Film and television actor.
Full name Raymond William Stacy Burr.
Born May 21, 1917 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada.
Died September 12, 1993 in Somora, California, USA.
Burr's father was a trade agent
, and his family moved around a lot, including a few years spent in China
. His parents divorced in 1923
, and his mother and two siblings moved in with his grandparents in Vallejo, California
. The young Burr took a lot of different jobs to help out his family, a ranch hand
in Roswell, New Mexico
, a deputy sheriff
, a salesman, and a nightclub singer. He joined the US Navy
in 1943, but was wounded in Okinawa
and returned back to the USA.
Accounts differ as to Burr's marriages in this period. He may have married Annette Sutherland at some time in the 1930s, having one son with her before she died. However, Burr's family insist his only marriage was in 1947 to Isabella Ward, whom he later divorced1. He may also have married Laura Andrina Morgan in 1953, but she died in 19552. However, despite his wife or wives Burr was gay, in later life living with his partner Rob Benevides, and the confusion over these marriages may have been an attempt to cover up this fact earlier in his career.
Burr had long dreamt of being an actor. His first role was in the British film Earl of Puddlestone
(1940) before the war. He returned to film acting in 1946 with an uncredited role in Without Reservations
(1946) in Hollywood
. The same year Burr played a minor part in Lawrence Tierney
prison flick San Quentin
He worked steadily through the late 1940s and 1950s, generally in unexceptional movies. With his hefty physique and low-key, introverted acting style, he tended to be cast as villains and heavies in films such as Raw Deal (1948) and the Marx Brothers' Love Happy (1949). According to critic David Thompson
How can one avoid calling him the archetypal heavy? His bulk was invested with every degree of villainy, from the robust to the perverted. To add to his size, his sad features were always ready to sink into grave jowls and puffy malice.3
He had a small role in Errol Flynn
's Adventures of Don Juan
(1948), and appeared in Joseph Losey
's remake of M
(1951), as a prosecuting attorney
with Elizabeth Taylor
and Montgomery Clift
in A Place In The Sun
(1951), in Frank Sinatra
's Meet Danny Wilson
(1952), and Alfred Hitchcock
's Rear Window
(1954). He also earned cult status in the American version of Godzilla
Following up on his time in the navy, he also recorded for Armed Forces radio and at the height of his fame he toured the far east several times, visiting American troops. He also appeared in many radio dramas in the 1940s and 1950s, including Dragnet and Pat Novak for Hire.
Burr won the role that would make him a household name in 1957, when CBS
decided to make a television version of popular radio drama Perry Mason
, about a brilliant courtroom attorney
struggling to acquit his clients. Originally, the makers wanted him for the role of district attorney Hamilton Burger
, who would be Mason's adversary and thus another villainous role, but Burr persuaded them to let him audition for the lead. Erle Stanley Gardner
, who created the character of Perry Mason in his novels and co-produced the TV show, is said to have seen him and insisted that Burr was Perry Mason. Thus he was transformed from the side of evil to that of good.
Six foot one and with an imposing broad-shouldered presence, Burr gave a striking performance as Mason, the tough-minded attorney who would fight for his clients to the end. The show was incredibly popular, and Burr was voted most popular male TV personality in the first two TV Guide yearly polls, in 1960 and 1961. Burr also won Best Leading Actor Emmys in 1959 and 1960. McGeorge College of Law in Sacramento presented him with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws. The original series ran from 1957 to 1965, but he returned for many specials and TV movies.
Following Perry Mason, Burr went onto further success as the wheelchair
-bound detective Robert Ironside
in the NBC
from 1967 to 1974, felled by an assassin's bullet, but still fighting crime. He won two Golden Globe
nominations for his portrayal of the intensely moral, crusading detective with the piercing stare, and the show's liberal
leanings highlighted many social issues of the time.
After Ironside, Burr appeared in a pilot for another legal series, Mallory: Circumstantial Evidence
(1976), but no further episodes were made, perhaps because he was so instantly familiar he had become typecast. He played a reporter in short-lived series Kingston: Confidential
(1977) and made another pilot The Jordan Chance
in 1978. Like Orson Welles
, he spent much of the early 1980s appearing in advertisements.
But Burr continued to make films, including an appearance in Airplane II: The Sequel, and he reprised his role from Godzilla in the 1984 remake. His last major film was the John Candy comedy Delirious (1991); he also starred in the unregarded Western movie Showdown at Williams Creek the same year.
Throughout his career, Burr was known for his philanthropy, including his visits to troops in the Vietnam War. He also ran a winery, and owned a 3000 acre Fijian island called Naitamba where he ran a farm.
As well as other acting work and a 1993 Ironside TV movie, Burr continued to make Perry Mason specials up until his death from cancer in 1993. He left all his estate to his lover Rob Benevides, and he is buried in Forest Cemetery in his home town of New Westminster, British Columbia.
- Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/, accessed December 27, 2002.
- NBC, "Raymond Burr: Ironside 1969 NBC Press Release", 1969, reproduced at http://www.hadleyburg.demon.co.uk/insd/iniforb.htm, accessed December 27, 2002.
- ScreenARTS Inc, "Raymond Burr", Canadians in the Movies, 2001, http://www.northernstars.ca/actorsabc/burrbio.html, accessed December 27, 2002.
- David Thompson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fourth Edition, Little, Brown, London/Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002.
- TV Museum, "Burr, Raymond", http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/B/htmlB/burrraymond/burrraymond.htm, accessed December 27, 2002.
- 1See: Brian Kelleher and others, "Biography for Raymond Burr", Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com/Bio?Burr,%20Raymond, accessed December 27, 2002.
- 2Details of his third wife taken from: TV Museum, "Burr, Raymond", http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/B/htmlB/burrraymond/burrraymond.htm, accessed December 27, 2002.
- 3David Thompson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fourth Edition, Little, Brown, London/Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2002, p 120.