11 things you might not know about Raymond Burr
Top image: AP Photo
Raymond Burr is synonymous with Perry Mason. Yet the Canadian-born actor was far more than television's greatest defense lawyer. Of course, he played the titular wheelchair-bound police consultant on Ironside, too. Early in his film career, he was a natural in film noirs. Beyond the screen, Burr was a horticulturist, an oenophile and a seashell collector.
Burr's fascinating biography was filled with fabrication and speculation, as he and his publicists obscured his private life. Here are things you might not know about Raymond Burr.
He starred in the radio program 'Fort Laramie' and read his lines from a wheelchair.
Gifted with a rich, resonating voice, Burr naturally found work in radio. In the 1956 program Fort Laramie, Burr starred as Cavalry Cpt. Lee Quince. In a foreshadowing of his Ironside role, he had to record much of his lines while confined to a wheelchair, after injuring his leg during the filming of Crime of Passion.
He was considered for the role of Marshal Matt Dillon.
Though his roots were in noir, he could have been a Western star, and not just on the radio. Burr was up for the lead role of Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, though he was deemed too overweight for the role, as was William Conrad, the man who played the Marshal on the radio. Producer-director Charles Marquis Warren was reported to have proclaimed, "When he stood up, his chair stood up with him."
He was asked to lose weight for the role of Perry Mason.
Thankfully, the creators of Perry Mason found the right man for the role. Though the 40-year-old's weight would again be an issue with producers. Burr beat out around 50 actors who auditioned for the gig, according to the book Raymond Burr: A Film, Radio and Television Biography. One catch: They made him take a crash diet, dropping his weight to 210 pounds.
He was in a Godzilla movie, but never interacted with the Japanese actors.
The arrival of Godzilla in 1954 shook the film industry. In 1956, Jewell Enterprises took the monster movie and re-edited it for American audiences. Burr was cast as an American reporter, and footage of him was deftly inserted into the original to make it seem as if he were interacting with the other actors, who had completed their work two years prior. It was rumored that all his scenes were filmed in one day, but that seems to have been debunked, as his work likely was shot over the course of six days.
Image: Toho Company
He portrayed Perry Mason in four different decades.
Just how popular was Perry Mason? After the series' original run from 1957–66, Burr returned to the role for a string of 30 TV movies that aired from 1985–95. Burr headlined 27 of them, up until his death in 1993. The character was around in the 1970s, too, in the flop series The New Perry Mason, with Monte Markham playing the ace lawyer.
He was the original host of 'Unsolved Mysteries.'
Robert Stack, sporting his trench coat, is well remembered as the host of Unsolved Mysteries. He was not the first choice, however. On January 20, 1987, he hosted the NBC special that became the pilot for the series, though his services would prove to be too costly for the network to keep him on as host.
He made wine.
Raymond Burr Vineyards are located in Dry Creek County, California. The operation started in 1986 with the planting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Portuguese grapes.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Risberg
His show 'Ironside' featured the first synthesizer-based TV theme.
Legendary producer Quincy Jones composed the killer theme to the 1967 crime series, about a consultant to the SFPD who had been paralyzed from the waist down by a bullet. If you're unfamiliar, you might recognize the siren-like synthesizers from the Kill Bill movies. Jones later included a longer version of the tune on his 1971 album Smackwater Jack.
He lived on a small island in Fiji.
Looking for privacy? You'll find it on the tiny island of Naitaba, Fiji. Burr and his partner raised coconuts and cattle on the Pacific getaway.
Image: Google Maps
He grew orchids and named a hybrid after his 'Perry Mason' costar.
Another of Burr's passions was flowers. He was a skilled grower of orchids, and with his partner, Robert Benevides, he hybridized approximately 1500 varieties. One hybrid was named for Barbara Hale, the actress who played Perry Mason's loyal secretary, Della Street.
His partner was an actor, too.
Benevides had experience on television, as well. He landed a handful of guest roles on shows such as The Loretta Young Show and West Point. His best-known performance is perhaps the Outer Limits episode "O.B.I.T." He is the military man choked to death by an eerie creature as he monitors the Outer Band Individuated Teletracer.
Image: The Outer Limits / MGM Home Entertainment