Barbara Hale


Actor
Barbara Hale

About

Birth Place
DeKalb, Illinois, USA
Born
April 18, 1922
Died
January 26, 2017

Biography

To her fans, Barbara Hale seemed born to play the role of Della Street, savvy and streetwise secretary of Raymond Burr's indefatigable public defender "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1966), but she nearly walked away from the opportunity. Having arrived in Hollywood during World War II, the Illinois native was put to work in bit parts and as a pin-up for home studio RKO. Just as she began to me...

Photos & Videos

7th Cavalry - Publicity Stills
7th Cavalry - Scene Stills
The Window - Lobby Card Set

Family & Companions

Bill Williams
Husband
Actor.

Biography

To her fans, Barbara Hale seemed born to play the role of Della Street, savvy and streetwise secretary of Raymond Burr's indefatigable public defender "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1966), but she nearly walked away from the opportunity. Having arrived in Hollywood during World War II, the Illinois native was put to work in bit parts and as a pin-up for home studio RKO. Just as she began to merit better roles - in Joseph Losey's pacifist parable "The Boy with the Green Hair" (1947) and the nifty noir "The Window" (1949) - her contract expired. Floating to Columbia, Hale matured as a leading lady opposite Jimmy Stewart in "The Jackpot" (1951) and James Cagney in "A Lion is in the Streets" (1953) but marriage and motherhood prompted the actress to seek out short-term television work, which kept her closer to home. A shot as a regular on "Perry Mason" failed to spark Hale's interest until she learned her co-star would be Raymond Burr, an old friend from her days at RKO. Burr and Hale weathered nine seasons of the highly-rated courtroom drama and remained lifelong friends, reuniting 20 years after the cancellation of the original series for a run of successful telefilm follow-ups, which found Perry and Della slowed by age but unwavering in their shared devotion to the law. Widowed in 1992 and mourning the loss of Burr the following year, Hale retired in 1995, content in her legacy as a consummate character actress and the definitive Della Street. Barbara Hale died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on January 26, 2017. She was 94.

Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, IL on April 18, 1922. The younger of two daughters of Luther Hale, a horticulturist, and the former Wilma Colvin, Hale relocated as a child with her family to nearby Rockford, where she ultimately attended Rockford High School and was voted May Queen prior to her graduation in 1940. Encouraged by her mother, Hale initially pursued a career as an artist and studied painting at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. To offset her tuition, Hale did some modeling on the side, including a stint working for the creators of the comic strip Ramblin' Bill. It was her work as a fashion model that attracted the attention of Hollywood talent scouts. Offered a tryout for RKO Radio Pictures, Hale traveled to Los Angeles by train, where she was immediately pressed into service on the set of Gordon Douglas' "Gildersleeves' Bad Day" (1943), replacing an extra for a cocktail party scene. An initial six-month tryout led to a long-term contract with the studio, which groomed Hale and other starlets with a roster of voice, singing, dance, and horseback riding lessons.

On the RKO payroll, Hale appeared in eight more features in 1943 alone. Often little more than an attractive extra, she popped up in "Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event" (1943), "Gildersleeve on Broadway" (1943) and "The Seventh Victim" (1943) before bigger and better parts were offered her. She played her first significant film role, a debutante, in the musical "Higher and Higher" (1943), which featured crooner Frank Sinatra in his motion picture debut. While working on "West of the Pecos" (1944), Hale met fellow contract player Bill Williams, and the two were married in 1946. Hale went on to star with Tom Neal in "The First Yank in Tokyo" (1945), playing an army nurse killed in World War II whose grieving lover undergoes plastic surgery to make him appear Asian so that he may extract war secrets from Japanese prisoners of war. Hale had a prominent role as a school teacher whose classroom anxiously admits a war orphan with a distinctive grooming problem in Joseph Losey's pacifist parable "The Boy with the Green Hair" (1948), opposite Robert Ryan and Dean Stockwell.

