Monday, April 3, 2017

Seven Things to Know About Raymond Burr

1. According to John Beltran's book Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, the famed director gave Raymond Burr's villain gray, curly hair and glasses to look like David O. Selznick. Hitchcock and Selznick clashed frequently during their film collaborations.

2. When the original Godzilla (1954) was released in the U.S. in 1956, it was re-edited and included new scenes of Raymond Burr as a reporter. His character's name: Steve Martin.

Burr in his famous role.
3. Raymond Burr had to audition for the role of Perry Mason in the 1957-1966 TV series. Originally, he tried out for the part of private investigator Paul Drake. He was later called back for an audition as Perry. His competition for the role included William Hopper--who was eventually cast as Paul Drake. Other actors allegedly considered for the famous attorney included Fred MacMurray, Richard Carlson, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

Burr as Robert Ironside.
4. Burr appeared in the last episode of Perry Mason on May 22, 1966. Sixteen months later, he starred in the first episode of Ironside (a pilot film had aired earlier in March 1967). Ironside ran for an impressive eight seasons, meaning that Raymond Burr appeared in 271 episodes of Perry Mason and 199 episodes of Ironside. He reprised Perry Mason and Robert T. Ironside for made-to-TV "reunion movies." The former telefilm, Perry Mason Returns (1985), spawned a series of 30 TV movies. Burr starred in 26 of them, with Paul Sorvino and Hal Holbrook playing other attorneys in the last four films following Burr's death.

5. Raymond Burr was nominated for eight Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: five times for Ironside and three times for Perry Mason. His only wins were for Perry Mason in 1959 and 1961. Just to show that nobody can always be successful in television, Burr's 1976 series Kingston Confidential--in which he played a powerful, crime-solving publisher--only lasted for 14 episodes.

6. In 2008, Raymond Burr was one of four Candian actors to be honored on postage stamps. The others were Norma Shearer, Marie Dressler, and Chief Dan George.

7. Actress Jacqueline Scott worked with Raymond Burr while guest starring on Perry Mason (multiple episodes) and Ironside. When we interviewed her in 2016, she described him as the consummate professional: "Raymond was a very special man. We shot court scenes on Perry Mason for two days. And on those days, he would have someone there to cue him the day before or else they worked at night. When he shot his scenes, he never used a script or a teleprompter. He knew his lines like the back of his hand...every single episode."


  1. Always read that, believing his own typecasting, he auditioned for "Ham" Burger. It was only cuz Earl Stanley Garner saw in him the solid, above-board qualities that he created for Perry that Burr was asked to try out for that.

    And it's not salacious to state that he owed his continuing career to a sympathetic press, who knowingly printed his fabrications of dead wives and sons.

  2. The auditions contained on the Perry anniversary DVD set impressed me. It was interesting to see the actors doing their thing for the all-important job. William Hopper did a credible job as Mason. They put a good team together.

    The first time I showed my daughter Rear Window, she peered at the screen and said "Are you sure that's The Chief?"

  3. Clarifying Bill O's clarification:

    It was CBS who "believed (Burr's) typecasting"; They wanted him for the (initially) villainous Burger.
    Burr was looking to break that typing; up to this time, he'd almost never played anything else but a bad guy. Burr agreed to do a test as Burger, providing that he also be allowed to test as Mason.
    It was one of those tests that caused Erle Stanley Gardner to stand up in the screening room and shout "That's Perry Mason!"
    In Burr's Burger test, Mason is played by Tod Andrews, a general-purpose actor who was there as a placeholder; at that point (early '56) Fred MacMurray was considered the front-runner for Mason.(Gardner says so in a letter to a friend from that time; it's reprinted in Dorothy B. Hughes's biography of Gardner.)
    Hopper's Mason test is with Ray Collins as Tragg; apparently Collins was one of the first hires for the series.

  4. We were so lucky to have Raymond Burr around for the time he was in Hollywood. He is one of the actors I would have loved to have met. He seemed to be a total professional actor and a man who cared for so many people. My favorite role is Ironside. He breathed life in the character and created a multi-dimensional man who showed courage and inspired the people around him. The character also inspired me.

  5. And he was gay, and dated Elizabeth Taylor for awhile as a beard (she was his) around the time of A Place in the Sun. I wonder if they ever doubled with Monty Clift and his chin whiskers.

  6. I truly enjoyed reading your post, Rick. I really liked watching Raymond Burr, especially as Perry Mason and Lars Thorwald. I am pleased to see that Canada honored him on a postage stamp.

  7. Raymond Burr also owned a winery in the Napa Valley. A few years ago, this was after Burr's death, a friend of mine happened to be visiting the winery on Burr's birthday. Visitors to the winery that day were treated not only to wine, but also a full barbecue + birthday cake. A real feast, he said.

    1. The vineyard was in Sonoma County, not Napa. Sadly it has closed.

  8. That look on Lars Thorwald’s face when he sees James Stewart always gives me the creeps. It’s the highlight of the film and makes it the suspense film it is.