Raymond Burr Felt ‘Regret’ About Starring On ‘Perry Mason’ Because He Didn’t Get To Marry Or Have A Family

Jun 17, 2022 by apost team

Actor Raymond Burr appeared in many movies during Hollywood's Golden Age, but he was best known for his later role as Perry Mason in the titular crime drama that ran from 1957 to 1966. He was also known for his roles in "Ironside," Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and the movie "A Cry In the Night." 

Burr was well-respected for his acting work and he was awarded for his portrayals — during his career, he won two Emmy Awards and received multiple nominations for the Emmys and Golden Globes.

Outside of his acting work, Burr focused on philanthropy and endeavored to help those in need. Through the Foster Parents' Plan and Save the Children, Burr fostered 26 children during his life. He also donated money to many charities and organizations including medical and educational institutions and museums.

Born in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, on May 21, 1917, Burr's family moved around a bit in his youth. First, they left Canada and moved to China for his father's work, before Burr and his siblings moved with their mother to Vallejo, California after his parents divorced. 

His passion for acting came early on since Burr took part in school plays from as early as his teenage years. He went on to become a member of the Pasadena Playhouse and honed his craft in early theater productions including "Crazy with the Heat," which was his first Broadway performance, "Quiet Wedding" and "The Duke in Darkness." It was his role in the latter play that led to a contract with RKO Radio Pictures.

Raymond Burr (1948), (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Although it was written that Burr had served in the US Navy during World War II, later reports suggest that this wasn't in fact true. In any case, it was during the early post-war years that Burr's acting career really took off. Between 1946 and 1957 Burr appeared in more than 50 films and established himself as a familiar face in Hollywood film noir movies. These included the movies "Sleep, My Love," "Raw Deal," "Abandoned," "Red Light" and "M," among others. 

Other roles for which he was well known included Hitchcock's "Rear Window," "A Cry in the Night" and more. He also appeared as the villain in various other genres including westerns, horror movies and period dramas. Of his casting in similar antagonistic roles, Burr told journalist James Bawden:

"I was just a fat heavy ... I split the heavy parts with Bill Conrad. We were both in our twenties playing much older men."

He added:

"I was drowned, beaten, stabbed and all for my art. But I knew I was horribly overweight. I lacked any kind of self esteem. At 25 I was playing the fathers of people older than me."

Alongside his long repertoire of film roles, Burr also appeared in many radio dramas throughout his life and established himself as a prolific television actor from the 1950s onward. This led to the role he became most known for on the television drama "Perry Mason."

Burr played the titular district attorney and it made him a star. However, while the show made him a household name, it appeared to negatively impact his personal life.


Raymond Burr (1975), (Martin Mills/Getty Images)

He told People in 1986, in reference to his time making the series:

“The only thing I regret in my life — I’m sorry I spent nine years of my life tying myself down. I couldn’t be married, have a family, even have friends.”  

Burr continued to act in the decades after "Perry Mason" went off the air. Another show he was in, "Ironside," was incredibly popular, while he also appeared in two Godzilla movies, including the first American-produced film about the famous Japanese monster. 

Outside of his acting career, Burr lived a rich life. Alongside his philanthropic efforts, the actor had a reputation for being incredibly kind and generous to people in his everyday life. He also had wide-reaching interests in everything from cultivating orchids to collecting stamps, wine and sea shells, many of which he left to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum in Florida.

Another lesser-known fact about Burr was his dedication to helping children in need. Through organizations such as the Foster Parents' Plan and Save the Children, Burr fostered 26 children throughout his life, many of whom required medical help. The children were from countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea, Italy and Greece. Although he lived his life in the spotlight, there was much about Burr's life that was unknown.

After he passed away from liver cancer in 1993, a series of contradictions in Burr's biographies came to light. From debate as to how many wives he had during his life — one marriage appears to be confirmed, while other sources have said he was married three times — to whether or not he was in a homosexual relationship with his friend and business partner Robert Benevides, Burr kept much of his life private.

Raymond Burr (1986), (Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

He admitted as much in a 1986 interview with People when he said:

“I’m not very actorish. I don’t play actor 24 hours a day. When the job is done, I go on to be myself, whoever that is.” 

Burr was also a vulnerable and sensitive man who at one point in his life preferred to live on the Fiji Islands, because, according to People, he found the people there more caring and respectful of others. He explained, “People here always said to me, ‘Why would you leave civilization to go to a place like Fiji?’ Fiji is a far more civilized place than California or New York City.” 

He also made nearly 30 trips overseas during the Korean and Vietnam wars, during which time he visited soldiers in the hospital. After he came home, he would keep in touch with the parents of the men who served and tell them how well their sons were doing. However, he said, "I did it until I got one answer, ‘My boy’s dead.’"

Stories like this go to show that there was a lot more to Burr than his on-screen persona. In the People article, the interviewer described Burr as "a very private, very loyal, very sentimental man," and throughout his life, he lived up to this description. I

t may be hard to see the indomitable Perry Mason as a sentimental person, but Burr's acting certainly deserves a lot of recognition and credit even decades after the show has ended. In real life, Burr was a hero in his own right and deserves to be celebrated for his incredible contributions. 

Raymond Burr (1987), (Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images)

Are you a fan of Raymond Burr? Did you know about his philanthropic efforts and the number of children he fostered during his life? If you learned something from this then pass it on to those you know.

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