(May 21, 1917 - September 12, 1993) Canada - U.S.A.
Raymond Burr (né Raymond William Stacey Burr) gained fame playing mainly bad guys, as the murderer in Hitchcock's Rear Window. He later starred in two successful television series, as the crime-solving lawyer in Perry Mason (1957-66) and as the wheelchair-bound detective in Ironside (1967-75).
Although are list three spouses for Raymond Burr, the actor's friends and relatives are adamant that he was married only once - to Isabella Ward - and that he was childless throughout life. Burr apparently made up and promulgated the stories of his fictitious marriages (to real-life women with which he had acted off-Broadway) and even claimed that he had fathered a son by his first wife. But it was all false; he did all this to hide his homosexuality. He left his $32-million estate solely to his (presumed) lover Rob Benevides.
Before dying from cancer in Sonoma, California, he threw some grand parties to say farewell to many of his friends. He is interred at Fraser Cemetery, New Westminister, British Columbia, Canada.
Raymond Burr, born on May 21, 1917, in New Westminister, British Columbia, Canada, a city near Vancouver. He was the eldest of three children born to Minerva and William Burr. His father ran a hardware store in town; his mother played the organ in church and in movie houses. When Ray was just a baby, his father became a trade agent and traveled to China, taking his family with him. But upon returning to Canada, he and his wife separated. From the age of six, Ray was raised by his mother and his grandparents, who ran a hotel in Vallejo, California. Here he attended the San Rafael Military Academy, aspiring to be a naval officer.
Although his parents later remarried, Burr spent a good part of his adolescence picking up odd jobs to help support his mother and his younger sister and brother. He has said he went hungry many times in his youth. At age thirteen, he was a ranch hand in Roswell, New Mexico. Later, he became a famous loungeroom singer, a traveling photo salesman, a manager of a chain store, a deputy sheriff, an agent for some property his grandfather owned in China, and a fire guard for the Forest Service.
An overweight child, Burr was often the butt of jokes by fellow classmates. In the midst of the Depression he withdrew from the academy, abandoning his military career. For a while, Burr worked as a cattle and sheep rancher, returning to school after his family's financial situation improved.
Though Burr was an avid reader, his schooling was, for the most part, improvised. This included adult education courses at Stanford, Columbia, the University of California and, for a time, Chungking University. The effort finally culminated in a master's degree in psychology.
Although he starred in a church play when he was ten, and haunted the smaller theaters in San Francisco in the early 1930s, Burr's first serious foray into acting came in 1936. Then nineteen, he met film director Anatole Litvak, who arranged for him to work in a summer theater in Toronto. A tour of Great Britain as part of a repertory company soon followed, as did a trip to Australia. Later, he landed a job singing in a nightclub in pre-World War II Paris.
Due to his mother's musical talent, Burr was raised with a taste for the arts. While in his teens he was encouraged to pursue acting. During the late 1930s, he joined the Pasadena Community Playhouse, where he first developed his acting skills. After appearing in a number of local productions, Burr made his way to New York where he made his theatrical debut in the 1940 Broadway play Crazy with the Heat. In 1944, his performance in the period drama Duke in Darkness caught the attention of a Hollywood talent scout who set up a screen test with RKO. The studio saw promise in Burr, and signed him on as a contract player. He made his feature film debut in the comedy Without Reservations (1946), co-starring Claudette Colbert and John Wayne.
While he was touring with the repertory company, he met and married his first wife, an Englishwoman named Annette Sutherland. They had a son, Michael Evan, who was raised by Annette's parents in England. While his wife remained in Europe, Burr returned to New York, where he set out in search of better roles. Producers showed little interest in him, though, and once again he was forced to work odd jobs to support himself.
He finally got a part in the play Duke of Darkness, but because he had been locked out of his hotel (for nonpayment) and couldn't get at his baggage, he was forced to rehearse for two weeks in the same clothes. The play opened, and Burr's reviews were good enough to attract the attention of an agent named Edith Van Cleve. She got him to go to Hollywood. Once on the West Coast, he directed nine shows at the Pasadena Playhouse, but then he returned to Broadway and later played a season on the stage in Denver. He was grateful for the stage work, but his dream was to act in films. He continued to look for movie parts and in doing so, continued to struggle. One drawback was his weight; everyone told him he was just too plump to land any major roles.
After arriving in Hollywood, Burr enjoyed a steady stream of roles in various films noir, often playing the sadistic villain, including Desperate, and Raw Deal. His future seemed to be pre-ordained when he appeared as a relentless prosecuting attorney in A Place in the Sun, with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor. A few years later he landed his most recognizable big screen role as a sociopath in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window, with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.
Highlights of his early career also included roles in Please Murder Me, Secret of Treasure Mountain, and Crime of Passion. He also had a rare lead part as the chief reporter Steve Martin in the American version of Godzilla, King of the Monsters.
