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Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr

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Also Known As: Raymond William Stacey Burr Died: September 12, 1993
Born: May 21, 1917 Cause of Death: cancer
Birth Place: New Westminster, British Columbia, CA Profession: actor, vintner, art gallery owner, orchid grower

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A commanding, heavy-set player, Raymond Burr first made an impression in vicious roles in the Anthony Mann films noir, "Desperate" (1947) and "Raw Deal" (1948). With his dark hair, prominent eyebrows and stern voice, Burr made an ideal villain. An economical actor, he brought an aura of authority to many of his best roles, whether it be the attorney prosecuting Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" (1951) or the white-haired, methodical murderer Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock's masterful "Rear Window" (1954).During the course of his career, the Canadian-born actor often spun stories of his early life that made good copy but were complete embellishments of the truth. The eldest son of William Burr, a hardware salesman, and his wife Minerva, a pianist, Burr relocated to California in 1923 with his family. His mother had decided to pursue a career as a musician and went to live at a hotel run by her parents. After she divorced Burr's father, Minerva Burr made her living providing musical accompaniment in silent movie theaters. A pudgy child, Burr was often teased by his classmates and he withdrew from the San Rafael Military Academy rather than face the taunts of his contemporaries. Following a...

A commanding, heavy-set player, Raymond Burr first made an impression in vicious roles in the Anthony Mann films noir, "Desperate" (1947) and "Raw Deal" (1948). With his dark hair, prominent eyebrows and stern voice, Burr made an ideal villain. An economical actor, he brought an aura of authority to many of his best roles, whether it be the attorney prosecuting Montgomery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" (1951) or the white-haired, methodical murderer Lars Thorwald in Alfred Hitchcock's masterful "Rear Window" (1954).

During the course of his career, the Canadian-born actor often spun stories of his early life that made good copy but were complete embellishments of the truth. The eldest son of William Burr, a hardware salesman, and his wife Minerva, a pianist, Burr relocated to California in 1923 with his family. His mother had decided to pursue a career as a musician and went to live at a hotel run by her parents. After she divorced Burr's father, Minerva Burr made her living providing musical accompaniment in silent movie theaters. A pudgy child, Burr was often teased by his classmates and he withdrew from the San Rafael Military Academy rather than face the taunts of his contemporaries. Following a stint as a ditch digger, the newly svelte Burr began to hone his craft at the Pasadena Playhouse and eventually landed on Broadway in 1940 in the short-lived play "Crazy with the Heat". He garnered attention in the period drama "Duke in Darkness" (1944) and was spotted by an agent who arranged a screen test.

Burr was put under contract at RKO (where future co-star Barbara Hale was also beginning her career) and he made his film debut in the Claudette Colbert-John Wayne vehicle "Without Reservations" (1946). While he cut a dashing figure, Burr was quick to discern that he was more suited to character roles, so he gained some weight and lent his physically imposing presence to supporting roles as gangsters and cops for most of the remainder of the decade.

When George Stevens cast him as the prosecutor in "A Place in the Sun", Burr had the opportunity to demonstrate his range and authoritative presence in what can be seen as a precursor to his signature television role. He also shone as the wolfish murder victim of Anne Baxter in "The Blue Gardenia" (1953) which was followed by what is perhaps his best feature performance, "Rear Window". With a shock of white hair, heavyset figure and round glasses, he cut a strong figure as the henpecked husband driven to homicide. (Film historians have subsequently made note of the actor's physical resemblance to producer David O Selznick, with whom Hitchcock had previously worked). That same year, he also had a rare lead role as the authoritative reporter (and only non-Japanese actor) in the American release version of "Godzilla" (1956).

The following year, Burr underwent a sea-change which for the remainder of his career typed him completely differently, to the enjoyment of millions of TV fans. Although Efrem Zimbalist Jr and Fred MacMurray were reportedly strong contenders for the part, Burr was tapped to play the crafty attorney "Perry Mason" on the most famous courtroom drama in TV history. With Barbara Hale as his devoted girl Friday, Della Street, William Hopper as his intrepid sidekick and William Talman as the prosecutor who seemingly never won a case, Burr displayed a combination of impassive underplaying and flashy theatrics as he demolished witnesses, sprung surprises and exhaled heavily while patrolling the courtroom. While the legend is that Burr's Mason never lost a case, he did in one episode and the resultant public outcry led to the permanent shelving of that episode. After nine seasons and two Emmy Awards, the actor retired the character and looked for new opportunities.

Many in Hollywood thought Burr was typecast as Mason; even his own agent reportedly told him to consider retiring as no one could envision him as another character. In those days it was rare for an actor to be able to create one signature role, but Burr was fortunate to find a successful follow-up in the persona of "Ironside" (NBC, 1967-75), the wheel-chair bound police chief. The aging star directed his special task force on crime with a more subdued yet still authoritative hand, skillfully suggesting a swallowed rage at his confinement. While he continued to work, he was unable to recapture the magic in subsequent attempts at series TV. Burr continued to appear in prestige TV productions like the NBC miniseries "Centennial" (1978-79) and the occasional feature (e.g., the ill-advised "Godzilla 1985") and lent his unique vocal talents as a narrator for TV specials and documentaries. In 1985, Burr revisited his signature role in "Perry Mason Returns" (for NBC) and went on to headline two dozen more TV-movies. Still feisty, but now white-haired and bearded, he remained a potent force in the courtroom. Just prior to his 1993 death from cancer, he also headlined "The Return of Ironside" (NBC) and had completed filming of what became his swan song, "The Case of the Killer Kiss".

