Raymond Burr

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

Raymond Burr Pencil Portrait
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Above all else, the Canadian actor Raymond Burr was an interesting man.

Best remembered for his lengthy Hollywood film career and his title roles in two long running television dramas “Perry Mason” and “ A Man called Ironside,” he first came to public attention playing villains; his portrayal of the suspected murderer in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Rear Window” (1954) perhaps his best-known film role.

Other significant film roles included Desperate (1947), Sleep, My Love (1948), Raw Deal (1948), Pitfall (1948), Abandoned (1949), Red Light (1949), M (1951), His Kind of Woman (1951), The Blue Gardenia (1953), and Crime of Passion (1957). Taking a temporary break from playing heavies, he was impressive as the prosecuting lawyer in the classic multiple Academy Award winning movie “A Place in the Sun” (1951).

As a young boy, Burr was for me, omnipresent in the late 60’s/early 70’s on saturday evenings playing the part of former San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside. A veteran of more than 20 years of police service, and forced to retire from the department after a sniper’s bullet to the spine paralyzes him from the waist down, his character becomes reliant on a wheelchair. In the pilot episode, a television movie, Ironside shows his strength of character and gets himself appointed a peculiar and unprecedented job; a “special department consultant”, by his good friend, Police Commissioner Dennis Randall. He does this by calling a press conference and then tricking Commissioner Randall into meeting his terms. He eventually solves the mystery of the ambush and requests Ed Brown and Eve Whitfield be assigned to him as his own private law enforcement squad. The series ran for eight seasons between 1967 and 1975, assisted in no small part by Quincy Jones’s pulsating theme tune.

He won Emmy Awards for acting in 1959 and 1961 for the role of the lawyer Perry Mason, which he played for nine seasons (1957–1966) and reprised in a series of 26 Perry Mason TV movies (1985–1993). His second TV series, Ironside, earned him six Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations.

Burr died of cancer in 1993, and his personal life came into question. Married once to the actress Isabella Ward , he subsequently met Robert Benevides, an actor and Korean war veteran, becoming a production consultant for 21 of the Perry Mason TV movies.

Burr had many hobbies over the course of his life: cultivating orchids and collecting wine, art, stamps, and seashells. He was very fond of cooking, flying, sailing, and fishing. An avid reader with a retentive memory, he was also among the earliest importers and breeders of Portuguese water dogs in the United States.]

Burr developed his interest in cultivating and hybridizing orchids into a business with Benevides. Over 20 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 of them the “Barbara Hale Orchid” after his Perry Mason costar. Burr and Benevides cultivated Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and grapes for Port wine, as well as orchids, at Burr’s farmland holdings in Sonoma County, California.

In 1965, Burr purchased Naitauba, a 4,000-acre (16 km2) island in Fiji, rich in seashells. There, he and Benevides oversaw the raising of copra (coconut meat) and cattle, as well as orchids. Burr planned to retire there permanently. However, medical problems made that impossible and he sold the property in 1983.