Hale's final films under her RKO contract were a pair of crime thrillers. "The Clay Pigeon" (1949) paired the actress with off-screen husband Williams in the tale of a war widow who helps to exonerate an amnesiac soldier of a murder charge while "The Window" (1949) cast Hale and Arthur Kennedy as the disbelieving parents of underage homicide witness Bobby Driscoll. Finished at her home studio, Hale answered the call of Columbia Pictures, where producer Sidney Buchman was seeking a fresh face to appear opposite Larry Parks in "The Jolson Story" (1946) sequel, "Jolson Sings Again" (1949). Signing a seven-year contract with Columbia, Hale settled into a comfortable Hollywood lifestyle, raising three children with Williams in the affluent community of Bel Air. While never attaining the status of an A-list actress, Hale was the star of dozens of magazine advertisements, where she hawked such needful consumer items as Lux soap flakes, Sunnybrook margarine and Chesterfield cigarettes. Hale did top-bill Columbia's "Emergency Wedding" (1950), as a divorcée who learns en route to her second marriage that she is pregnant by her ex-husband.

Seconded to Jimmy Stewart in 20th Century Fox's tax comedy "The Jackpot" (1950) and to James Cagney in the Warner Brothers political drama "A Lion is in the Streets" (1953), Hale again received top billing as "Lorna Doone" (1951), Phil Karlson's adaptation of the R. D. Blackmore novel released by Columbia. With a peroxide makeover, she was a mob chanteuse who falls for racket-busting hero Gene Barry in William Castle's "The Houston Story" (1956). Preferring home life to limelight, Hale sought work in television, with its shorter commute and tighter shooting schedules. When she was offered a recurring role in a weekly courtroom drama based on the novels of mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner, Hale nearly turned it down. until the star of the show proved to be Raymond Burr, an old friend from RKO. Initially, "Perry Mason" (CBS, 1957-1966) was to run just 18 episodes, but the popularity of the series, in which Hale played public defender Mason's loyal secretary Della Street, kept the show afloat for a decade. Though the plots were standard, the mutual affection of Burr and Hale was the lure for loyal viewers.

After the cancelation of "Perry Mason," Hale limited her schedule to projects with her actor husband, though she flew solo for a bit in Universal's all-star "Airport" (1969) and a 1971 episode of Raymond Burr's "Ironside" (NBC, 1967-1975), in which she played a murder suspect in a case set at an improv comedy club. Nostalgia was the impetus for the 50-ish Hale's casting as the mature heroine of "The Giant Spider Invasion" (1975), a grade-Z monster romp that also featured Williams, Alan Hale, Jr., and former Hollywood heavy Steve Brodie. Hale played the mother of real-life son William Katt in John Milius' "Big Wednesday" (1978) and guested in a 1982 episode of Katt's superhero series, "The Greatest American Hero" (ABC, 1981-83). Despite a broken hip, she reunited with Burr for the reunion telefilm "Perry Mason Returns" (1985) and reprised the role of Della Street for 28 follow-ups, three made after Burr's death in 1993. After completing her work on "A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester" (1995), opposite Burr surrogate Hal Holbrook, the widowed, 73-year-old Hale slipped back into a well-earned retirement. Barbara Hale died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on January 26, 2017. She was 94.

