in the award-winning films "A Place in the Sun," directed by George Stevens, and Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window." What was it like to work with those two directors?

They were great to work for. I get along very well with directors and we became very good friends.

You were very scary in "Rear Window." Do you think your character really did kill his wife?

An interesting thing is no one ever proved that he did anything wrong. No one ever proved he killed the dog. No one ever proved he did anything to his wife. And everybody was spying on him.

(Before "Perry Mason") I did 90 motion pictures in nine years, and in 90% of them I was a bad guy. I was one of the very fortunate free-lance actors. I was under contract to a studio for only two years, and that was to RKO, where I met Barbara Hale. Do you know that in one more year, Barbara and I will have known each other for 50 years?

Did you two do a feature film together?

No. We were both under contract to RKO. She had just come out from Illinois, a very young girl, of course. She started working there and met (her husband) Bill Williams. We are very good friends. She is one of the ladies in my life who would have been very easy to fall in love with-- maybe I did.

Had you been approached to revive "Perry Mason" before producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove came along with the NBC movies?

People had talked about it from time to time, ever since we stopped making them. But the (Erle Stanley Gardner) estate made it so tough (to get the rights). The terms were very difficult, so I was told. When I had breakfast that morning with Mr. Silverman and Mr. Hargrove, they said we have the rights to do them. And I said that's marvelous. And they said, "Do you want to do it?" I wouldn't do them without Barbara. The first question I asked was, "Can we get Barbara Hale?" And they said "yes" and I said "yes." It took me three seconds.

The old "Perry Mason" series has been thriving in syndication for more than 25 years and the TV movies always do well. What do you think is the reason for the popularity of "Perry Mason?" Do you think it's the old adage that everyone loves a good mystery?

Well, that and not everybody realized what kind of a system of justice we had in this country until the lawyer shows. It was very interesting. The minorities didn't realize they could be represented well in court or what kind of system we had that everybody was innocent until proven guilty. It wasn't always such in the rest of the world. And we tried to make the shows as entertaining (as possible) and still do.

Is it true you are going to do an "Ironside" reunion movie?

We are going to do one. We are going to finish three (more) Perrys and then do "Ironside."

Will the entire cast be reunited?

Well, certainly as many as we can. If there was a down thing about "Perry Mason" it is that all of (the cast) had (died(. Anyone from the old ("Ironside") cast is certainly going to be asked, I am sure. Dan Galloway, (who played Sgt. Ed Brown, will be in it), I know, because I wouldn't do the show without him. And he has turned out to be my best friend.

How neat for my life to have been in two shows with such marvelous casts and it was just great for me.

"Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on NBC.

Reruns of "Perry Mason" air weekdays at 7 a.m. on WGN, 9 a.m. on WTBS, noon and 1 p.m. on KODC and noon on XETV and Saturdays at 10 a.m. on XETV.

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