Actress Barbara Hale, who won an Emmy Award for playing legal secretary Della Street on the long-running “Perry Mason” television series, died Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, at her home in Sherman Oaks, California. She was 94.
Actress Barbara Hale, who won an Emmy Award for playing legal secretary Della Street on the long-running “Perry Mason” television series, died Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, at her home in Sherman Oaks, California, according to multiple news sources. She was 94.
Hale signed on with “Perry Mason” when the series began in 1957, playing the secretary to lawyer Perry Mason, played by Raymond Burr. Hale played Della as a quiet, devoted employee, a classic girl Friday. She was capable and professional, and she looked the part, dressed in timeless business wear that avoided following trends, her hair perfectly coifed. While she wasn’t out there winning cases herself, it was clear that Della was the backbone that made her boss’ success possible.
For fans of the “Perry Mason” series of novels, begun in 1933 by Erle Stanley Gardner, Hale became the unmistakable face of Della. She wasn’t the first actress to play the secretary – five others portrayed Della in early movie adaptations – but Hale did it so well, and for so long, that she became the standard. Her portrayal won her an Emmy Award for best supporting actress in a dramatic series in 1959, as well as another nomination in 1961. When the series was canceled in 1966, she remained in fans’ minds as the epitome of Della, and when it was revived for a series of 30 “Perry Mason” TV movies beginning in 1985, she was back.
Those movies also starred Burr as Mason – until his 1993 death. Four more movies were made with other lawyers standing in for Mason, thanks in part to Hale’s reassuring continuity, with the final installment coming in 1995. Hale and Burr worked together for decades, and the two became good friends during their long time as colleagues. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times a few years after Burr’s death, Hale said, “If anybody had a hero, I did. And Raymond was the man.”
Though Hale is remembered most frequently as Della, she had a number of other notable roles on the big screen as well as on television. An early favorite was “Higher and Higher” (1943), Frank Sinatra‘s film debut. Hale played a young debutante, the love interest of Sinatra’s character, and the two sang together. Of the chance to share vocals with Ol’ Blue Eyes, Hale later told the Los Angeles Times, “Isn’t that fun? I never had been so scared in my life, but he’s been a very dear friend ever since.”
Hale’s first starring role was in 1946’s “Lady Luck” opposite Robert Young. She’d go on to play opposite other top leading men of the day, including James Stewart in “The Jackpot” (1951), Rock Hudson in “Seminole” (1953), and Charlton Heston in “The Far Horizons” (1955). After a break from the big screen during the years when she starred on “Perry Mason,” Hale returned for a few films in later years, including a supporting role in 1970’s “Airport.”
On television, Hale guest-starred on a number of shows during the years between the main “Perry Mason” series and the movie revivals, including “Lassie,” “Adam-12,” “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” and “The Greatest American Hero.” Her final television appearance came after a hiatus of five years with a 2000 turn on an episode of “Biography” focusing on Burr.
Hale has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and she won a 2001 Golden Boot Award for her memorable presence in a number of movie Westerns during her pre-“Perry Mason” career.
Hale met her husband, actor Bill Williams, while they filmed “West of the Pecos” together in 1945. He preceded her in death in 1992. She is survived by their children, Jodi, William, and Juanita Katt.
“We’ve all been lucky to have her for so long,” her son, actor William Katt, wrote in a Facebook post. “She was gracious and kind and silly and always fun to be with. A wonderful actress and smart business woman she was most of all a treasure as a friend and mother!”
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