by Richard Harland Smith

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester (1995)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Grimacing Governor (1994)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Lethal Lifestyle (1994)
Perry Mason: Case of the Skin Deep Scandal (1993)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Killer Kiss (1993)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Telltale Talk Show Host (1993)
A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Wicked Wives (1993)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Fatal Framing (1992)
Perry Mason: Case of the Heartbroken Bride (1992)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Reckless Romeo (1992)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Glass Coffin (1991)
Perry Mason: Case of the Fatal Fashion (1991)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Ruthless Reporter (1991)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Maligned Mobster (1991)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer (1990)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Poisoned Pen (1990)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Defiant Daughter (1990)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Desperate Deception (1990)
Perry Mason: Case of the Musical Murder (1989)
Perry Mason: The Case of the All-Star Assassin (1989)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Lethal Lesson (1989)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Lady in the Lake (1988)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Avenging Ace (1988)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam (1987)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Lost Love (1987)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Scandalous Scoundrel (1987)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Notorious Nun (1986)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Shooting Star (1986)
Perry Mason Returns (1985)
Big Wednesday (1978)
The Giant Spider Invasion (1975)
Airport (1970)
Sarah Demerest
The Red, White and Black (1970)
Mrs. Grierson
Buckskin (1968)
Sarah Cody
Desert Hell (1958)
Celie Edwards
The Oklahoman (1957)
Anne [Barnes]
Slim Carter (1957)
Allie Hanneman
7th Cavalry (1956)
Martha Kellogg
The Houston Story (1956)
Zoe Crane
The Far Horizons (1955)
Julia Hancock
Unchained (1955)
Mary Davitt
Seminole (1953)
Revere [Muldoon]
A Lion Is in the Streets (1953)
Verity Wade Martin
Last of the Comanches (1953)
Julia Lanning
The Lone Hand (1953)
Sarah Jane Skaggs
The First Time (1952)
Betsey Bennet
Lorna Doone (1951)
Lorna Doone
Jolson Sings Again (1950)
Ellen Clark
The Jackpot (1950)
Amy Lawrence
Emergency Wedding (1950)
Dr. Helen Hunt
And Baby Makes Three (1949)
Jacqueline Walsh
The Clay Pigeon (1949)
Martha Gregory
The Window (1949)
Mary Woodry
The Boy with Green Hair (1948)
Miss Brand
A Likely Story (1947)
Vickie [North]
Lady Luck (1946)
Mary [Audrey Scott]
West of the Pecos (1945)
Rill Lambeth
First Yank into Tokyo (1945)
Abby Drake
Heavenly Days (1944)
Angie
The Falcon in Hollywood (1944)
Peggy Callahan
Government Girl (1944)
Goin' to Town (1944)
Sally
The Falcon Out West (1944)
Marion Colby
Around the World (1944)
Barbara
Gildersleeve's Bad Day (1943)
Higher and Higher (1943)
Catherine Keating
The Iron Major (1943)
The Seventh Victim (1943)
Young lover
Mexican Spitfire's Blessed Event (1943)
Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943)
Stocking clerk

Cast (Special)

The Defense Rests: A Tribute to Raymond Burr (1993)
Host
The Case of the Courtroom Legend (1989)
Whatever Became Of...? (1981)
Meet the Governor (1955)
June Waters; Clem'S Wife

Life Events

1943

Feature debut, "Higher and Higher"

1944

First starring role in a feature, "The Falcon in Hollywood"

1951

TV debut as a guest performer, "Schlitz Playhouse of Stars"

1955

Appeared in the special, "Meet the Governor"

1957

Featured in the long-running series, "Perry Mason," as his secretary, Della Street

1978

Last appearance in a feature, "Big Wednesday"

1983

Credited as a song performer (hymns), in the feature, "My Brother's Wedding"

1995

Final on screen credit as Della in "A Perry Mason Mystery: The Case of the Jealous Jokester"

Photo Collections

7th Cavalry - Publicity Stills
7th Cavalry - Publicity Stills
7th Cavalry - Scene Stills
7th Cavalry - Scene Stills
The Window - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from RKO's The Window (1949). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Houston Story - Lobby Card Set
Here is a set of Lobby Cards from Columbia Pictures' The Houston Story (1955), starring Gene Barry. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Giant Spider Invasion - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Giant Spider Invasion (1975). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
First Yank Into Tokyo - Movie Poster
Here is an original release movie poster from RKO's First Yank Into Tokyo (1945), starring Tom Neal. This is an Insert poster, measuring 14 x 36 inches.

