A Short Observation about Meeting the Famous Perry Mason. By Tony Piazza

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Perry Mason was the creation of Erle Stanley Gardner. Gardner was a bestselling author who had a total of 135 million of copies of his books available during the time of his death in the late 1960s. Eighty of his novels and short stories featured Perry Mason, a fictional defense attorney who along with his faithful secretary Della Street and private investigator Paul Drake helped solved murders in which his clients were accused.

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 Author Erle Stanley Gardner

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 Early Perry Mason pocket book

Gardner’s Mason stories were featured on radio and films. On radio his mysteries were serialized in 15 minute segments that were presented in the soap opera format popular at the time. There were six Perry Mason feature films produced between 1935 and 1937. Four of them starred the same actor, WARREN WILLIAM with rotating cast members in the other roles. The final two films featured RICARDO CORTEZ and DONALD WOODS as Mason.

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Early film’s Perry Mason- Warren William

By far, the most famous Perry Mason actor was RAYMOND BURR who played him in the television series that ran on CBS from 1957 until 1966. (Later he would reprise the role for twenty-six television movies (NBC) starting in 1985). They had a marvelous cast on the original show which included, BARBARA HALE as Della Street and WILLIAM HOPPER as Paul Drake. Ms Hale would return later for the television movies.

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Raymond Burr (as Perry Mason)

Raymond Burr had a marvelous sense of humor and a quick wit. To state one example; during the run of the original series a fan approached him insisting to know: “How come you never lose a case?” To which Burr responded straight-faced- “Madam, you only see the cases that I try on Saturdays.”

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Raymond Burr (Mason) and Barbara Hale (Della Street)

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William Hopper (Paul Drake)

I met Raymond Burr after his run with Perry Mason in 1966. He was beginning a new series called “Ironside”.  The show was filming in San Francisco and my father was assigned as liaison to the visiting Universal Studio film unit that was producing the series. I was twelve at the time and had gone down to the location (the S.F. cable car barn) with my mother, aunt, and cousin. I remember my mother telling Raymond Burr how much she enjoyed him as Perry Mason, and he replying in that deep, distinctive voice, that “they were making this new series (“Ironside”) and hoped that she’d enjoy it as much”. I also recall my cousin being tongued-tied as “Ironside” co-star Don Galloway kidded with her. She ended up blushing several shades of (not gray) red throughout it. Everyone in the cast was terrific and there was a great deal of fun and energy on the set. I collected autographs- as most kids my age had done – and which I still possess (see below). One of them was from television’s “Maverick” star, JACK KELLY who was guest-starring on that segment (actually the pilot for the show).

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“Best Wishes Raymond Burr” – Piazza autograph.

Unlike “The Streets of San Francisco” which I would join as an actor/extra/stand-in some years later, “Ironside” was not filmed entirely on location. A few key scenes were shot in San Francisco with the actual cast, but the majority of the action took place either on the Universal backlot or soundstages. Second unit filming in San Francisco was more common in this production, using doubles for the actors, or cars (running shots) or buildings in the city for establishing shots.

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 Don Galloway- Piazza photo.

The following year (during the filming of an episode for the second season) I was on location again, this time at a mansion in the Pacific Heights District. Raymond Burr was as warm, friendly, and jovial as the first time I’d met him. I’d brought the family 8mm camera down and the whole crew performed for our home movies! They were all a great bunch. The producer on the show CY CHERMAK even took charge of our camera and filmed me shaking hands with Raymond Burr and my mom getting a kiss on the cheek.

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Youthful  future author shaking hands with Raymond Burr. My father grinning in the middle.- Piazza Photo

The legacy of any celebrity in the minds of their fans doesn’t always rest with their performances on stage or in front of the camera, but how their personality stands up when they interact with the public. Raymond Burr rates high on my list of truly nice individuals. And no matter if he’s playing a nasty Hitchcock villain, Detective Ironside, or Perry Mason, I cannot help but smile and appreciate the real man who seemed to appreciate people and make them feel welcomed in his presence.

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My mother’s special moment- Piazza Photo.

Trivia: Actor William Hopper (Drake) was the son of gossip columnist HEDDA HOPPER.

                 Barbara Hale’s son, actor WILLIAM KATT (“The Greatest American Hero”) played Paul Drake Jr. in nine of the Perry Mason television movies.

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Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His next novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was released early 2012 and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden.  His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it where fine books are sold, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.

Also: Watch for the new Tom Logan mystery thriller published soon by Amazon!

Due out mid-2013! 

 

 

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12 Responses to “A Short Observation about Meeting the Famous Perry Mason. By Tony Piazza”

  1. Betty Kuhn says:

    Very well written piece. You can tell that the author admires Raymond Burr and the whole cast, as do I.
    Thank you for the memories that this piece evokes. I loved it.

    A big fan of Raymond Burrs.

    Betty Kuhn

    • tonypiazza says:

      Thank you so much, Betty. I enjoy sharing my memories, and really appreciate hearing from readers. Kind words…thank you, again.

  2. I’m always amazed at the smallness of our world. I was production coordinator on the TV show, “CHiPs”. Our executive producer, Cy Chermak, produced “Ironsides” as well, so we got to hear all of the great Ironside stories. Later, after “CHiPs” was cancelled, he went on to exec produce the occasional Perry Mason specials. Raymond Burr was in very bad health at the time. I ran across Barbara Hale one night at a Burbank hospital when we were the only ones in the commissary. She looked tired and I wasn’t sure it was her. I said, “Aren’t you Barbara Hale?” to which she replied with a small smile, “What’s left of her.” We went on to chat a bit and I found her as delightful as another friend, the executive producer of “Invasion of the Spider People” (I think that was the name of it) told me she was when she starred in that little film. So many of my friends were Raymond Burr’s friends, and it struck me one day that I’ve never heard an unkind word about him in all my years in Hollywood. Thanks for your glowing report.

