EXCLUSIVE — The Final Interview with Barbara Hale: “Perry Mason’s” Original Woman Friday
“I liked playing women with an independent streak.”
So said Perry Mason actress Barbara Hale in one of her last interviews before she passed away in 2017 at age 95.
Raymond Burr portrayed Perry Mason, TV’s top attorney (who never lost a case!) on the extremely popular series of the same name that originally aired on CBS from 1957 to 1966. But Perry would have been nothing without his secretary and right-hand gal Della Street, as portrayed with grace and subtle allure by the elegant Hale. Unlike the audience, Mason’s affection for Street was not so obvious. “Circumstantial evidence” is how he may have defined and defended his alleged attraction, although many wondered how he could turn away from her numerous charms.
Hale’s Street was one of television’s first single professional working women, and the story of how she came to play the part is just as monumental. Close friends with two of the show’s producers, Corny and Gail Patrick Jackson, Hale had worked with the former at an advertising agency in Chicago, and with Gail on a dollmaking venture. The doll project never panned out, but Hale remained friends with Jacksons, who later remembered her for a part in a certain new legal series she was developing.
“Oh, Gail,” Hale said, “bless your heart for thinking of me. But I just can’t do a show right now,” mostly because she had three children to care for, the youngest of whom was only three years old. “I need to be home.” “Well,” Gail replied, “this won’t take much time — and Barb, we’re only going to do 18 episodes.” Upon learning of the limited workload, Hale was intrigued, and then hearing it was Perry Mason, based on the famous Erle Stanley Gardner books — and with Burr as the star — she was elated. “Raymond, God love him,” she recalled, “was one of the first people I met at RKO,” the studio she was first contracted with as an actress. “I had known him since the day I first arrived in Hollywood. We were both under contract with RKO, and we got to know each other very well. He was a wonderful actor and a dear friend.”