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General information  

  • Real name : Raymond William Stacey Burr
  • Place of birth : New Westminster
  • Date of birth : 21/05/1917
  • Place of death : Sonoma
  • Date of death : 12/12/1993

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  • Burr Raymond

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Raymond Burr (1917)

Raymond William Stacey Burr

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  Summary  

Raymond William Stacey Burr (May 21, 1917 – September 12, 1993) was a Canadian actor, primarily known for his title roles in the television dramas Perry Mason and Ironside. His early acting career included roles on Broadway, radio, television and in film, usually as the villain. He won two Emmy Awards in 1959 and 1961 for the role of Perry Mason, which he played for nine seasons between 1957 and 1966. His second hit series, Ironside, earned him six Emmy nominations, and two Golden Globe nominations.
He is also widely known for his role as Steve Martin in both Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and Godzilla 1985.

In addition to acting, Burr owned an orchid business and had begun to grow a vineyard. He was a collector of wines and art, and was very fond of cooking.

After his death from cancer in 1993, Burr's personal life came into question as details of his known biography appeared to be unverifiable.

In 1996, Raymond Burr was ranked #44 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

  Biography  

 early life
Burr was born Raymond William Stacey Burr in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada to William Johnston Burr (1889–1985), an Irish hardware salesman, and his wife Minerva (née Smith, 1892–1974), a concert pianist and music teacher, who was of English and Scottish descent. After his parents divorced, Burr moved to Vallejo, California with his mother and younger siblings, Geraldine and James Edmond. He attended a military academy for a while and graduated from Berkeley High School.

In later years, Burr freely invented stories of a happy childhood. He told the Modesto Bee in 1986, for example, that when he was twelve and a half years old, his mother sent him to New Mexico for a year to work as a ranch hand. He was already his full adult height and rather large and "had fallen in with a group of college-aged kids who didn't realize how young Raymond was, and they let him tag along with them in activities and situations far too sophisticated for him to handle." He developed a passion for growing things and, while still a teenager, joined the Civilian Conservation Corps for a year. Throughout his teenage years he had some acting work, making his stage debut at age 12 with a Vancouver stock company.

Burr may have served in the Coast Guard, but never in the United States Navy as he and his publicists later claimed. Nor was he seriously wounded in the stomach during the Battle of Okinawa in the latter stages of World War II. Other invented biographical details that were made include years of college education at a variety of institutions, world travel, an acting tour of the United Kingdom, and success in high school athletics. Such claims were accepted as fact by the press during his lifetime and by his first biographer.

 early career
In 1937, Burr began his acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1941, he landed his first Broadway role in Crazy with the Heat. He became a contract player at RKO studio, playing a film noir villain in Raw Deal .

Burr appeared in over 60 movies between 1946 and 1957. In 1976, Richard Schickel cited his performance in Pitfall as a prototype of film noir in contrast with the appealing television characters for which Burr later became famous. He received favorable notice for his role as an aggressive prosecutor in A Place in the Sun , co-starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelly Winters. Perhaps his best-known film role of the period was that of a suspected murderer in the Alfred Hitchcock classic Rear Window , starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. In 1956, he played the part of reporter Steve Martin in Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.

Burr emerged as a prolific television character actor in the early-to-mid 1950s. He made his guest-starring television debut on an episode of The Amazing Mr. Malone. This part led to other roles in such programs as Dragnet, Chesterfield Sound Off Time, Four Star Playhouse, Mr. & Mrs. North, Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, The Ford Television Theatre and Lux Video Theatre.

During this time, Burr's distinctive voice could also be heard on network radio, appearing alongside Jack Webb in the short-lived Pat Novak for Hire on ABC radio, as well as in early episodes of NBC's Dragnet. He also made guest appearances on other Los Angeles-based shows, such as Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and landed a starring role in CBS's Fort Laramie , which depicted 19th-century life at old Fort Laramie. One year later, Burr became a television star as Perry Mason.

 other work
In 1973, Burr starred in one-hour television drama, Portrait: A Man Whose Name Was John. He portrayed Archbishop Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, as he tried to prevent the forced return of Jewish children from Istanbul to Nazi Germany.

Burr co-starred in such TV films as Eischied: Only The Pretty Girls Die and Disaster On The Coastliner , The Curse of King Tut's Tomb and The Night the City Screamed , and Peter and Paul . He also had a supporting role in Dennis Hopper's controversial film Out of the Blue and spoofed his Perry Mason image in Airplane II: The Sequel .

Burr reprised his 1956 role in Godzilla, King of the Monsters! in Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn. The film won Burr a nomination for a Razzie Award for Worst Supporting Actor. Burr delivered the film's closing lines: "For now, Godzilla - that strangely innocent and tragic monster - has gone to earth. Whether he returns or not, or is never again seen by human eyes, the things he has taught us remain."

Burr also worked as media spokesman for the now-defunct British Columbia-based real estate company Block Bros. in TV, radio, and print ads during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1983, he made a rare stage appearance when he starred in the thriller Underground at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto and after a UK tour, at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London.

On January 20, 1987, he hosted the television special that later served as the pilot for the long-running series Unsolved Mysteries.

 personal life
Burr married actress Isabella ("Bella") Ward on January 10, 1949. They lived together for less than a year and divorced after four years. Neither remarried. At various times in his career, Burr or his managers offered biographical details that appear spurious or unverifiable. These include marriage to Scottish actress Annette Sutherland, supposedly killed in the same plane crash as Leslie Howard. A son, Michael Evan, was said to have resulted from another invented marriage to Laura Andrina Morgan. Burr provided the only evidence of the boy's existence and death from leukemia at age 10. As late as 1991, Burr told Parade magazine that when he realized his son was dying, he took him on a one-year tour of the United States. He said, "Before my boy left, before his time was gone, I wanted him to see the beauty of his country and its people." His publicist knew that Burr worked in Hollywood throughout the year he said he was touring with his son. As with Burr's claims to have served in the U.S. military, many of these fictions were believed and widely reported.

