Actress Barbara Hale of 'Perry Mason' fame dead at 94

Amos Herrera
January 28, 2017

Barbara Hale, who played secretary Della Street in the "Perry Mason" television series and movies, died Thursday.

Hale was last seen on television in 2000 on a recorded program to honor her former co-star, Raymond Burr.

Survivors include her son William Katt, best known as the star of the 1980s ABC series The Greatest American Hero.

The cause of death was not released.

She won an Emmy Award for the role in 1959 and was nominated again in 1961.

During the nearly two decades between the end of the series and the beginning of the Perry Mason television movies, she did commercials for Amana appliances, made five films and appeared on a dozen or so television shows.

In an interview in 1993, Burr addressed a question he said viewers had asked him for decades: Whether the characters Perry Mason and Della Street were secretly lovers.

"I guess I was just meant to be a secretary who doesn't take shorthand", the AP reported. "I'm a lousy typist, too - 33 words a minute". Her father was a landscape gardener.

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Hale had said she almost turned down the role when it was first offered to her because she was busy raising three children and doubted the viability of a TV series built on long-winded courtroom scenes. But her goals were to be a nurse or journalist. After graduating from high school, where she was voted May Queen, she studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.

She worked a year and a half as a fashion model in Chicago before RKO saw photos of her and signed her to a contract.

Hale viewed the devoted Della as "a woman who knew what everybody was thinking".

But when Jackson told her that Gardner had chosen Burr to play Mason, Hale said she thought they had an actor who could pull it off. "I had six days, six lines and six wardrobe changes a show". Arriving in 1942, she made her film debut as "girl at party" in a 1943 courtroom comedy, "Gildersleeve's Bad Day", the second in a series of movies based on the popular radio series "The Great Gildersleeve".

Hale was part of a famous acting family. They met over coffee in the studio commissary and married in Rockford in 1946.

Williams, who died in 1992, later gained TV fame as star of The Adventures of Kit Carson. Before landing Perry Mason, she appeared in films including Higher and Higher (with Frank Sinatra), West of the Pecos (with Robert Mitchum), The Clay Pigeon (with her husband, Bill Williams), and A Lion Is In the Streets (with James Cagney).

In 1957, she joined the memorable cast of Perry Mason that included Burr as the defense attorney who solved his cases in the courtroom, William Hopper as investigator Paul Drake, William Talman as never-winning prosecutor Hamilton Burger and Ray Collins as police lieutenant Arthur Tragg. She liked the fact that Della was unmarried and without kids so it wouldn't confuse her real-life children.

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