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

3.
 Return Of Ironside, The (1993) Robert T Ironside
8.
 Kootenai Brown (1991)
10.
 Delirious (1991) Carter Hedison
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born in small town in Canada
1923:
Moved to California so mother could pursue career in music; father disliked living there and returned to Canada after parents' divorce; lived with maternal grandparents who owned and operated a hotel in Vallejo
:
During the Depression, worked for government agencies
:
Began acting at the Pasadena Playhouse
1940:
Broadway debut in "Crazy with the Heat"
1944:
Had modest success in the Broadway play "Duke in Darkness"; spotted by agent who signed him and arranged a screen test
1945:
Hired by RKO as a contract player; first met Barbara Hale (date approximate)
1946:
Film debut in "Without Reservations", a comedy starring Claudette Colbert and John Wayne
1951:
Portrayed the prosecuting attorney in "A PLace in the Sun"
:
During the 1950s acted in anthology drama series such as "Playhouse 90", "Climax!", "Counterpoint" and "Ford Television Theater"
1954:
Played perhaps most famous feature film role as the wife killer in Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window"
1956:
Played first leading roles in films in "Please Murder Me", "The Secret of Treasure Mountain" and the US release version of "Godzilla"
1957:
Portrayed a cop investigating a "Crime of Passion"
1957:
Had signature role of the successful defense attorney in the popular CBS courtroom drama "Perry Mason"; won two Emmy Awards
1960:
Last feature film for eight years, "Desire in the Dust"
1965:
Purchased own resort island in Fiji
:
Formed Harbor Productions
:
Played wheelchair-bound chief of detectives Robert T Ironside on the popular NBC drama "Ironside"
1968:
Returned to feature films with a role in "P.J."
1977:
Played editor R B Kingston on the short-lived NBC drama series, "Kingston: Confidential"
1978:
Returned to feature films after a ten-year absence with a role in "Tomorrow Never Comes"
:
Played Herman Bockweiss on the noted 12-part NBC miniseries, "Centennial"
1985:
Reprised the role of Perry Mason in the first of more than two dozen TV-movies, "Perry Mason Returns" (NBC)
1985:
Reprised role in the remake/sequel "Godzilla 1985/Gojira"
:
Hosted the syndicated docudrama series "Trial by Jury", in which court cases were acted out
1991:
Last feature films, "Delirious" and "Kootenai Brown"
1993:
Reprised the role of Robert T Ironside on the TV-movie, "The Return of Ironside"
1993:
Finished location work on the Perry Mason mystery TV-movie, "The Case of the Killer Kiss" one month prior to his death
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

San Rafael Military Academy: San Rafael , California -

Notes

In an effort to protect his privacy, Burr often told stories to the press that were outright fabrications. To wit, he claiimed to have been married three times: to a Scottish actress named Annette Sutherland who died in a plane crash, to Isabella Ward (to whom he was married for three months in 1947) and to Andrina Laura Morgan who died of cancer. Burr's own family disputes the existance of wives number one and three as well as the son Michael who was said to have died in 1953 at age 10. In addition, Burr claimed to have attended Stanford and Columbia universities when he never formally attended college. He also spun the stories that his family lived in China during his early youth (when in fact they didn't leave Canada until 1923) and that he served in the US Navy as an intelligence officer during WWII, was wounded in 1943 and was awarded the Purple Heart. There is no record of any military service for him.

From 1965 until 1985, Burr maintained a home on one of the Fiji Islands, where he ran a successful copra plantation and cultivated rare orchids.

In the 1980s, he established the Raymond Burr Vineyards in Sonoma County, California.

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Isabella Ward. Actor. Appeared together in a play at Pasadena Playhouse; married in 1947; marriage annulled after three months.
wife:
Isabella Ward. Father, Hugh Russell Lloyd.
companion:
Robert Benevides. Actor. Also business associate of Burr's; met in 1955 and remained a couple until Burr's 1993 death.
companion:
Robert Benevides. Clergyman. Pastor of Trinity Church, Davenport, Iowa.
VIEW COMPLETE COMPANION LISTING

Family close complete family listing

father:
William Burr. Hardware salesman. Born c. 1889; married Burr's mother in 1914; abandoned family when they moved to California in 1923; divorced; remarried Minerva Burr in 1955; died at age 96 in 1985.
father:
William Burr. Survived him.
mother:
Minerva Burr. Pianist, music teacher. Born on April 2, 1892; originally from Chicago; moved to Canada with family where she met William Burr whom she married in 1914; persuaded husband to move to California in 1923 so she could pursue a career in music; divorced when husband wanted to return to Canada; remarried former husband in 1955; died of cancer in January 1974 at age 81.
mother:
Minerva Burr. Actor.
sister:
Geraldine Burr Fuller. Younger.
sister:
Geraldine Burr Fuller. Married and divorced a total of three times.
brother:
James Edmond Burr. Younger; deceased.
brother:
James Edmond Burr. Father, John Silkin.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

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