In the late 1950s, Burr was rumored to be romantically involved with Natalie Wood. Wood's agent sent her on public dates so she could be noticed by directors and producers and so that the actors could present themselves in public as heterosexuals. The dates also helped to disguise Wood's intimate relationship with Robert Wagner, whom she later married. Burr felt enough attraction to Wood to resent Warner Bros.' decision to promote her attachment to Tab Hunter instead. Robert Benevides later said: "He was a little bitter about it. He was really in love with her, I guess."

 Sexual orientation
In the mid 1950s, Burr met Robert Benevides (1929–2006), a young actor and Korean War veteran, on the set of Perry Mason. According to Benevides they became a couple about 1960 and he gave up acting in 1963 and later became a production consultant for 21 of the Perry Mason TV movies. Together they owned and operated an orchid business and then a vineyard, in the Dry Creek Valley. They were partners until Burr's death in 1993. Burr left Benevides his entire estate, including "all my jewelry, clothing, books, works of art,...and other items of a personal nature."

Later accounts of Burr's life explain that he hid his sexuality to protect his career. In 2000, AP reporter Bob Thomas recalled the situation:

It was an open secret...that he was gay. He had a companion who was with him all the time. That was a time in Hollywood history when homosexuality was not countenanced. Ray was not a romantic star by any means, but he was a very popular figure...if it was revealed at that time in Hollywood history it would have been very difficult for him to continue.

Art Marks, a producer of Perry Mason, recalled Burr's talk of wives and children: "I know he was just putting on a show....That was my gut feeling. I think the wives and the loving women, the Natalie Wood thing, were a bit of a cover." In 2006, Dean Hargrove, who worked on Perry Mason Returns, said: "I had always assumed that Raymond was gay, because he had a relationship with Robert Benevides for a very long time. Whether or not he had relationships with women, I had no idea. I did know that I had trouble keeping track of whether he was married or not in these stories. Raymond had the ability to mythologize himself, to some extent, and some of his stories about his past...tended to grow as time went by."

A 2007 memoir by actor Paul Picerni described several experiences with Burr about 1951 on the set of A Place in the Sun, when he felt Burr expressed sexual interest in him. He wrote: "I saw him staring at me. With his big blue eyes. And with this strange expression on his face. For the first time in my life, I felt like a DAME. Then it hit me: He'd been giving me all this bullshit about his wife and his two kids in London, when in fact he was gay, and he was makin' a move on me!" He remembered Burr "was a great guy and very subtle in his homosexuality."

 Hobbies
Burr had many hobbies over the course of his life: cultivating orchids, collecting wine, art, stamps, and seashells. He was interested in cooking, flying, sailing, and fishing. According to A&E Biography, Burr was also an avid reader with a retentive memory. He was also among the earliest importers and breeders of Portuguese Water Dogs in the United States.

He developed his interest in cultivating and hybridizing orchids into an orchid business with Benevides. Over twenty years, their company, Sea God Nurseries, had nurseries in Fiji, Hawaii, the Azores, and California, and was responsible for adding more than 1,500 new orchids to the worldwide catalog. Burr named one the "Barbara Hale Orchid" after his Perry Mason costar.

Together Burr and Benevides cultivated Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Port grapes, as well as orchids, at Burr's farmland holdings in Sonoma County, California. After Burr's death, Benevides named the property after Burr: "I finally decided it should be called Raymond Burr Vineyards. He didn't want it named after him, I know that. We had talked about that possibility and he didn't like that at all, but we're making great wines now. It's a memorial to him, to his idea, and I think it deserves to be named after him." The land is still in production and is known as the Raymond Burr Vineyards.

In 1965, Burr purchased the Naitauba, a island in Fiji. There, he and Benevides oversaw the raising of copra and cattle, as well as orchids. They spent two months a year there and Burr planned to retire there permanently. Medical problems made that impossible and he sold the property in 1983.

 Philanthropy
Burr was a well-known philanthropist. He gave enormous sums of money, including his salaries from the Perry Mason movies, to charity. He was also known for sharing his wealth with friends. He sponsored 26 foster children through the Foster Parents' Plan or Save The Children, many with the greatest medical needs. He also gave money and some of his Perry Mason scripts to the McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. Burr raised money for the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel, Florida, donating a considerable collection of Fijian cowries and cones from his island in the Fijis. In 1993, Sonoma State University awarded Burr an honorary doctorate. He supported medical and education institutions in Denver, and in 1993, the University of Colorado awarded him an honorary doctorate for his acting work. Burr also founded financed the American Fijian Foundation that funded academic research, including efforts to develop a dictionary of the language.

Burr made repeated trips on behalf of the United Service Organizations . He toured both Korea and Vietnam during wartime and once spent six months touring Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. He sometimes organized his own troupe and toured bases both in the U.S. and overseas, often small installations that the USO did not serve, like one tour of Greenland, Baffinland, Newfoundland, and Labrador. Returning from Vietnam in 1965, he made a speaking tour of the U.S. to advocate an intensified war effort. As the war became more controversial, he modified his tone, called for more attention to the sacrifice of the troops, and said: "My only position on the war is that I wish it were over." In October 1967, NBC aired Raymond Burr Visits Vietnam, a documentary of one of his visits that received mixed reviews, ranging from "The impressions he came up with are neither weighty nor particularly revealing" to "His questions...were intelligent and elicited some interesting replies." .

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "Raymond Burr", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.