Videos

Movie Clip

Gildersleeve's Bad Day (1943) - I'm No Groundhog, Brother! Rapid exposition, Otis (Dink Trout) is serving summons and arrives at the Gildersleeve’s house where Margie (Nancy Gates) and the gals (Barbara Hale et al) are fundraising, while Birdie (Lillian Randolph) serves and the title character (Harold Peary) and Leroy (Freddie Mercer) are busy in the basement (again!) in RKO’s second feature in the series, GIldersleeve’s Bad Day, 1943.
Clay Pigeon, The (1949) - Only Man In The Navy As TCM’s Eddie Muller has noted, just about all viewers would have known that Bill Williams (as Jim, the partial-amnesiac hospital-escapee and suspected traitor sailor) and Barbara Hale (as Martha), who meet here, were husband and wife off screen; good thing and well-played by director Richard Fleischer, in The Clay Pigeon, 1949.
Clay Pigeon, The (1949) - A Shock Of Some Sort The two goons, motives unknown, have just run fugitive amnesiac sailor Jim (Bill Williams) and Martha (Barbara Hale), his hostage, and the widow of the fellow POW who’s death he’s suspected of causing, off the road, and ensuing events incline her to reconsider his story, in The Clay Pigeon, 1949.
Window, The (1949) - You Never Mean Any Harm Only child Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) with parents (Arthur Kennedy, Barbara Hale), when the landlord shows up acting on a rumor the kid spread earlier in the day, confirming the boy does have a problem with confabulating, in The Window, 1949, from the Cornell Woolrich story The Boy Cried Murder.
Window, The (1949) - You've Had A Bad Dream Camped out on the fire escape where it's cooler, one floor above his family's apartment, Tommy (Bobby Driscoll) sees the Kellersons (Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman) commit the crime, his mom (Barbara Hale) not buying it, in The Window, 1949.
Airport (1970) - I'm His Disaster Insurance Barbara Hale is the sister of airport manager Bakersfield (Burt Lancaster), who doesn’t like his playboy brother-in-law pilot Demerest (Dean Martin), whom she’s just dropped off, and who scampers out to see his stewardess girlfriend Gwen (Jacqueline Bisset), in the disaster-melodrama hit Airport, 1970.
Lion Is In The Streets, A - High Type College People Kids rushing out of the rain into their bayou schoolhouse, new teacher Verity Wade (Barbara Hale) herding, when local peddler Hank (James Cagney) arrives, opening scenes in director Raoul Walsh's A Lion Is In The Streets, 1953, loosely based on the life of Louisiana governor Huey P. Long.
Lion Is In The Streets, A - Right Pretty Weights Complex doings, Huey Long-like Louisiana lawyer Hank Martin (James Cagney) is undeterred by the arrival of cotton planter Castleberry (Larry Keating), as he goes through with an audacious scam to benefit the farmers he represents, in A Lion Is In The Streets, 1953, directed by Raoul Walsh.
Houston Story, The - Put the Blame on Mame Barbara Hale (best known as "Della Street" on Perry Mason, here as singer "Zoe") does Rita Hayworth's famous number "Put the Blame on Mame" by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher in The Houston Story, 1956.
Houston Story, The - Birthmark Aspiring petroleum thief Duncan (Gene Barry) delivers vengeance for a friend to singer Zoe (Barbara Hale) then tangles with her racketeer boyfriend (Paul Richards) in William Castle's underworld drama The Houston Story, 1956.
Giant Spider Invasion, The - Spider Vs. Terry Lots happening as spiders attack scantily-clad Terry (Diane Lee Hart) while scientists Barbara Hale and Steve Brodie hunt other spiders and Davey (Steve's son Kevin) attempts rescue in The Giant Spider Invasion, 1975.
Giant Spider Invasion, The - Physics Sheriff Jones (Alan Hale Jr.) is having a laugh at the expense of doctors Langer (Barbara Hale) and Vance (Steve Brodie) at the local hangout in The Giant Spider Invasion, 1975.

Trailer

Family

William Katt
Son
Actor.

Companions

Bill Williams
Husband
Actor.

Bibliography