Burr eventually found his niche in television when author Erle Stanley Gardner handpicked him to play the fictional defense attorney Perry Mason. From 1957-66, Burr starred in the title role of the courtroom drama. Despite initial unfavorable reviews, audiences hailed the show, and it quickly gained a loyal following of viewers. The CBS series ran for nine seasons, during which Burr earned two Best Actor Emmy Awards. In 1967, he created his second signature title role with another successful TV drama, Ironside (1967-75), in which he played a paraplegic detective.
Then in 1985, Burr returned as the ever-victorious Perry Mason in Perry Mason Returns. The television movie met with success, introducing a whole new generation to the classic character. Shortly after, Burr was contracted to reprise his role in over two dozen Perry Mason TV movies during the '80s and '90s. In 1993, he completed work on his last Perry Mason mystery The Case of the Killer Kiss.
For millions of television viewers Raymond Burr was the quintessential lawyer, whose name became synonymous with American jurisprudence. However, his private life was as enigmatic as the mysteries he solved on the screen. He claimed to have been married three times: to a Scottish actress named Annette Sutherland, who died in a plane crash; to Adrina Laura Morgan, who died of cancer; and to Isabella Ward. In 1947, Burr did in fact wed Ward, while both were drama students at the Pasadena Playhouse (the marriage was annulled three months later). On the other hand, there is little documentation of the other two marriages, and their legitimacy remains questionable.
Toward the end of his life, Burr lived on a vineyard in Sonoma County with his companion and business partner of over 30 years, Robert Benevides. They were rumored to be lovers, and the nature of their close relationship has been the subject of controversy.
In addition to his California residence, Burr maintained a home on a Fiji islands, where he cultivated rare orchids. He was an avid art collector, owning a gallery in Beverly Hills for a short time. Over the years, he was a generous philanthropist and foster parent to over 20 children throughout the world.
Burr died of cancer at his 40-acre ranch in California - he was 76 years old.
Born as Raymond 'William Stacy' Burr, 21 May 1917, in New Westminster, British Columbia, Burr spent most of his early life travelling. While still young, his father moved his family to China, while the elder Burr worked as a trade agent.
When the family returned to Canada, Raymond's parents divorced; his mother then took him to Vallejo, California, where she raised him with the aid of his grandparents. As he got older, Burr began to take jobs to support his mother, younger sister and younger brother. He took jobs as a ranch hand in Roswell, New Mexico; as a deputy sheriff; a photo salesman; and even as a singer in night clubs.
In World War Two, Burr served in the Navy. When in Okinawa, he was shot in the stomach and sent home. Soon after this, in 1946, Burr made his film debut in San Quentin. From there, he went on to act in more than 90 films before landing the role of defense attorney "Perry Mason" (1957) in the series of the same name. Then, in 1993, after a battle with cancer that dated back to his days on "Perry Mason", Burr died on 12 September 1993 at his ranch home.
Sources: © 2000 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved
and biography by Kelleher, Brian
Films and TV:
- San Quentin (1946)
- Code of the West (1947)
- I Love Trouble (1948)
- Sleep My Love (1948)
- Pitfall (1948)
- Raw Deal (1948)
- Bride of Vengeance (1949)
- Red Light (1949)
- Borderline (1950)
- Key to the City (1950)
- Bride of the Gorilla (1951)
- M, FBI Girl (1951)
- The Magic Carpet (1951)
- New Mexico (1951)
- Horizons West (1952)
- Mara Maru (1952)
- Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953)
- Fort Algiers (1953)
- Rear Window (1954)
- Khyber Patrol (1954)
- Passion (1954)
- Thunder Pass (1954)
- A Man Alone (1955)
- Great Day in the Morning (1956)
- Ride the High Iron (1956)
- A Cry in the Night (1956)
- King of the Monsters! (1956)
- Crime of Passion (1957)
- Desire in the Dust (1960)
- P.J. (1968)
- Centennial (TV Miniseries) (1978)
- Out of the Blue (1980)
- Delirious (1991)
- Without Reservations (1946)
- Desperate (1947)
- Walk a Crooked Mile (1948)
- Station West (1948)
- Ruthless (1948)
- Adventures of Don Juan (1948)
- Abandoned (1949)
- Black Magic (1949)
- Love Happy (1950)
- Unmasked (1950)
- The Whip Hand (1951)
- A Place in the Sun (1951)
- His Kind of Woman (1951)
- A Star Shall Rise (1952)
- Meet Danny Wilson (1952)
- Serpent of the Nile (1953)
- The Blue Gardenia (1953)
- The Bandits of Corsica (1953)
- Mannequin für Rio (1954)
- Casanova's Big Night (1954)
- Gorilla at Large (1954)
- You're Never Too Young (1955)
- Count Three and Pray (1955)
- The Brass Legend (1956)
- Secret of Treasure Mountain (1956)
- Please Murder Me (1956)
- Affair in Havana (1957)
- Perry Mason (TV Series) (1957)
- Ironside (TV Series) (1967)
- Tomorrow Never Comes (1978)
- The Return (1980)
- Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)