Barbara Hale, the last remaining main cast member from the classic 1950s-60s Perry Mason television show passed away on January 26, 2017, at the age of 94. Perry Mason has nearly always been a part of my life. As a little kid, it creeped me out because of the murders and the iconic theme song. As I got older, I found I liked the courtroom stuff. And Barbara Hale’s Della. I really liked Della.
Barbara Hale was Emmy nominated twice for her role as Della Street in Perry Mason, and in 1959, she finally took home the award. She was more than Mason’s secretary but never, that we viewers ever saw, his love interest. She helped with his cases, sometimes discrediting witnesses, or maybe calming down hysterical clients. Perry’s private investigator Paul Drake’s usual greeting to her as he entered the office, “Hi, beautiful,” and her smile back, “Hi, Paul!” This is the role Ms. Hale was most identified with, and she played it for nearly forty years. Something about her struck me. The eyes, her dark hair – always immaculately styled, the slightly husky voice, and that wardrobe, always looking great in whatever she wore.
Through the years, at certain times, I planned my day around watching the Perry Mason reruns. For years, they ran at 12 noon on a local TV station. As perennial swing shift workers, my roommate buddy and I watched Perry Mason while we ate breakfast. Many times, we discussed the awesomeness of Ms. Hale. I’ve always made a point to know when the show is on. Even now, I catch late night episodes often times during the week (METV cable channel).
The thing is though, since Hale is so identified with her Della Street role, many don’t realize that she was a genuine Hollywood starlet and war time pin-up girl that appeared in over fifty motion pictures, co-starring with top-billed actors. Through the years, with the help of cable and particularly Tuner Classic Movies, I was able to see many of those late 1940s, early ’50s films she made prior to her Della Street role. The variety of the roles, mostly very different from Della, showed an actress that could do a whole lot more than she ever was tasked to do on Perry Mason. As a twenty-two-year-old, she was featured in two of the 1940s The Falcon pictures, one as the rambunctious daughter of a Texas tycoon. Another notable role was in The Boy with Green Hair co-starring a young Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap). She was in some comedies and also westerns, and in fact met her husband, actor Bill Williams, while filming one of those.
My favorite of her earlier roles is a film-noir The Window in which she plays a struggling, working-class wife and mother with a habitually fibbing nine-year-old son. The son, out on the fire escape at night to get out of a sweltering summer heated apartment, witnesses a murder. Then, because of the fibs, no one believes him, except of course, the murderer. The role is so different from the stylish Della. Barbara’s character has the burden of the world on her shoulders. Trouble with the husband, trouble with the kid, no money, and now a murderer lurking about. It was a great flick and she’s excellent in it. I can’t name all of her films, but I’ve made an effort to see them, if only because she’s in them.
A few years back, I was lucky enough to met her son (with Bill Williams), William Katt, the star of the 1980s hit TV show, Greatest American Hero, at a local comic-con. He also played Paul Drake Jr. on some of the Perry Mason TV movies in the late ’80s, early ’90s. I was happy to meet him but, not because I was a fan of his show. I knew he was Barbara’s kid and babbled on and on about his mother. I’m sure he thought I was an idiot but, he was very nice about it. Maybe that happened to him on a regular basis. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
RIP, Barbara. Thanks for all the years of TV and movie enjoyment.
*Barbara Hale courtesy of Google Images.
Richard Spychalski, the former owner of Spy Comics & Cards in Federal Way, WA, is currently an online comic, graphic novel, and collectibles seller. He thought he could retire but, he was wrong. His interest in film and television stem from years and years in front of the tube as well as an off and on 10+ year career as a theater manager for the Regal theater chain. He loves his cable and DVR. He feeds squirrels, birds, a bunch of stray cats and two possums.