Today is the 101st birthday of Barbara Hale. She played Della Street on Perry Mason, which if you haven’t watched lately, you should. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she left.
NAME: Barbara Hale
DATE OF BIRTH: 18-Apr-1922
PLACE OF BIRTH: DeKalb, IL
DATE OF DEATH: 26-Jan-2017
PLACE OF DEATH: Sherman Oaks, CA
EMMY 1959 for Perry Mason
HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME 1620 Vine St. (television)
BEST KNOWN FOR: Barbara Hale was an American actress best known for her role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason, earning her a 1959 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. She reprised the role in 30 Perry Mason movies for television.
Barbara Hale was born in DeKalb, Illinois to Wilma (née Colvin) and Luther Ezra Hale, a landscape gardener. She had one sister, Juanita, for whom Hale’s younger daughter was named. The family was of Scots-Irish ancestry. In 1940, Hale was a member of the final graduating class from Rockford High School in Rockford, Illinois, then attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, planning to be an artist. Her performing career began in Chicago, when she started modeling to pay for her education.
Hale moved to Hollywood in 1943, and under contract to RKO Radio Pictures, made her first screen appearance (uncredited) in Gildersleeve’s Bad Day. She continued to make small uncredited appearances in films, until her first credited role alongside Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher (1943) (even singing with him in the film). Hale had leading roles in movies including West of the Pecos (1945), Lady Luck (1946) — opposite Robert Young in what she described as her first “full stardom” and “her fifth A picture” — and The Window (1949). She received excellent notices for her co-starring performance opposite Larry Parks in the musical biography Jolson Sings Again (1949). She and Parks were teamed for subsequent films.
Her roles in 1950s films such as the adventure Lorna Doone (1951); the comedy The Jackpot (with James Stewart) (also 1951); the drama A Lion Is in the Streets (1953), and the Westerns Seminole (also 1953) and The Oklahoman (1957) continued Hale’s run of successful movies during that decade. The latter film, co-starring Joel McCrea, would mark Hale’s last leading role in a motion picture. She seldom appeared in film after this time, but was part of an all-star cast in the 1970 movie Airport, playing the wife of an airline pilot (played by Dean Martin). Hale’s final appearance in a feature film was in the 1978 drama Big Wednesday as Mrs. Barlow, the mother of the character played by Hale’s real-life son William Katt.
Hale was considering retirement from acting when she accepted her best known role as legal secretary Della Street in the television series Perry Mason, starring Raymond Burr as the titular character. The show ran for nine seasons from 1957 to 1966, with 271 episodes produced. The role won Hale a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
In 1985, Hale and Burr (by then the only surviving cast members from the original series) reprised their roles for the TV movie Perry Mason Returns. The film was such a ratings hit, that a further 29 movies were produced until 1995. Hale continued her role as Della in the four telefilms produced after Burr’s death in 1993, subtitled A Perry Mason Mystery (and starring Paul Sorvino as Anthony Caruso in the first film and Hal Holbrook as “Wild” Bill McKenzie in the remaining three). Hale is thus the only actor to feature in all 30 films.
Hale’s career became inextricably linked with that of Perry Mason co-star Burr; she guest-starred in “Murder Impromptu”, a 1971 episode of his next series, Ironside.
Her last on-screen appearance was a TV biographical documentary about Burr that aired in 2000.
Hale’s activity in radio was limited; she appeared in one episode each of Voice of the Army (1947), Lux Radio Theatre (1950), and Proudly We Hail (syndicated), as well as five episodes of Family Theater (1950–1954).
In 1945, during the filming of West of the Pecos, Hale met actor Bill Williams (birth name Herman August Wilhelm Katt). They were married for 46 years from June 22, 1946 until Williams’ death from cancer on September 21, 1992. The couple had two daughters, Jodi and Juanita, and a son, actor William Katt. Williams had made guest appearances on four episodes of Perry Mason in the 1960s.
William Katt played detective Paul Drake, Jr., alongside Hale in nine of the Perry Mason TV movies from 1985–1988. Hale guest-starred on Katt’s series, The Greatest American Hero in which Katt played the title role, aka Ralph Hinkley; Hale played Hinkley’s mother in the 1982 episode, “Who’s Woo in America”. She also played his mother in the 1978 movie Big Wednesday.
A bladder cancer survivor, Hale became a follower of the Baháʼí Faith.
Hale died at her home in Sherman Oaks, California, on January 26, 2017, of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She was 94 years old. She is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) next to her husband.
Perry Mason as Della Street (1957-66)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Big Wednesday (May-1978) as Mrs. Barlow
The Giant Spider Invasion (30-Dec-1976)
Soul Soldier (16-Dec-1970)
Airport (5-Mar-1970) as Sarah
Buckskin (May-1968) as Sarah Cody
Slim Carter (Nov-1957)
The Oklahoman (19-May-1957) as Anne
7th Cavalry (7-Dec-1956)
The Houston Story (Feb-1956)
The Far Horizons (20-May-1955)
Unchained (19-Jan-1955) as Mary Davitt
A Lion Is in the Streets (23-Sep-1953) as Verity Wade
The Lone Hand (May-1953) as Sarah Jane Skaggs
Seminole (Mar-1953) as Revere
Last of the Comanches (22-Jan-1953)
Emergency Wedding (15-Nov-1950)
The Jackpot (1-Nov-1950) as Amy Lawrence
And Baby Makes Three (2-Dec-1949) as Jacqueline Walsh
Jolson Sings Again (10-Aug-1949)
The Window (6-Aug-1949) as Mrs. Woodry
The Clay Pigeon (29-Jun-1949)
The Boy with Green Hair (16-Nov-1948) as Miss Brand
A Likely Story (19-Apr-1947)
Lady Luck (30-Oct-1946)
First Yank Into Tokyo (5-Sep-1945) as Abby Drake
West of the Pecos (10-Aug-1945)
The Falcon in Hollywood (8-Dec-1944) as Peggy Callahan
The Falcon Out West (3-Mar-1944) as Marion Colby
Higher and Higher (1943)