Barbara Hale, Who Played Perry Mason’s Loyal Secretary, Dies at 94

Barbara Hale and Raymond Burr in 1987

Barbara Hale, a movie actress who found her most famous role on television as Perry Mason’s steadfast secretary Della Street on more than 270 episodes of the Perry Mason series, has died. She was 94.

Barbara Hale died at her home in Sherman Oaks, California, on January 26, 2017, of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Hale was surrounded by family when she died Thursday at her Los Angeles area home, said Jaqueline Stander, an agent for Hale’s son, actor William Katt (The Greatest American Hero, Carrie).

“She was gracious and kind and silly and always fun to be with,” Katt posted on his Facebook page Thursday, calling Hale a wonderful actress and a “treasure as a friend and mother.”

Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois, a daughter of Luther Ezra Hale, a landscape gardener, and his wife Wilma Colvin. She had one sister, Juanita, whom Hale’s younger daughter was named for. The family was of Scots-Irish ancestry.

In 1940, Hale graduated from Rockford High School in Rockford, Illinois, then attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, planning to become an artist. Her performing career began in Chicago, when she started modeling to pay for her education.

Acting career

Film

Barbara Hale started modeling to pay for her education.

Hale moved to Hollywood in 1943, and made her first screen appearances playing small parts (often uncredited). Her first role was in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day. She was under contract to RKO Radio Pictures through the late 1940s.

She appeared in Higher and Higher (1943) with Frank Sinatra and sang with the crooner; played leading lady to Robert Mitchum in West of the Pecos (1945); enjoyed top billing in both Lady Luck (1946) opposite Robert Young, her first “full stardom” and “her fifth A picture”, and The Window (1949) with Arthur Kennedy, and co-starred in Jolson Sings Again (1949), with Larry Parks playing Al Jolson and Hale as Jolson’s wife, Ellen Clark.

Richard Greene and Barbara Hale in Columbia Pictures LORNA DOONE (1951)

She played the top-billed title role in Lorna Doone (1951), co-starred with James Stewart in The Jackpot (1951), with James Cagney in a 1953 drama, A Lion Is in the Streets, and opposite Rock Hudson in 1953’s Seminole. She then appeared in 1955’s The Far Horizons with Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston, also working with some of Hollywood’s best-known leading men of the day.

Television

Hale was considering retirement from acting, when she accepted her best known role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr as the titular character. The show ran from 1957 to 1966, and she reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason television films (1985–95).

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason with Barbara Hale as Della Street star in PERRY MASON Saturdays on the CBS Television Network. (1958)

She co-starred with Joel McCrea in a 1957 western, The Oklahoman, but there were few leading roles thereafter. Hale did have a featured role in the 1970 ensemble film Airport, playing the wife of a jetliner pilot (Dean Martin).

New Season: Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale return in their roles as Perry Mason and Della Street when the popular PERRY MASON series opens its sixth season in a new day and time period Thursday, September 27 8:00PM EDT on the CBS Television Network. The opening episode is titled “The Case of the Bogus Books.” (1962)

Hale’s career became inextricably linked with that of Perry Mason co-star Burr, including her 1971 guest-starring role on his next series, Ironside, in an episode titled “Murder Impromptu,” followed by their 1980s and early ’90s TV movies together.

Her last onscreen appearance was a TV biographical documentary about Burr that aired in 2000.

Radio

Hale’s activity in radio was more limited. She appeared in five episodes of Family Theater (1950–1954) and in one episode each of Lux Radio Theatre (1950), Voice of the Army (1947), and Proudly We Hail (syndicated).

Spokesperson

Barbara Hale also is remembered as a spokesperson for Amana, makers of Radarange microwave ovens, memorably intoning, “If it doesn’t say Amana, it’s not a Radarange.”

Private life and death

Barbara Hale and husband William Katt

In 1945 during the filming of West of the Pecos, Hale met actor Bill Williams. They married June 22, 1946, and were the parents of two daughters, Jodi and Juanita, and a son, actor William Katt. Katt played detective Paul Drake, Jr., with her in several made-for-television Perry Mason movies. She also guest-starred as the mother of Ralph Hinkley (played by Katt) in a 1982 episode of The Greatest American Hero (Episode 29, “Who’s Woo in America”), and appeared as his mother in the movie Big Wednesday (1978).

Bill Williams died of cancer in 1992, after 46 years of marriage. Hale was also a cancer survivor. She became a follower of the Bahá’í Faith.

Accolades

Barbara Hale and Raymond Burr star in PERRY MASON .

Hale was recognized as a Star of Television (with a marker at 1628 Vine Street) on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. She won the Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series in 1959 and was nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role by an Actor or Actress in a Series in 1961.

She was presented one of the Golden Boot Awards in 2001 for her contributions to western cinema.

Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale with William Katt star in PERRY MASON RETURNS on NBC November 15 1987

Barbara Hale in SEMINOLE from Universal International Pictures (1953)

 

 

Perry Mason: The Complete Series


Based on characters created by Erle Stanley Gardner, this long-running legal drama series was guilty of just one thing: being great TV. For nine seasons from 1957-1966, Perry (Raymond Burr) defended seemingly indefensible cases with help from his beautiful secretary Della Street (Barbara Hale) and suave private investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper). The series won three Emmys® and became the template for every US courtroom drama that followed. Collection includes all 271 episodes. 233 hrs, 72 DVDs,
New From: $149.98 USD In Stock

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