RAYMOND BURR Biography - Actors and Actresses


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Name: Raymond William Stacey Burr                                                         
Born: 21 May 1917 New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada                               
Died: 12 September 1993 Healdsburg, California                                             
Raymond William Stacey Burr (May 21, 1917 - September 12, 1993) was a Canadian             
Emmy-winning actor and vintner, perhaps best known for his roles in the                   
television dramas Perry Mason and Ironside.                                               
The oldest of three children, Burr was born in New Westminster, British Columbia,         
Canada, to William Johnston Burr, an Irish hardware salesman from County Cork,             
Ireland, and his wife Minerva (Smith), a concert pianist and music teacher                 
who had immigrated to Canada from Chicago, United States, in 1914. Burr spent             
part of his childhood in China where his father worked as a trade agent. After             
his parents' divorce they moved to California to live with his maternal                   
grandparents. As soon as he came of age, Burr went to work as a ranch and a               
photo salesman to help support his mother and younger sister and brother. After           
two years in the Navy during World War II, Burr returned home after being                 
wounded in the stomach in Okinawa.                                                         
In 1937, Burr began his acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1941, he               
landed his first Broadway role in Crazy with the Heart. He became a contract               
player at RKO studio, playing mostly villains, and had roles in over 60 movies             
between 1946 and 1957. Burr received favourable notice for his role as a                   
prosecutor in A Place in the Sun (1951), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and                 
Montgomery Clift, and perhaps his best-known film role of the period was as the           
"heavy" in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window (1954), starring James                 
Stewart and Grace Kelly.                                                                   
Burr also emerged as a prolific television character actor in the early to mid             
1950s. He made his guest-starring television debut on an episode of The Amazing           
Dr. Malone. This part led to other television roles in such programs as Dragnet,           
Chesterfield Sound Off Time, Four Star Playhouse, Mr. & Mrs. North, Schlitz               
Playhouse of Stardom, The Ford Television Theatre and Lux Video Theatre.                   
In 1955, Burr took on the part of Steve Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!,         
a role he would reprise again almost 30 years later in Godzilla 1985.                     
In 1956, Burr auditioned for the role of District Attorney Hamilton Burger in             
Perry Mason, a new courtroom drama created by Erle Stanley Gardner for the CBS             
TV network. William Talman auditioned for the title role of Perry Mason. However,         
Erle Stanley Gardner was present and immediately demanded that the actors switch           
parts ... he had found his perfect Perry Mason! Mason eventually became the role           
with which Burr was most closely identified in the public mind. Also starring             
were Barbara Hale - a 1940s movie actress and old friend of Burr's - as Mason's           
secretary, Della Street, and B-actor William Hopper as Mason's private                     
investigator, Paul Drake. William Talman played the district attorney, Hamilton           
Burger, who was destined to lose every case (at least against Perry Mason), and           
Ray Collins was the Homicide Detective, Lt. Arthur Tragg. On every show Mason             
built a defense case with extraordinary precision and succeeded in proving his             
client's innocence, often provoking an emotional confession from the true                 
Burr and Talman were both professionals and wise enough to realize that new or             
inexperienced actors could be extremely nervous during filming. In order to calm           
scared "newbies" Burr and Talman would purposely blow some of their own lines,             
thereby relaxing everyone else on the set.                                                 
Burr won two Emmy Awards for his role as Perry Mason which originally ran from             
1957 to 1966, and has been re-run in syndication ever since. In 2006, the first           
season became available on DVD.                                                           
Burr moved from CBS to Universal Studios, where he auditioned for the title role           
in the television drama Ironside. In the pilot episode, San Francisco Chief of             
Detectives Robert T. Ironside was wounded by a sniper during an attempt on his             
life but survived and was paralyzed and wheel-chair bound for the rest of his             
life. This role gave Burr another hit series, the first crime drama show ever to           
star a disabled police officer. The show ran from 1967 to 1975. In 1977, Burr             
starred in the short-lived TV series Kingston: Confidential.                               
In 1985, Burr was approached by producers Dean Hargrove and Fred Silverman to             
star in a made-for-TV movie Perry Mason Returns. While he loved the idea he only           
agreed to do the movie if Barbara Hale returned to reprise her role as secretary           
Della Street. Not only did Hale agree, but for the first time in the show's               
history she ended up being the accused when Perry Mason Returns aired in                   
December 1985. The rest of the original cast had since died, but Hale's real-life         
son William Katt was cast in the TV movie as Paul Drake, Jr. Expected to only be           
a one-off special, the success of the first movie led to Burr making twenty-six           
more films before his death. In 1988, after three years and nine Perry Mason TV           
movies, William Katt left to pursue other projects. A new leg-man for Mason was           
needed and actor William R. Moses was hired to play Ken Malansky, a young and up-and-coming
lawyer who goes to work for Mason after he clears him of murder. Moses appeared           
in the Mason TV movies filmed between 1989 and 1995. By this time Burr was                 
largely wheelchair-bound (in his final Mason movie, he is always shown either             
sitting or standing while leaning on a table, but never standing unsupported -             
as his character in Ironside had been - but this time it was due to his real-life         
failing health). Four more Perry Mason films were made between 1993 and 1995,             
after Burr's death, with supposed lawyer friends of Perry's defending the                 
accused. However, without Burr the magic was gone.                                         
In 1993, as he had with the Perry Mason TV movies, Burr decided to do an                   
Ironside reunion movie. In May of that year, The Return of Ironside aired,                 
reuniting the entire original cast of the 1967-1975 hit-series. However, as he             
was already in his last days suffering from liver cancer, this would be the only           
Ironside reunion. (In reprising the role of Ironside Burr was forced to dye his           
hair red and shave off his trademark beard in order not to look too much like             
Perry Mason).                                                                             
Burr co-starred in such TV films as Eischied: Only The Pretty Girls Die and               
Disaster On The Coastliner (both 1979), The Curse of King Tut's Tomb and The               
Night The City Screamed (both 1980), and Peter And Paul (1981). He also had a             
supporting role in Dennis Hopper's controversial film Out of the Blue (1980) and           
spoofed his Perry Mason image in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982).                           
Burr also worked as as media spokesman for the now-defunct British Columbia-based         
real estate company Block Bros. in TV, radio, and print ads during the late 1970s         
and early 1980s.