People often forget that actors who achieved fame on early television were once movie stars.
Think Lucille Ball. Yes, Barbara Hale was an above the title star who worked opposite people like James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Robert Young and Charlton Heston.
Yet most people only remember her portraying legal secretary Della Street opposite Raymond Burr in Perry Mason (See above.) You remember that hour-long series, of course. It was based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s stories about a crime-solving criminal lawyer (the title character portrayed memorably by Burr).
The show was phenomenally popular, running for nine seasons on CBS (from 1957 to 1966), and then for decades in syndication. Hale was also on hand as Della in a series of telemovies titled Perry Mason Returns, which spanned a decade beginning in 1985. She became for the general public the personification of her Della Street character.
The Perry Mason series is one of the most enduring in tv history, providing Hale an audience many times larger than those of her movies — combined.
She came to the tv series at a relatively advanced age for a leading engenue — a ripe old 35. (She was born in Illinois in 1922, and died just two years ago.) She was signed by RKO Pictures in 1943, and a series of small supporting performances began.
Hale’s first credited role was in 1943’s Higher and Higher, a musical vehicle for Sinatra. She even got to vocalize a bit with the young master. (see photos below.)
Hale played opposite Young in 1946’s Lady Luck, portraying an upright Los Angeles bookstore manager who finds herself hitched to an inveterate gambler. The romcom was a light, useful vehicle for Barbara. (See below.)
With Stewart, Hale appeared the 1951 comedy The Jackpot…..
and with Heston in the 1955’s western The Far Horizons.
From 1957 on, Perry Mason occupied most of Hale’s work schedule although she did appear in other titles not related to the series. It should also be noted that Burr, too, was an experienced movie actor (often a go-to villain) before becoming a household name via Perry Mason. His film noir work alone is very much worth remembering. (As a whackoo private eye, he hectors Lizabeth Scott below in 1948’s Pitfall.)
And let’s not forget that William Talman, who played the district attorney and Mason’s weekly courtroom opponent, had logged a solid roster of movie credits by he time he arrived in Perry Mason. Check him out as a deranged killer in director Ida Lupino’s superb 1953 drama, The Hitch-Hiker; see below.)