    • tonypiazza says:

      Thank you, Esther for commenting. It is one of the great bonuses of social networking…getting to meet so many people with such fascinating stories to share. I really enjoyed hearing yours.

  3. laura says:

    It’s nice when actors turn out to be nice people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Those old Perry Mason’s are wonderful to watch and it has one of the best theme songs ever.

    • tonypiazza says:

      Hi Laura,

      Agreed. Some of my favorite actors that I’ve worked with, and respected, was those that didn’t speak down to me. It is a talent- not an excuse for deity. Doctors save lives…so do Police, Fire, etc. Soldiers defend our country; Teachers, teach; Scientists solve our problems…Entertainers, simply entertain. Those that I think are terrific keep that perspective. Richard Burton was once asked what motivated him to do a certain role…he said it was the money. I respect that honesty. Thanks again for commenting.

      Tony Piazza

      • James Ostmann says:

        I was an extra in a number of films and an episode of The West Wing, that were shot in the Washington, DC area. Michael Douglas, Russell Crowe, Martin Sheen were quite friendly. Same with Kristin Scott Thomas (Random Hearts). There was one major male star that was gruff and unfriendly but no use mentioning his name. Long days, but quite an experience to observe the art of movie making. Did not have occasion to interact with Robert Redford or Dustin Hoffman (All The Presidents Men)

        There was a scare on the latter – we were in a restaurant near the White House and large lighting assemblies had been rigged in the ceiling, that was cris-crossed with beams. Very hot. We heard a crash and one of those assemblies fell, just grazing Bob Redford. He was ok and the set re-lit. But if that assembly had fallen just inches closer to him, it would have been a horrific injury, if not worse.

        • tonypiazza says:

          Hi James,

          Thanks for sharing your experiences. We have a lot in common. Yes, there was a great deal of waiting around on location. I did a lot of stand-in work which kept me busier than when I was hired solely as an extra, but the usual rule of thumb was ‘hurry up and wait.’ My father worked with Robert Redford on “The Candidate.” He was seen on screen as police officer going down the hall with him at The Cow Palace auditorium. I worked with Sheen on a television movie called “That Certain Summer.” Hal Holbrook was also in that one, and played again in “Magnum Force”…a film where I had a bit speaking part. Thanks again for commenting. I appreciate your interest.

  4. Wynnie Plocher says:

    Tony Piazza,

    Thank you for your nice article about Raymond Burr and Perry Mason. I am a huge fan of both. I continue to watch the “reruns” of Perry Mason on a cable channel called “ME TV” and match them up using my episode guide from “The Perry Mason TV How Book” by Brian Kelleher and Dianna Merrill. My husband and I often remark about the actors who continue to appear as different characters in the Perry Mason episodes, and what a great job the producers and writers did to make that show still good TV today. (Did you appear in any Perry Mason episodes?)
    Last night we watched an episode which originally aired 2/27/66 and is noted as the only episode filmed in color. Of course we later had the TV movies of the post “ironside” years which are all filmed in color. My sister was also a huge fan and we watched reruns in the early 90′s also. When Raymond Burr passed away, I brought her flowers and we had our own remembrance time, although neither of us had ever met Mr. Burr in person.

    • tonypiazza says:

      Hi Wynnie,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. They certainly do not have stories like these on television anymore. I do not know about you, but I’m disgusted with the trend of so-called “reality T.V.” Being once in the industry I know exactly what it’s all about…saving money. It is cheaper to produce these shows because you don’t have to buy properties, or hire writers. Entertainment on television has reached its’ lowest denominator. But enough of my ravings… Perry Mason was a great show- it lasted nine seasons. And as they say, they don’t make them like they used to. Regarding being in one…no, I entered the industry in the 1970s. I worked on “The Streets of San Francisco” with a great friend and actor, Karl Malden.

      Please keep following my blogs.

      Thank you,
      Tony Piazza

  5. Susan Clark says:

    I am more of an “Ironside” fan, but would have loved to have met Raymond Burr, as you did. Your story helps confirm my impressions of what a kind person he seemed to be. He showed a range of acting, particularly on “Ironside” that made his character believable. I watched “Ironside” as a teenager and young adult, but I did not have as much an appreciation of Raymond Burr’s acting ability and the relationships of the characters as a younger person. Only now I have gained an admiration for Raymond Burr in the last six months watching the episodes all over again. It was fitting that he gathered all of his co-stars from “Ironside” together for the movie in 1993.

    • tonypiazza says:

      Hi Susan. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I discovered Raymond Burr through “Ironside”, initially because my dad worked on the show and I got to meet and appreciate Raymond Burr. Everyone on that show was terrific.I have some home movies to prove what clowns they were…great fun! Incidentally,I had a crush on Barbara Anderson. My mother was a great fan of “Perry Mason.” I was too young to appreciate that show at the time. It was only until recently, first through some early “Mason” films starring Warren William, then the Erle Stanley Gardner books, and finally the series- which I was surprised to find dramatized many of Stanley’s stories- that I truly became a “Perry Mason” fan as well. Writing my own mystery books, I really appreciate what went into the fine plotting of Gardner’s stories…and he being a lawyer himself, added some interesting twists. Thank you again for commenting…and I hope you take some time to explore my other stories on this blog site as well.

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